By Brian Rice
I left the stadium on Saturday night under the impression that Tennessee had won a football game. I seem to remember it happening. Started about 4:00, wrapped up around 7:30. You remember that game?
I’m pretty sure I stood in a Butch Jones press conference where he talked about the win. Players seemed pretty happy overall with the result and had a pretty good time talking about it after the game.
So I was more than a little surprised to crack open Twitter after I got home to find a place reacting like we lost the game, not dominated a hapless opponent from a lower division. But in a world where apparently everything is the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, some people viewed Saturdays 42–7 victory as some kind of loss. We’re not allowed to celebrate moral victories, for good reason, but apparently the moral loss is definitely a thing now. And in the minds of some, we have a pair of those.
I saw complaints about the quarterback situation, how the snaps were divided up, the plays that were called for each player, plenty of things along those lines. If you watched the game and are still legitimately wondering why Quinten Dormady is playing over Jarret Guarantano, then I don’t have anything to help you. Guarantano showed flashes of being great. He was also 4-of-12 for 41 yards.
Let’s be very clear on something. Jones gave Guarantano every opportunity to win the QB job, dating back to the moment the Music City Bowl was over. If he was the best QB on the roster, he would be starting. Despite what some on Twitter would have you believe, Jones isn’t keeping the best player on the bench to make some sort of point about being “right.”
The defense underwhelmed some because it didn’t do anything particularly special. It didn’t have to.
The only person who has any real idea about how Tennessee’s defense is going to be this season is Bob Shoop, and I’m not even sure he can definitively tell you on Sept. 11. Through two games, the Volunteers have played a modified version of the offense that high school you knew that only had just enough kids to have a team would run because it was all they had and then a team so hapless on offense they just found the one thing the other opponent had done and ran with it.
I’m not going to talk about what the defense did against Georgia Tech because I still have the football version of PTSD thinking about it. It wasn’t good, but it really has no bearing on the rest of the season. Against the Sycamores on Saturday, Tennessee ran about three defensive plays. They didn’t blitz, they didn’t mix coverages, they just ran personnel groups out there and didn’t allow their opponent to pick up a single first down. I assume if they had had some semblance of success at some point, a linebacker might have stepped up through gap.
Congrats, Indiana State, you ran sweeps to each side of the field at a level we could almost label successful. You scored seven points and converted 0 third downs. Ran those sweeps to finish with 122 yards rushing and just over 200 total yards. That’s pretty good by any measure.
If you want to be mad about how Tennessee has looked on the fence the first two games, that’s fine. I’m not going to tell anybody how to fan. There’s no doubt Tennessee have to find a way to contain the edge better. They don’t look like an attacking defense right now.
Bob Shoop made a name for himself with attacking, aggressive defenses at Vanderbilt and Penn State. Last year, they didn’t have the personnel to be aggressive for much of the year. But if he permanently is going away from that aggressive style of play, then he’s determining his own job status. But maybe we should pump the brakes and wait until we see the real opponent before deciding either way.
If the Vols give up record-breaking yardage numbers against Florida and Georgia like they did down the stretch last season, then it’s a conversation we will need to have. Until then, I’m willing to hold off on the flip out.
The most important group of people in this conversation that have no idea what Tennessee is going to run defensively is Florida. They have two games of film that they can basically toss in the garbage. Neither of the first two games have any bearing on how Tennessee will look defensively on Saturday in the Swamp or wherever the two teams will meet. And that’s a good thing. A program that has struggled on offense for three years now is trying to figure out how to move the ball against a defense it knows nothing about.
We Found Guarantano!
With 36 seconds left in the first quarter, Guarantano made his official Tennessee debut with a handoff to John Kelly. I think him getting into the game when the issue was still sort of in doubt can be a real positive for him.
Where I am concerned is what the effect of coming out of the game had on Dormady’s rhythm and feel for the game. After throwing for 59 yards in the first quarter, Dormady threw for 64 yards and a touchdown in the second frame once he reentered the game on the third possession of the quarter. But it looked a little bit like he was playing at three-quarter speed once he came back in. The interception in the endzone was That can’t happen. I think that is a good learning moment for him and something that will help his development going forward.
I could see Guarantano getting a few more snaps than the average backup QB, but it certainly looks, for good reason, like this is Dormady’s job going forward.
Where Art Thou, Medley?
Look, you never want your offense to stall out as a head coach, but I get the feeling Butch Jones would have been ok with a stop from Indiana State at some point to trot out his kicker.
Aaron Medley has been prefect on extra points thus far this season and his booming kickoffs have kept opponents’ return games off the field. But the first field goal he attempts this season will likely come on the road against Florida. That’s not an ideal situation.
Medley is a senior and he’s seen every road venue Tennessee will visit this year. But I know the staff would have liked for him to shake off any rust or nerves in game action in front of a crowd before potentially having a key SEC game non the line during his first kick.
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