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5 Observations: Vols 24, UTEP 0

Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

It certainly wasn’t pretty on Saturday, but the Vols defeated lowly UTEP and handed the Miners their 15th consecutive loss.

Now, it’s Florida week.

Tennessee (2-1) struggled out of the gates against UTEP (0-3) and didn’t look sharp for most of the game. But they rode a great defensive effort and did enough on offense to secure a 24-0 win against the Miners. The shutout was the Vols’ first since they defeated Tennessee Tech 55-0 on November 5th, 2016. It was their first shutout against an FBS school since defeating North Texas 24-0 on November 24th, 2015.

The Vols eclipsed 500 yards of offense for the first time under Jeremy Pruitt, and Tennessee racked up 345 yards on the ground in this contest. Jarrett Guarantano was extremely efficient, completing 75 percent of his 16 pass attempts for 168 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball six times for 20 yards. Keller Chryst didn’t do much and didn’t look impressive when he was in the game, completing just one of his three passes for negative one yards.

Vol fans may not like how Tennessee got there, but UT picked up the win on Saturday. Here are our five biggest takeaways from the shutout victory.

Yet Another Sluggish Start

As has been the case for the whole season so far, the Vols started out sluggish and played inefficiently against UTEP. Tennessee did total 259 yards of offense in the first half and averaged 7.4 yards per play, but they only managed 10 points because of two turnovers, penalties, and some bad play by the offensive line.

Not only that, but the Vols were a mere 1-of-6 on third down attempts in the first half. The only one they converted was a third-and-one that was picked up by a two-yard run.

The Vols were winning on the stat sheet in the first half, but they weren’t putting up points. That will cost them against better teams, but it ultimately didn’t hurt them against UTEP.

Not So Disciplined Today

Tennessee came into Saturday’s game without a giveaway in two games and only averaging 4.5 penalties and 33.5 penalty yards in the first two games.

That all changed on Saturday.

The Vols gave the ball away twice and totaled eight penalties for 65 yards. Tennessee actually had several more penalties get declined by UTEP or they definitely would’ve had double-digit penalties in the game.

Tennessee’s defense overall did a superb job against another out-matched opponent just like last week, only allowing 134 total yards and 2.6 yards per play. And while the offense did rack up some impressive yardage totals, the offensive line was still far too much of an issue against a weaker opponent.

Welcome Back, Chandler 

Ty Chandler was knocked out early in the West Virginia game and didn’t play at all last week against ETSU, but he was back on the field against UTEP, and he made his presence felt.

Chandler ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run on Tennessee’s first play of the second half, and that was the cherry on top of what was a very impressive return for the sophomore. Chandler finished the game with 158 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, easily leading the team. His 158 rushing yards were also a career-high, eclipsing his 120 yards he had against Kentucky in his lone start of 2017.

Tim Jordan and Madre London had some effective carries on Saturday too, but it’s easy to see why Chandler is an important part of UT’s offense. He brings a home run potential that none of Tennessee’s other running backs have. And he showed that off on Saturday.

Dismal Third Downs

Tennessee has been fairly inconsistent on third downs this year, and they were largely ineffective on the money down against UTEP. The Vols managed to convert just four of their 12 third down attempts, and most of their conversions came in the second half when the game was already in control. Not only that, but seven of their 12 third down attempts were facing eight yards or longer.

The Vols were able to hold UTEP to just a 14.3 percent conversion rate on their 14 third down attempts, but the offense has to do better about not only converting their third down attempts, but setting themselves up for more manageable situations on third down.

Are They Ready for the SEC?

The Vols looked lackluster at best for most of Saturday’s contest against UTEP, and that’s not how they wanted to spend the last Saturday before they head into SEC play.

Tennessee fans already didn’t have a ton of confidence about the Vols’ prospects during their upcoming SEC run, and Saturday’s contest did little to inspire much more confidence in UT. The Vols didn’t look awful by any means against UTEP, but they looked far from crisp and on top of their game.

UTEP is one of the worst teams in the FBS, yet the Vols didn’t really bury them like they did ETSU last weekend. Maybe the noon kickoff played a part in that, and maybe the team was overlooking the Miners because Florida is coming to town next weekend. Whatever the reason, Saturday’s result was far from pretty.

But a win is a win, and Tennessee is now 2-1 on the year. And ready or not, the SEC is coming.

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