Tennessee has now lost four straight games following its 24-13 loss to Arkansas on Saturday night.
The Vols blew a 13-0 halftime lead to the Razorbacks. Jarrett Guarantano’s night ended early due to a head injury, which caused the offense to spiral out of control and be shutout in the second half. On the flip side, Tennessee’s defense allowed Arkansas to score 24 unanswered points.
Here are the position grades from Tennessee’s loss to Arkansas:
Jarrett Guarantano doesn’t get an ‘F’ individually, but the whole unit does as a result of the shenanigans that took place in the second half. Guarantano performed well within the realm of what he was asked to do. It led to a fairly efficient first half for Tennessee’s offense.
But when Guarantano went out with a head injury, the offense quickly shattered into a million pieces. With Guarantano in the game, Arkansas couldn’t completely sellout to stop the run because of the threat of Guarantano pushing the ball deep to Jalin Hyatt or Josh Palmer. That changed when Brian Maurer came in.
Arkansas did completely sellout to stop the run when Maurer was in because it didn’t respect his arm. Tennessee’s rushing attack that found success in the first half slowed down as a result and the Maurer-led offense proceeded to go three-and-out on three straight possessions. Maurer finished 0-for-4 passing.
Harrison Bailey relieved Maurer with just under eight minutes remaining in the game. Bailey was able to guide Tennessee to a little more offensive success, though he couldn’t produce any points. He finished 6-of-9 for 65 yards and two interceptions. Bailey’s two interceptions are misleading. One was on a fourth-and-four slant in which Arkansas should have been called for pass interference, but the ball got batted up into the air, and fell into the arms of a defensive lineman. The other was on a heave to the end zone as time expired, and that pass was also batted into the air.
Tennessee’s running backs performed well and certainly weren’t the issue in the second half when the offense was spiraling out of control. Eric Gray looked good, rushing for 123 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.
Ty Chandler only carried the football once due to an ankle injury. True freshman Jabari Small was forced into action as Tennessee’s No. 2 back behind Gray and was solid. Small rushed for 18 yards on eight carries and had two catches for 14 yards.
It’s hard to gauge the performance of Tennessee’s receivers because the unit wasn’t really given an opportunity to do much. In the first half, Tennessee so focused on running the football and was having success doing so, that the wide receivers weren’t asked to make a play. In the second half, the wide receivers couldn’t make plays when asked to do so because the quarterback position couldn’t get them the football.
Tennessee’s tight ends continue to be non-existent in Jim Chaney’s offense. They struggle to block and they’re not a threat in the passing game. It’s one of the many positions that the Vols must continue to recruit hard.
Tennessee’s offensive line was as healthy as its been in awhile following the bye week and it showed. The unit played well for much of the game and helped guide the Vols to a 13-0 halftime lead. Gray had plenty of holes to run through and Arkansas struggled to pressure the quarterback. Trey Smith played his best game of the season.
Tennessee’s defensive line performed better than it has in most games this season, but it still wasn’t a great outing for the big uglies up front against the Razorbacks. Especially when you consider that Arkansas’ offensive line hasn’t performed all that well throughout the season and has been playing musical chairs.
Feleipe Franks often had all day to throw the football and though Rakeem Boyd was held to 65 rushing yards on 19 carries, Arkansas’ running back combined to average 4.9 yards per carry. It was able to do so because Tennessee’s d-line often failed to generate an initial push.
It wasn’t solely the defensive line’s fault that Franks had all day to throw the football. Tennessee failed to generate a pass rush off the edge. Arkansas did a good job of getting the ball out quickly and attacking the middle of the field, but when Franks dropped back to push the ball downfield, he had zero pass rush to deal with.
Kivon Bennett did have two sacks and two tackles for a loss on Arkansas’ final two possessions to give Tennessee’s offense a chance to get back into the game.
It also wasn’t solely the defensive line’s fault that Arkansas’ backs combined to average nearly five yards a carry. Tennessee’s linebackers looked better following the bye week, but the unit still lacks difference-makers right now outside of Henry To’o To’o, who finished with seven tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss.
Quavaris Crouch had five tackles, a pass breakup, a hit on the quarterback, and a forced fumble, but was benched at one point for Jeremy Banks. Banks finished with two tackles and a quarterback hit.
Tennessee’s inside linebackers continue to contribute to the defensive struggles over the middle of the field as well.
Opposing receivers continue to run open in Tennessee’s secondary. Whether it be over the middle of the field or on the outside, coverage busts continue to hurt the Vols.
Tennessee was without starting corner Alontae Taylor due to a hamstring injury. Kenneth George Jr. struggled as his replacement and was ultimately benched for sophomore corner Warren Burrell. Tennessee was also without nickle Shawn Shamburger who didn’t make the trip. Theo Jackson started in his place and finished with a team-high 10 tackles, but he struggled to defend the pass in the slot.
The unit as a whole failed to produce a turnover yet again.
Special teams wasn’t the problem for the Vols. Brent Cimaglia was 2-for-2, connecting on a 50-yarder and a 48-yarder, respectively. Paxton Brooks averaged 45.7 yards per punt, boomed three over 50-yards, and downed one inside of the 20-yard line.
Saturday night was a complete failure. The coaching staff was handcuffed on offense due to the quarterback position and it was a result of the staff’s inability to evaluate and develop the position. There wasn’t much Jim Chaney and his staff could do within the game to fix the situation, but Tennessee failed to address the situation over the offseason and it’s now biting them in the butt.
Defensively, Pruitt’s defense has regressed significantly since last season and hasn’t made any improvements since the first game of the season. If anything, it continues to get worse each week. There are so many issues with this team currently. More than there should be in year three regardless of having to deal with COVID or not.
At the end of the day, Pruitt can’t lose in year three to a first-year head coach who took over a team that had lost 20 consecutive conference games. Especially after a bye week.