By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – November 3, 2018)
Embarrassing. How to get six takeaways from one of the most uninspiring performances I’ve ever seen from a Power 5 football team at home? I have no idea, but I’m going to try.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
It’s bottom of the barrel. Charlotte absolutely annihilated the Vols up front, and as a result Guarantano had very little time and nobody could run the football. This was flat out putrid, including Drew Richmond committing not one, but two presnap procedure infractions as he couldn’t figure out where to line up. Alex Highsmith owned the Vols all day long.
Once again, just a quick glance at the yardage totals across the board illustrate just how inept the offense was on this day. It wasn’t on Helton (much), JG wasn’t great, but the offensive line ensured Charlotte was still within striking distance after 60 minutes of football. This was truly as bad as it gets. I don’t need to say anything else. You saw it. It’s completely unacceptable.
THE RUN GAME
I wish there were a way to make text appear but also look hidden, because that’s the best description of the non-existent Tennessee rushing attack. Through three quarters against Charlotte, the Vols had netted a whopping MINUS SEVEN yards on the ground. Yes, the 49ers had a top ten run defense entering this game, but who had they played? They held Fordham to negative yardage, an atrocious WKU team to 42, Middle Tennessee to 33, and last week Southern Miss had 129. They’re not a bad defense.
But you’re Tennessee. This was the fewest rushing yards a Tennessee team has finished a game with since they had zero against Ole Miss in 2014. I find it hard to believe that performance was worse than the 20 they had on Saturday. All of the positivity came very late in the game, and “all” is being generous, because it indicates a lot, when that was anything but the case.
It all again comes down to the OL, because when you can’t run and Guarantano has no time on top of being inaccurate at times, you’re facing third and long situations and you end up 4-12 for 33% on the afternoon. Tennessee got virtually every yard on several big pass plays, because as we already discussed, nothing happened anywhere else. The offense could just be all six takeaways honestly, but here’s what Tennessee faced respective to yardage on its crucial down and distances: 3rd and 15, 10, (6), 13, 14, 10, (2), (6), 16, (6), 11, 18.
You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re an SEC football team at home against a C-USA team… it’s homecoming, and THIS is what you’re working with after that football game ends?
If you want a few bright spots, the next two takeaways would be those bright spots. Phillips almost had a sack for a safety in the second half, batted down two Evan Shirreffs passes in the first half, and had his number called more than anybody on the Tennessee defense, with the exception of the late Bryce Thompson interception that sealed the victory.
Phillips showed up and played, which is noteworthy for the sole reason that it’s not something that can be said about many of his teammates on this day. That’s somewhat unfair, as the defense did play well, though what we knew about Charlotte’s offense coming in was LeMay could run it – and he did, even though the Vols held him under his 93 yard-per-contest average. The Niners struggle to score and have all season.
It’s still a win, but if a win can feel like a loss, that’s what this game was.
CALLAWAY SPECIAL TEAMS TD
It’s a takeaway because outside of one back shoulder throw to DWA, it’s the only score Tennessee got all day. Cimaglia went wide right on a 33 yard field goal attempt from the left hash, and that was IT. So the 82 yard scamper from Marquez was hugely important. It was also the longest return for a score since Cam Sutton against Vanderbilt three years ago. I’m seriously having to scrape to find takeaways worth writing about. This was as forgettable as a game can be. That said, this was a pretty play from Callaway.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Worst. Episode. Ever.
THE LAST WORD
Not much to say about this one folks. It’s a win, but that’s all it was. You beat Charlotte 14-3 at home and have yet to play well in 2018 at Neyland Stadium. Come to think of it, that should have been a takeaway. All the Vols best ball has taken place away from Knoxville, but we needed to emphasize that OL performance. Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan both were banged up entering the game and neither played very much, but it wouldn’t have mattered. This was a lethargic, lackadaisical, flat out dull performance from Tennessee. The Vols played losing football on offense, but Charlotte wasn’t quite good enough offensively to take advantage. The 49ers run defense was as advertised, but considering their strength of opponent, you have to be disappointed if you’re a Vols fan.
Up next is Kentucky at home, as the Wildcats were beaten soundly in Lexington by Georgia, ending their hopes of winning the SEC East. That’s a really good defense. UT has the Cats, then Missouri (who whipped Florida on the road on Saturday), and then Tennessee finishes up here in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Should they play like this against any or all of those opponents, they’ve won their last game of the season. 4-5 right now, but this was B-A-D.