The Little Things Are Killing Tennessee Football
Penalties. Bad challenges. Overthrows. Drops. Low snaps. Clock management issues.
Against Florida on Saturday, the Tennessee Volunteers showed the nation why they are not anywhere near ready for prime time.
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has to be given some leeway considering the state of his roster. He took over a 3-7 team that lost its best players to the transfer portal. Those that stayed don’t provide plentiful numbers. Depth is a serious issue.
The mistakes that we saw the Vols make against Florida, and earlier this season in the loss to Pittsburgh, have to be a concern. As the season rolls on, if those errors are not corrected, or at least limited, the Vols will miss out on a bowl game and the all important extra practices that this program so desperately needs.
You have to feel at least a little bit for Heupel. There were perfect play calls that went for naught because his players couldn’t convert. In the third quarter with the Vols only down by 10, they faced 4th down in Florida territory. A crossing pattern freed receiver Jimmy Calloway. Quarterback Hendon Hooker threw a pass that hit Calloway in stride. Calloway would have picked up a first down easily, and might have scored with all the green grass ahead of him.
But Calloway dropped the football. The Vols never seriously threatened again.
That’s just one example of a seemingly simple occurrence that separates teams like Tennessee from the elite squads in the conference. UT can get away with a few mistakes like that when they play Vanderbilt, but they aren’t going to recover against Alabama, Georgia, or any other ranked team they might face.
The Vols just don’t have the talent to make up for those problems.
But we did see progress on Saturday night. The elusive big play that Tennessee fans have been waiting for happened twice. First there was a 47-yard screen pass from Hooker to Tiyon Evans for a touchdown. Later it was a 75-yard bomb from Hooker to JaVonta Payton for another score. That proves the Vols can pick up yards in big chunks. Playing teams like Florida, you have to do that a few times to stay competitive.
But after that second TD, the Vols not only didn’t have another big play, they didn’t score in the final 41 minutes and 31 seconds.
The season is already a third of the way done. Typically by this point you start to get a feel for what a football team is, and is not.
It looks like the 2021 Tennessee Volunteers will be remembered as a flawed unit that was forced to play above their punching weight for reasons beyond their control. These players didn’t ask for the previous coaching staff to be fired. Those were the coaches that most of them committed to, and they were fired. These players didn’t ask for more than 25 of their teammates to jump ship, leaving a decimated roster behind.
But these kids play very hard, which wasn’t the case for a good number of the 2020 Tennessee Volunteers. And that should mean something at the start of yet another rebuild in Knoxville.
On offense, when they have their fully functional line plus their 2 top running backs and Hooker at quarterback, the Vols are a tough group to stop. We saw that in the third quarter against Pittsburgh and in the first half against Florida.
But if they don’t have that full allotment of talent in the game, they are not nearly as effective. The margin for error is that thin.
And that’s when the mistakes Tennessee makes are killers.