RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Following the loss to Georgia State, Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt said that teams show the most improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. While the Tennessee Volunteers did nothing to improve their record from the first week to the second, there were noticeable improvements in several areas of the game, particularly in the running game.
Against Georgia State, the Vols could not eclipse the century mark on the ground, rushing for only 93 yards against their Sun Belt opponent. In Week 2, however, Tennessee more than doubled its running production from Week 1, this time against BYU. The Vols gained 242 yards on the ground compared to the Cougars’ 107.
That kind of improvement, according to Pruitt, can be attributed to the offensive line.
“There were a lot of positives in the offensive line,” Pruitt said during his Monday press conference. “It was probably the best that we’ve been able to run the football against a quality opponent in some time.”
And Pruitt was right. The Vols have rushed for more than 240 yards only one other time since he took over as head coach, which came when Tennessee ran for 345 yards against UTEP in the 2018 season. While it might be worth debating if UTEP is a “quality opponent,” it’s also worth noting — again — that Tennessee could only muster 93 rushing yards against Georgia State.
Run blocking involves more than just the offensive line, however, and Pruitt noted that better blocking on the edge would have gone a long way to help the Vols’ chances of winning.
“We probably left a few plays out there. We broke some balls down the field and didn’t finish at wide receiver, where we had a chance if we finished on a block down there, we could have [gone] all the way to the end zone,” Pruitt said.
It isn’t just the receivers that need to block better, however. Despite complimenting his offensive line’s performance against BYU, Pruitt noted that the O-line still has to produce on a consistent basis before it can be considered a winning unit.
“We ran the ball better offensively, but if you look at it, we had one O-lineman we felt like graded a winner, so we have a long way to go to get to where we need to be,” Pruitt stated. “There [are] lots of inconsistencies there, and we got to continue to work hard to develop there.”
BYU allowed 262 rushing yards to Utah in Week 1, and after their 242 rushing yards allowed to Tennessee, the Cougars have now given up 504 yards on the ground through two games. That 252.0 yards per game allowed is 128th out of 130 FBS teams so far in 2019.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is averaging 167.5 rushing yards a game, though they have just one rushing touchdown through two games.
Should the Volunteers continue to progress in the trenches in the following weeks, a new-and-improved offensive line could, in fact, be the winning edge.