Is the Vols’ Offensive Line Better than We Think?

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    The Vols’ offensive line has been one of the biggest points of criticism about Tennessee’s team at the start of the 2018 season. Most fans and analysts alike believe UT’s offensive line is one of the worst in the SEC, and the consensus is that the line is holding back the offense from reaching its potential.

    But there’s one stat that shows the Vols’ offensive line might not be as bad as expected this season.

    CFB Film Room tweeted out a graphic showing how each SEC team has fared at protecting their respective quarterbacks this season. And Tennessee’s line graded out surprisingly well compared to some of the other lines in the conference.

    According to CFB Film Room’s analysis, UT’s offensive line has allowed the fourth-lowest percentage of pressures on quarterback drop-backs this season. Of the 106 times the Vols have thrown the ball this season, the quarterback (usually Jarrett Guarantano) has been pressured on only 26 percent of those instances. Only Georgia, Ole Miss, and Missouri are allowing a fewer percentage of quarterback pressures.

    In fact, the Vols have done a decent job in pass protection this year overall. Tennessee is tied for fifth in the SEC in sacks allowed this season as they’ve only given up eight through five games. That 1.6 sacks allowed per game is tied for sixth in the conference.

    But as we all know, stats can be misleading.

    One of the reasons the Vols have been successful in not allowing Guarantano or Keller Chryst to be pressured frequently is because Tennessee’s passing scheme has been to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand fairly quickly. The Vols are usually attempting passes within three seconds of snapping the ball, and that’s keeping the quarterback (mostly) clean. But it’s not allowing the Vols to create as many big plays in the passing game as they would like either.

    Tennessee’s line may be doing a good job of protecting the quarterback this season, but their real issue has been in run blocking.

    The Vols are the worst in the SEC and one of the worst in the entire country in giving up negative plays on the ground. Tennessee has allowed 38 tackles for loss through five games, and their 7.6 tackles for loss allowed per game is the worst average in the conference. That average is also tied with Nebraska and San Jose State for 115th in the FBS. Only 13 FBS schools are allowing more tackles for loss per game this season than the Vols, and that includes just four Power Five schools that are giving up more tackles for loss per game than UT.

    Tennessee’s offensive line will face their hardest test of the 2018 season this Saturday when they go up against Auburn’s stout front seven. The Tigers have totaled 49 tackles for loss in six games this season, giving them an average of 8.2 tackles for loss per game. That’s the second-highest average in the SEC and the 16th-best in all of college football.

    While the Vols’ offensive line has done a good job of keeping the quarterback clean, they still have a long way to go in pass protection. And the Vols’ run blocking has been downright abysmal at times this season. The line may be good at one thing, but overall they’re still lacking.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.