Tennessee offensive woes: Personnel vs. philosophy
The Tennessee Volunteers are struggling on offense. The Vols rank No. 113 overall in total offense, No. 117 in rushing offense and No. 94 in scoring offense. Much of the blame has been placed on second-year offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
Bajakian, who has worked alongside head coach Butch Jones at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, entered his tenure at Tennessee with a stellar track record. He coached in seven bowl games and helped teams to six conference championships. Bajakian also won two NFL division titles and coached in four NFL Playoff games, including Super Bowl XLI as an offensive quality control and wide receivers coach with the Chicago Bears.
But, as the Vols face a 3-4 record, Bajakian has become the scapegoat for the team’s lack of success on offense. His low-point as Tennessee’s coordinator came on Saturday at Ole Miss. Trailing 14-3 in the third quarter, Bajakian called a head scratching double-reverse in field goal territory. The play not only lost nine yards, but backed the Vols out of scoring range. Tennessee was forced to punt on fourth down, ruining a would-be scoring drive. Ole Miss kept momentum on its side and added 20 unanswered points.
Bajakian uses a pro-style read option offense, which would be best suited for a dual-threat quarterback. However, Justin Worley seems to be the only player capable of seeing production at the position with Joshua Dobbs redshirting and Nathan Peterman’s lack of past success.
Worley is a pocket passer and was chastised as a “product of the system” after being named 2010 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. Though he’s produced statistical career-highs, he presents little threat to scramble in a run-heavy scheme.
Tennessee’s biggest problem is in the trenches. The offensive line has allowed 4.3 sacks per game and is tied for second worst in the FBS. The Vols returned zero starters on the line from the previous season and their lack of experience has shown throughout the season.
The Vols have played 23 true freshman this season and have an offensive lineup filled with underclassmen. Though there is raw talent at the skill positions, most of Tennessee’s running backs, tight ends and wide receivers are freshmen and sophomores. Even Worley, a senior, had 17 starts entering 2014 and has yet to play an entire season.
Tennessee is still in the early stages of its rebuilding process. The Vols signed a top-5 recruiting class in 2014 and are projected to see another strong turnout on National Signing Day next season. Moving forward, the personnel should improve with gained experience.
However, it will be interesting to see if Bajakian makes it through this season. As Tennessee continues its struggles on offense, Jones may decide to part ways with his longtime assistant.