Tennessee football: Where Vols stand after 2-1 start
Despite all of its faults, college football is the best sport in the world. We look forward to it all year along, savoring each Saturday like the last drop of water in the Sahara.
The sad reality is that the college football season is also very short. The regular season is already 25% complete after Tennessee’s 56-0 victory over FCS program Tennessee Tech. And while this game wasn’t one that will take up much room in the memory bank, come February we will be chomping at the bit for a Vols/Golden Eagles matchup.
Now that a quarter of Tennessee’s season is done, what do we know about the 2021 Vols?
During the Josh Dobbs era, the biggest complaint among Tennessee fans was about his accuracy. But Dobbs completed 61% of his throws, which wasn’t too bad.
During the current era, whether it is Joe Milton or Hendon Hooker taking snaps, the deep ball is a problem. In the first 3 games of the season, Tennessee has missed out on multiple big plays because its QB is tossing the ball an extra couple of yards past the receiver. Against Tennessee Tech the Vols didn’t have to take many chances far downfield, which was a good thing because it wasn’t working. The Vols’ best deep ball thrower was probably Brian Maurer, but he left the team before the season. As the schedule gets more difficult, the Vols can’t afford to miss on those types of opportunities.
QB controversy rolls on
The most popular player on a football team, at least with the fans, is always the backup quarterback. For the Vols, that man is Harrison Bailey.
Joe Milton was not active against Tennessee Tech; he was out with what the team called a lower body injury. Hendon Hooker got his first start for the Vols. When things weren’t going right against the Golden Eagles, you would hear “We Want Bailey” chants from the Neyland Stadium crowd.
Hooker played well against Tennessee Tech and was a part of 4 touchdowns. But averaging only 8 yards per completion won’t get the job done going forward.
Bailey finally got his first chance of the season to play on Saturday. He entered the Tennessee Tech game with a minute to go in the 3rd quarter and the Vols leading 49-0. Bailey completed 3 of 8 passes and ran for a touchdown.
Next week the Vols play at Florida. It might be ugly. If that happens, expect the push for Bailey to play to gain even more momentum with Tennessee fans.
Velus Jones is a player
Tennessee got a break when Southern Cal transfer Velus Jones Jr. decided to return to Knoxville for one more season. The senior wide receiver brings leadership and talent to the roster.
On Saturday, Jones showed all of his abilities. He had a kickoff return of over 90 yards wiped away because of a penalty. He had a 23-yard punt return and a 45 yard TD reception against Tennessee Tech. Jones was also breaking ankles in the process.
Jones wasn’t very active in the offense in the first 2 games, but against Tech he had 3 catches for a team-high 65 yards. Head coach Josh Heupel is known for creative offenses. The Vols have to find more ways to get Jones the football.
Turnover battle decisive
In Tennessee’s first 2 games of the season, the Vols coughed up the football 5 times and did not force a single turnover. Against Tennessee Tech, the Vols finally turned that around thanks to 4 interceptions, including a Pick-6 from redshirt senior Solon Page III.
Stealing a possession here and there not only would give the Vols offense more chances to score, but it would get the defense off the field.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Tennessee Tech is an FCS team not known for having a prolific offense. But maybe the Vols defense can take some momentum into the next few weeks.