Tennessee’s offense had their worst performance of the season and their worst output on offense since 2017 this weekend. The Vols managed just seven points on offense and totaled less than 200 yards of offense for the first time all season in a 14-3 win over Charlotte, a Conference USA team.
After the game, Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway was asked about Tennessee’s offense and whether or not the Vols might’ve overlooked the 49ers. And the junior receiver didn’t shy away from the question.
“I think a lot of us underestimated Charlotte, and they’re a great team, offense and defense,” Callaway said after the game. “I think we were ready to get on to Kentucky, and without being that, we had to take care of Charlotte. And Charlotte really showed up and proved to us not to overlook them.”
Tennessee has a huge match-up on the horizon with nationally-ranked Kentucky next weekend, and the Vols didn’t have to play their best to defeat Charlotte. But that lack of focus was evident on Saturday as the Vols had their worst offensive output of the Jeremy Pruitt era.
The Vols’ 192 yards of offense was the lowest total of the season and the lowest amount of total offensive yards they’d produced since managing just 108 yards against Alabama in a 45-7 loss last season. Tennessee’s 4.09 yards per play also marked their lowest output in that regard this year, and it was their worst average yards per play since they had just 3.56 yards a play against Southern Miss, another Conference USA team, last season in a 24-10 victory.
Callaway did his part on Saturday to help the Vols win, returning a punt 82 yards for a touchdown and catching three passes for 30 yards, two of which went for first downs. In fact, Tennessee’s passing game wasn’t the issue on Saturday. Jarrett Guarantano completed 16 of his 21 pass attempts for 172 yards and a touchdown all without turning the ball over, marking the eighth time in nine games this season he hasn’t thrown an interception.
It was Tennessee’s rushing attack and offensive line that proved to be woefully ineffective.
The Vols totaled a paltry 20 rushing yards on 26 carries on Saturday, giving them easily their worst performance in the run game all season. Tennessee’s 20 yards on the ground against Charlotte marked the lowest rushing total UT has had in a single game since they ran for zero yards on 28 attempts against Ole Miss in 2014 in a 34-3 loss.
Still, not everyone agreed with Callaway’s assessment of Tennessee’s mentality on Saturday.
Senior defensive end Kyle Phillips was asked a similar question after the Vols’ win over Charlotte, and he believed Saturday’s game was less about Tennessee overlooking the 49ers and more about their opponent just being a good team.
“No, I don’t think that’s the case,” Phillips responded. “I think they’re a good football team. They play some good teams, and they’re a good football team, and they played well tonight.”
Charlotte has shown a great deal of growth this season. The 49ers went 1-11 last season and had won just seven total games over the last three seasons before this year. Heading into Saturday’s game against Tennessee, the 49ers were 4-4 and had a 3-2 record in conference play. They also came into their match-up with the Vols as the No. 6 rushing defense in the country, giving up less than 90 yards per game on the ground.
That number only improved after Saturday, and now they have the third-best run defense in college football, giving up just 82 yards per game on the ground to opponents.
Tennessee’s offensive game plan was very conservative against Charlotte, and it appeared the Vols’ goal was to win, keep the team healthy, and move on to the rest of their SEC schedule. If that was actually the objective, then Tennessee accomplished what they set out to do.
Callaway believes his team overlooked a quality opponent, and Vol fans hope that’s the case. Because Tennessee will need a much better performance against Kentucky next weekend if they want to emerge victorious in that contest.