It was another ugly win, but a win is a win. Or something like that.
Tennessee improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2004 with a 28-19 victory over the Ohio Bobcats. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but the Vols led the entire game and were able to overcome sloppy play to win by two scores.
The final “tune-up game” before SEC play was another head-scratcher for the Vols, but they were able to use a bend-don’t-break defense to hold Ohio to four field goals and one touchdown, and Tennessee scored four touchdowns on offense. That ability to turn drives into touchdowns instead of settling for field goals was the difference in the game.
Now it’s on to Florida week. But before that, here are five observations in the Vols’ 28-19 win over Ohio.
Stop and Go Offense
Tennessee came out and did exactly what they hadn’t done all season: Started strong. The Vols took their opening possession 55 yards in 38 seconds for a touchdown. Then it appeared they stopped Ohio for a three and out to get the ball back quickly.
But then a facemask penalty on Ohio’s punt attempt gave the Bobcats the ball back. And they drove down the field and made a field goal. From that point on, the Vols just…lost it.
Tennessee added another touchdown in the second quarter, but they were outgained once again in the first half by an opponent, this time 200 yards to 155 yards. And they only held a 14-12 halftime lead.
The Vols were once again able overcome the slow “start,” but it’s becoming a troubling trend for this team. If they can keep finishing these games, then it won’t matter. But slow starts against SEC opponents are harder to recover from than ones against lesser competition.
Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries
The Vols came into today’s game a little banged up, but they left it with a myriad of injuries on defense that puts an even bigger question mark on next week’s game against Florida.
Cornerback Cam Sutton, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and linebacker Quart’e Sapp all left the game with injuries and never returned. Defensive tackle Danny O’Brien left but came back, and cornerback Marquill Osborne left and never returned as well.
Before the game, cornerback Justin Martin and receiver Josh Smith were ruled out due to injury, and cornerback Malik Foreman was suspended for a violation of team rules.
As of right now, Butch Jones has said Cam Sutton will be out “an extended period of time” with an ankle injury. Jones also said Reeves-Maybin has a shoulder injury, and he will know more after this weekend.
Injuries were the one thing the Vols didn’t need from this game. But they got a ton of them.
Fumble Recovering Factory
The Vols may be the best fumble recovering team in the nation.
Much like Virginia Tech last week, the Vols fumbled the ball five times this week against Ohio. But unlike the Hokies, Tennessee recovered every single one of their fumbles.
The Vols have fumbled the ball 11 times this season, but they’ve only lost one. And that one was Cam Sutton’s fumbled punt early against Appalachian State. Tennessee has also recovered five total fumbles on defense, giving them 15 fumble recoveries on the season.
Offensive Line Whiffs Again
I’m going to sound like a broken record at this point, but Tennessee’s offensive line has been so, so bad through three weeks that it bears repeating.
The Vols allowed three sacks and eight tackles for a loss against Ohio, and it was worse than the stats even indicate for most of the game. It didn’t matter who they had as the five linemen out there; the Vols had trouble blocking consistently on just about every single drive.
It would be one thing if these issues were happening against daunting front sevens in the SEC. But they’ve been happening against weaker, less talented opponents so far. That doesn’t bode well at all for conference play coming up.
Josh Malone Does It Again
The one major bright spot for the Vols on offense to start the season has been the emergence of Josh Malone as a legitimate big play threat. Malone caught five passes for 69 yards and two scores against Ohio, giving him nine catches for 197 yards and four touchdowns in three games. That gives Malone a 21.9 yard per catch average, and it means 44 percent of his catches have gone for scores this season.
Malone has been criticized for most of his time at Tennessee since coming on to the roster as a former five-star recruit. But it looks like he may finally be coming into his own and finding his identity on offense.