In our weekly football column, we throw six flags over Tennessee.
Our three Green Flags mean you’re good to go — you’re playing at a winning level.
Our three Red Flags mean, stop doing that – it will get you beat.
- Converting first downs and touchdowns. Tennessee couldn’t have been more efficient against Missouri than if the Vols were playing an FCS opponent. The Vols were 6×13 on third-downs – a far cry from the abysmal 1×11 against South Carolina. And once on third-and-10, UT gained 9 yards to set up a fourth-down conversion — on the game’s first series, no less. The Vols were also 4×4 on fourth downs – mainly on quarterback sneaks. And just as importantly, UT was 5×5 in the red zone in scoring touchdowns in the 35-12 victory. Make those field goals and its 15-12.
- The offensive line. The addition of Georgia transfer Cade Mays helped. At times, Tennessee was dominant up front as the Vols top two running backs combined for 195 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. And UT didn’t have a negative run play. We stop short of saying the line was completely dominant because UT had just seven runs of more than 5 yards and had 19 non-scoring runs of 3 or fewer yards. The Jumbo package was successful as UT used multiple offensive linemen at tight end or at H-back to push the pile. Freshman Cooper Mays got 18 snaps in the formation, Riley Locklear 11. Running back Eric Grey said it’s like “running behind a Mac truck.’’ Left guard Trey Smith said it’s a `lot of beef.’’ The Jumbo totals over 2,000 pounds. That is literally a ton of beef.
- Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. He was efficient against Missouri: 14 of 23 for 190 yards and one touchdown. He was more accurate than he was in the opener and his decision making has been sound. He also has done a nice job converting QB sneaks, saying he and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney looked at about 50 sneaks in the offseason. Asked if Guarantano has the freedom to check to a sneak at the line, Pruitt said: “Absolutely not,’’ perhaps referring to the Alabama debacle of last season. Guarantano will have to be spot-on for the Vols to upset two-touchdown Georgia on Saturday (3:30, CBS).
- Special Teams. Brent Cimaglia might lose his nickname of Auto-maglia if he doesn’t become more accurate. He missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt against Missouri and is now 1×3 this season. And after UT went up 21-6 with 44 seconds left in the first half, Paxton Brooks gave Missouri field position at the 35 with a kickoff that went out of bounds. UT’s punting has also been average.
- Secondary mistakes. Missouri aided UT’s pass-defense numbers by dropping six passes. One could have resulted in an 84-yard touchdown. UT did a poor job covering South Carolina’s Shi Smith (1o catches) in the opener. A plethora of missed practices due to the virus or injuries has impacted the cohesiveness of the secondary. Not having Shawn Shamburger at the Star (nickel) has also had an impact. He will play against Georgia, Jeremy Pruitt said. UT can’t afford to let Georgia’s receivers run free.
- Lack of a pass rush. It was solid against South Carolina: 4 sacks, 4 quarterback pressures. It wasn’t as efficient against Missouri: 1 sack (by Deandre Johnson). Johnson has 3.5 sacks and is on pace to exceed Darrell Taylor’s 8.5 sacks in 13 games last season. But UT must get more pressure on Georgia quarterback Steton Bennett or he could pick apart the secondary. He has thrown for 240 yards in each of his first two games and has proven to be accurate (17×28 against Auburn).