Tennessee’s offense has been very “boom or bust” so far this season. The Vols have found ways to get some big plays, totaling 12 plays of 30 or more yards and six plays of 50 or more yards on the year. Through five games this season, UT already has more 50-yard plays than all of last season. But they’ve also totaled a ton of negative plays on the year. Tennessee has allowed the most tackles for loss in the SEC this season, giving up 38 TFLs this year through five games.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt says the issue with the Vols’ offense this year hasn’t been because of play-calling or their schemes: It’s because of lack of execution.
Pruitt met with the media after practice on Wednesday, and he was asked about offensive coordinator Tyson Helton’s offense and what can be done to help find more consistency. Pruitt stated that it doesn’t matter what offense you run — the triple option, the run-and-shoot, etc. — the play-calling and scheme won’t matter if the execution isn’t there.
“It’s all about being able to execute,” Pruitt said on Wednesday. “Having positive plays, not having negative plays. Being efficient in the throw game, being able to run the ball effectively. We’ve not been able to do that for most of the year. There have been times when we’ve put plays back-to-back. But we’ve got to be more consistent.
“We’ve done a really good job of getting in third-and-manageable, and we haven’t converted. In the last game, it was two third-and-ones. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
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Against Georgia, Tennessee faced a third down and one twice in the first half, and they failed to convert on either of them. The Vols tried to run Madre London up the middle on the first attempt and came up short, and the second time they rolled Jarrett Guarantano out and he attempted a pass beyond the sticks to his tight end, but the pass sailed past his intended target.
Tennessee finished just 2-of-10 on third down against Georgia, and they’ve converted just 35.9 percent of their third down conversions all season. That’s the third-worst percentage in the SEC this season.
Pruitt also went into detail about the Vols’ running game. He was asked about running back Ty Chandler and his ability to make big plays, and Pruitt said that while the sophomore did a good job of creating explosive plays against Georgia, there’s still more work to be done there.
“We had three explosive plays the other day. Ty was involved in two of them. The two times that he created explosive plays, we got him to the second level, he makes a guy miss, extends the play to plus-20 yards or plus-15 yards,” Pruitt stated. “But there’s probably three other times in the game Saturday that we got him to the second level, and the first guy there knocked him down, and it’s a 6-yard gain. All our backs, not just Ty, we’ve got to make the first guy miss.”
But it’s not just Tennessee’s running backs who need to improve to help the Vols’ rushing attack. Pruitt says the offensive line needs to step up their game as well.
“One of the most important things in the run game is blocking the big guys,” Pruitt added. “Because most of the time when the big guys tackle the backs, they go backwards. If you can get them to the second level, to the linebackers, to the secondary, the back should be falling forward. Now you’re talking about 3-yard-plus gains. You get them to the second level. They make somebody miss. Now you’ve got a chance for explosive plays.”
Tennessee has found some big plays on offense, but most of them have come in the passing game. Of the Vols’ 20 plays of 20 or more yards, 13 of them have come from passes. Tennessee only has seven runs all season of over 20 yards or more, and they have just 27 runs of 10 or more yards. They have 36 pass plays that have gone for 10-plus yards.
It’s clear that the Vols’ offense has potential to be better than what they’ve been this season. But as Pruitt said, if they can’t execute more consistently, then they’ll never live up to that potential this season.