By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – September 14, 2019)
From Ty Chandler’s 58-yard opening kickoff return, this one looked a little more like an SEC vs. FCS game is supposed to look, with the former appearing dominant and able to flourish on both sides of the ball at will. I tweeted out at 21-0 that there was no way for Tennessee to make a statement against the Mocs, but there was a way to at least start feeling some positive vibes internally within the program one week prior to the rivalry matchup with Florida.
With that in mind, here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the Vols victory over Chattanooga – home of my favorite Frothy Monkey location by the way. You didn’t ask, but you’re welcome for the bonus information. I go above and beyond.
MAKE AN IMPRESSION
This was Tennessee’s game from the jump, and it needed to be. Following the heartbreaking and stunning failure in the final moments last week against BYU and the grossness (not a word) that was the Georgia State loss, the Vols needed to impose their will immediately and make this a no-doubter. It was. Chandler took the kickoff over half the length of the football field and UT’s rushing attack took over, with Ty, Eric Gray, and Tim Jordan combining for 41 yards on the ground, polished off with Chandler’s 13-yard touchdown.
Chaney likes to run it, we know that, and this was a drive where it was clear Tennessee was superior. The blocking was good, the vision was good, the patience was good, the ball security was good. And the impression was made, felt, and would continue to propagate during a strong first quarter offensively. The defense forced a pair of turnovers, including a Nigel Warrior interception and a fumble on the Tennessee 6 to end the first 15 minutes of play. This is what Tennessee needed. This is what Tennessee accomplished. 21-0 after one stanza, setting the table for a dominant day overall.
BEND BUT DON’T BREAK
Maybe one of the more important sequences for Tennessee came about at the tail end of the first quarter where the defense did give up some yards to the Mocs, but gave up no points despite allowing them to get inside the ten yard line. If you want to extrapolate, potentially to your detriment, you can look at it as the “never give up” philosophy. Never assume a drive is a lost cause and make every stop until there are no stops left to make. Yeah, it’s a bit of a reach and a motivational poster, but that’s what happened on that series.
It was a 75-yard drive for Chattanooga that ended up in squadoosh. That’s a statement within a football game, although again, it only applies to this matchup, because there’s too much other garbage on tape over the past two weeks to do more than crush the opponent in front of you. If you do this NEXT week, now maybe we’re starting to pick up a microphone with something to say if we’re the Volunteers.
That was the announced attendance at Neyland for the noon kickoff with Chattanooga. That’s still pretty good, considering the opponent, but it’s still over six thousand less than last week and represents a malaise in Knoxville and in the state at large. If you’ve got hard earned money to spend, are you going to blow it on an 0-2 football team matching up with an FCS school? Probably not, and maybe you wouldn’t have if the Vols were 2-0 either, but I’d suggest they’d still be over 90,000 even if they won last week and still lost that head scratching wake-up call to Georgia State.
Jeremy Pruitt made it a point to thank the fans who attended last week’s BYU game, which was a smart thing to do, as it might have forced a few pitchforks back in the wooden shed. Those things were inching ever closer to the front door. With that said, all that occurred on Saturday is Tennessee doing what it’s supposed to do against a massively outmatched in-state program. It’s not a backhanded compliment, but it’s a reminder that the feelings today had better be measured. This should be a gimme game, and finally, it was. After the opener, nothing can be taken for granted.
The fans are still showing up, and this was one you could watch in person for under ten bucks if you didn’t care about being too close, but those stands need to be filled in the final month of the season. To do that, it’s going to take W’s.
OL STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Tennessee’s offensive line to start the game was Wanya Morris, Trey Smith, Brandon Kennedy, Darnell Wright, and K’Rojhn Calbert, and other than the first drive, the Vols didn’t exactly have their way running the football. It still felt as if they could when they hit the accelerator, but as the second half began, just 21 carries for 92 yards, juxtaposed against 25 carries for 125 for the Mocs. 4.4 yards per carry will get you a first down every time, but you’d like to see more than that, especially considering the size advantage in the trenches and the athletic differential between the two schools.
The blocking was great on drive one, not so much after that, and once it was 45-0 with 12:20 left in the third, I stopped counting yardage or anything else the Vols did, because it became very much a get-to-the finish line game for both Tennessee and Chattanooga. Again, it’s hard to take too much away from a game like this, but at the very least, we saw moments where the OL did impose its size. Next week, well, that’s a much different task, as Florida’s defense is flat out beastly.
THIRD DOWN EFFICIENCY
If you want room for improvement… it’s 4-10 on third down against Chattanooga, after going 5-16 against BYU. Week one against Georgia State, believe it or not, the Vols were 8-13 on third down. The key, obviously, is staying in front of the down and distance and making every conversion manageable and easier. The other key is efficiency and effectiveness on the ground, to which the Vols have had varying degrees of success. Ty Chandler finished with ten carries for 46 yards and a touchdown. But he wasn’t out there for very long.
You can take what you want from a 45-0 shellacking of Chattanooga. That goes for quality and it goes for quantity. In the end, Tennessee’s rushing average was over 5 per carry and they almost hit 200 yards. That’s good… but nothing too standout. It was a measured performance once the victory was no longer in doubt. Hopefully all those guys got “right” and the line was able to work a bit on technique and communication.
GUARANTANO LOOKS GOOD
7-8 for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Not much to hate right there. You caveat everything with the opposition, but JG hasn’t been good and has dealt with rumblings of regression from the fanbase and media, so this is encouraging both for him and for Vol Nation. It’s all about leaving this one with a W and with some optimism that the last two weeks ARE NOT the end of the Tennessee football novel for 2019.
Anything that adds to the confidence of a swiss cheese mentality from Guarantano can’t hurt. The one incompletion was on the first throw of the game, a deep shot on the opening drive down the left sidelines that the Mocs covered well. He still looks down his receivers and isn’t feeling pressure, but we didn’t see many examples of the negatives on this day. We’ll know far more about Guarantano next week in the hostility of the Swamp.
Nobody is likely to give Tennessee much of a chance against Florida next week, except those that want to try and get ahead of a possible upset by saying “don’t be surprised” so that they can puff out their chest if it happens… and if it doesn’t, they’re not held accountable anyway. I’m going to go ahead and say this again. I think Tennessee DOES beat Florida next week. I’m not going to hedge. I know what I’ve seen and it hasn’t been great. I get it. But, I’m sticking with my first feeling, and that’s the stunner next week. Franks just isn’t that good. Florida is a good team, but they’re not unbeatable.
If the Vols go and lose, it may well be 1-7. If they win, the momentum and the tenor of the season change in a flash, and although they’re not beating either Alabama or Georgia, you’d feel better about both the Mississippi State and South Carolina matchups if there’s a positivity in the air once we get to the month of October.