Tennessee got their first win of the 2018 season thanks to a bounce-back effort against FCS squad ETSU. After losing their season opener to West Virginia, the Vols handed the Bucs a 59-3 defeat in their home opener in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. The Vols got their first win of the Jeremy Pruitt era, and they did it by scoring in a multitude of ways.
The Vols scored once through the air, five times on the ground (once on an end-around by Josh Palmer), once on a pick-six, and once via a blocked punt and return.
All in all, Tennessee still has plenty to work on next week when they play UTEP and as they prepare for Florida after. But the numbers are much kinder to the Vols after Week 2 than they were in Week 1.
We go back and evaluate some of the reasons why Tennessee earned the outcome they did. Here are the key numbers from the Vols’ 59-3 victory over ETSU.
Unlike last week, Tennessee dominated the big play game on Saturday. The Vols had three plays go for 50 yards or more (all passes) against the Bucs, and they had five plays of over 20 yards or more in the game. The Vols had 10 plays go for 10 yards or more in the game, which is two more than they had last week.
But where the Vols really showed improvement was stopping the opponent from gaining big chunks.
Granted, ETSU’s offense is no comparison to West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers have one of the most electrifying offenses in college football. But the Vols held ETSU to just five plays of 10 yards or more after giving up 13 such plays to West Virginia last week. The Vols didn’t give up a play of over 20 yards till the third quarter. Tennessee allowed the Mountaineers to gain 25 yards on one play on WVU’s first offensive possession of the game last week.
The Turnover Battle
For the second straight week, the Vols won the turnover battle. Last week it didn’t matter in the final outcome, but this week it helped Tennessee pile on a lot of points.
Counting the blocked punt and recovery for a score, the Vols forced four turnovers and scored touchdowns off all of them. Tennessee scored a touchdown after blocking the punt and returning it eight yards, intercepted a pass and returned it 33 yards for a score, scored on the offensive possession after a Bryce Thompson pick, and scored on the offensive possession after recovering a fumbled punt.
Tennessee forced four turnovers and didn’t commit a single giveaway. Jeremy Banks initially had a fumble credited to him, but the refs reviewed the play and ruled that his knee was down, and that kept the Vols’ streak of no turnovers alive.
Better on 1st and 3rd
The Vols struggled to stop West Virginia on third down in the second half last week and were inept themselves on third down after a solid start. Tennessee also allowed the Mountaineers to torch them on first down plays.
Both of those things got fixed on Saturday.
Once again, it’s worth pointing out that ETSU’s offense is a much lower quality offense than West Virginia’s. But the Vols still took a lot of positive steps in these areas. Tennessee held ETSU to just a 13.3 percent conversion rate on third down, holding them to just two conversions on 15 attempts. The Vols, meanwhile, converted four of their 10 third down attempts.
On first down, ETSU managed to gain just 95 total yards on 22 first down plays, an average of just 4.3 yards per play on first down. The Mountaineers gained nearly double that (8.1 yards per play) on first down last week against the Vols. ETSU only picked up nine first downs the entire game.
Tennessee, on the other hand, averaged 9.4 yards per play on their 30 first down plays and scored four touchdowns on first down plays. The Vols picked up 19 first downs on Saturday.
Airing it Out
Unlike last week, Tennessee attempted several passes deep down the field against ETSU. And it paid off.
The Vols completed three passes of 50 or more yards and ended up averaging 20.4 yards per completion through the air. Jarrett Guarantano and Keller Chryst combined to complete 11 of their 16 passes for 224 yards and a score. Tennessee picked up eight first downs through the air and were a combined 4-of-6 for 26 yards on third down passes.
On defense, the Vols had a much easier time defending the pass against ETSU than they did against West Virginia. After giving up a career day to Will Grier last week and allowing 429 yards and five touchdowns without an interception, the Vols blew up ETSU’s passing attack. They picked off two passes (returning one for a touchdown) and held the Bucs to just 69 yards passing on the day. Starting quarterback Logan Marchi was just 11-of-26 for 72 yards and two interceptions.
ETSU averaged a mere 5.8 yards per completion on Saturday, and they only had two pass plays go for over 10 yards.
Still No Pass Rush
One area that was still a head-scratcher for the Vols on Saturday was their lack of a consistent pass rush. ETSU did try to release the ball quickly on passes and didn’t have too many drawn out pass plays, but Tennessee still didn’t do a good job of getting consistent pressure on the quarterback.
The Vols finished with just one sack and one quarterback hurry on Saturday. Tennessee did plenty of other things to affect the passing game and probably should’ve been credited with a couple more QB hurries than they were, but it was still alarming to see UT’s pass rushers get stymied by an offensive line that let up three sacks to Mars Hill last weekend.
Tennessee did get nine tackles for loss as a team, and that more than doubled what they got last week against West Virginia (4). But UT’s pass rush still needs some big improvement.