It’s time for Tennessee to change things up on offense.
The loss to South Carolina is the latest example of why the scheme needs to be adjusted.
Defenses are keyed into what Tennessee’s continues to run. The lack of a vertical passing game and a non-existent ability to generate offense by going under center – something you have to do to be competitive in the SEC – has placed Tennessee in a predictable state.
And defenses are teeing off accordingly.
“You talk about owning it, we’ve got to own it,” Butch Jones said following the loss to South Carolina. “Unacceptable. The small details, the turnovers. You go on the road, you can’t turn the football over. There was a lack of explosive plays, missed tackles, too many penalties on special teams when you do a good job of getting the ball out on some returns. Those are momentum-killers.
“Again, it starts with myself, it starts with the coaching staff. You talk about being a determined football team. Some leadership needs to step up on this football team. It starts with myself and the coaches, but it’s everybody. Everybody is going to own it. Everybody is responsible for this.”
The mantra following last season was to replace defensive coordinator John Jancek and search for the missing points that Team 119 surrendered in allowing opponents to come back and win close games. Jones made the change and brought in Bob Shoop to make adjustments to the defense.
It started off well as Tennessee rallied time and again en route to a 5-0 start.
Now, it’s fair to wonder whether those thrilling comebacks were a mirage. The defense has done its part, but the offense is searching for missing points, yards and an identity.
The offensive struggles raise the question, much like the defensive questions were answered a year ago: Will Team 121 go in a different direction from offensive coordinator Mike DeBord?
The South Carolina loss is the latest example that a different direction is needed.
In every game this season, Tennessee’s offense has started off slow, placing the defense in bad spots and the team in a hole on the scoreboard.
How will Jones go about correcting the issues on offense?
“Again, slow start – I thought we were lethargic, lacked energy on the sideline and at times seemed disinterested,” Jones said. “It starts with me. We talked about it all week long. But again, we have to own it.
“And where do we go from here? Again, it’s a long, long football season. You can’t let one game define you. But we’re going to find out the competitive makeup of us in how we bounce back.”
It’s not one game defining the offensive makeup, however. It’s the lack of getting individuals such as wide receiver Josh Malone involved in the attack. Malone only had four receptions against South Carolina, raising more questions if the current offensive philosophy is one to have going forward.
From the beginning of the game Will Muschamp took away tight end Ethan Wolf, a passing option in Tennessee’s short, intermediate passing approach. Muschamp might not have had his highly-touted players that he had at Florida, but his defensive-minded coaching gave his Gamecocks a chance.
Jones can still turn things around at Tennessee. He has set the foundation, but he will need to steer the offense in a different direction in order to take his program to the next level.