Jimmy’s blog: Gray matters, propels UT offense

By Jimmy Hyams

After Tennessee games, we throw flags at the Vols.

Green flags are for “keeping doing it.’’

Red flags are for “stop doing it.’’

Tennessee’s 30-17 loss to No. 21 Auburn had some bright spots, but not enough to eke out a victory. But close.

The Vols did go toe-to-toe with the Tigers for the most part.

That kind of performance would have been good enough to beat Arkansas or Kentucky.

Here are our flags.

GREEN FLAGS:

*Eric Gray has emerged as one of the elite running backs in the SEC. Thanks in large part to solid blocking, Gray had 22 carries for 173 yards and caught three passes for 49 yards. In the past two games, he has 59 touches for 372 yards from the line of scrimmage. Gray runs with vision, he’s shifty, speedy and has good balance. His ability to catch out of the backfield makes him an even more dangerous weapon. UT needs to keep feeding the talented sophomore.

*Tennessee ranked last in the SEC in third-down conversions (27%) entering the Auburn game but hit on 9 of 15, with Jarrett Guarantano hitting four of seven passes on third down. Seven conversions were on third-and-4 or less. Converting third downs will make this offense much more efficient.

*Sophomore quarterback Harrison Bailey was 7 of 10 for 86 yards and led a scoring drive against Auburn. He looked poised, confident and in command. It didn’t appear the moment was too big, like it did for Brian Maurer against Arkansas. Is Bailey the QB of future for Tennessee? We might not know unless he gets a start, and maybe that will come against Florida.

 

RED FLAGS

*For a half and most of a series in the second half, Guarantano was solid, completing 15 of 23 passes, 156 yards. And he managed the run game well. But … and there is a but … the pick six and 101-yard runback was a killer. Those type disaster plays have haunted Guarantano during his UT career – it’s the sixth defensive touchdown he has endured (four picks, two fumble recovery returns).

*Tennessee ranks among the SEC’s worst in third-down defense (48%) and it didn’t get any better against Auburn. The Tigers converted 9 of 15 (same as UT) with eight third-and-5 or less.

*When UT freshman linebacker Tyler Baron entered the Auburn game, he looked around, realized the Vols had too many men on the field, then fell down. It was obvious he flopped to avoid a penalty. Some flop to slow down an offense. Pruitt said he doesn’t coach that but it is the norm at other programs where he has worked. But Baron’s flop was the second time in two weeks a Vol did so. If Baron didn’t flop then what was his injury? Pruitt said he wasn’t aware of a Baron injury and Baron wasn’t on the injury report. Some may think flopping is part of the game.

I don’t.


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