Tennessee’s Team121 trash can has been a well-publicized motivational ploy for the defense, but after Saturday’s dreadful performance against UMass, the Vols’ offense was the unit left looking for the grey bucket.
Whatever that gameplan was, throw it away.
Tennessee mustered just 319 yards and 17 points in a real scare against the Minutemen — an 0-4 team with losses to Hawaii, Coastal Carolina, Old Dominion and Temple. The Vols were without starting center Jashon Robertson, but nothing excuses an offensive performance that was inconsistent to downright dreadful all afternoon.
“There’s no excuse,” senior left tackle Brett Kendrick said after the close-call. “There’s no excuse for us to come out here and play the way that we did.”
The Vols had just 58 yards — at 1.8 per play — in the second half, as Tennessee’s offensive line got little to know push up front against the nation’s No. 119 rush defense. UMass had 12 tackles for loss total, with its movement causing fits — especially since Tennessee continued to run the ball right into the late shifts and d-line slants.
John Kelly had 80 yards at halftime. He finished with 101 on 25 carries. Quinten Dormady had 187 yards passing on 27 attempts — 66 yards on one quick slant. The Vols scored two touchdowns late in the second half, appearing to finally wakeup from their residual hangover from the not-Hail Mary loss at Florida. Kelly had a couple big runs and the Brandon Johnson-Quinten Dormady connection hooked up for a couple nice pass plays, but after halftime, Tennessee’s offense could not execute.
“As an offense it’s always frustrating when we’re not scoring points,” Kendrick said. “Finishing the first half like we did, with those two touchdowns back-to-back, we thought we had a lot of momentum going into halftime. … But then we didn’t execute. Our confidence (disappeared).”
Through three games, Tennessee’s offense has no real identity. Kelly is a star, but he can’t make a play on every down. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Larry Scott is still clearly trying to find his comfort zone as a playcaller.
A week after calling several pass plays inside the red zone, Tennessee's offense went super conservative Saturday. The Vols opened 11 of 13 possessions with a run. In total, they ran the ball on 18-of-28 first downs (and that includes several first-down throws in the 2-minute offense right before halftime).
"Looking for a spark," Butch Jones inserted Jarrett Guarantano into the game midway through the third quarter after Dormady opted not to run on a 3rd-and-5.
That didn’t move work, either, as the only sparks inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday were from the postgame fireworks.
Guarantano played three series, finishing with 10 yards — one first down — on 11 snaps. Johnson had a bad 3rd-down drop, but otherwise, the offense still stagnated.
"They were committing eight or nine individuals to the box," Jones said, holding any judgement on the offensive line unit he's view the film.
"You have to play with great intensity and toughness."
Robertson’s absence was noticeable, but Tennessee didn’t just struggle at center Saturday. The Vols rotated left guards — with Venzell Boulware and Jack Jones — with little success and starting left tackle Drew Richmond was benched for a couple series.
Making matters worse, freshman phenom Trey Smith, who also had a tough afternoon, limped off the field during Tennessee’s final offensive series.
With Georgia coming to town, Tennessee has to get right up front fast.
“We always talk about the next man up mentality, but just Jashon being out there, his presence definitely would’ve been felt a lot more,” Kelly said.
“We just went with who we had out there. I feel like it’s just time for everybody to get better.”