By MIKE PATTON | Nashville Voice
Not many knew what to expect from the Tennessee Vols this season. With a new head coach and some talent left behind, there were some that had high hopes he could turn some things around quickly.
Well, even with the talent he had, things were still the same as they were last year on Rocky Top. The Vols were up and down all season, with the emphasis on down definitely there the last two games, where they were blown out by a combined score of 88-30.
With that last loss to Vanderbilt to close out the season, the Vols again are not going to a bowl game. Instead, they will be watching the other teams play, wishing they were there playing instead of being at home.
A season record of 5-7 was obviously not what they had in mind, especially coming off the upsets of Kentucky and Auburn this season. With what was seen this season, the Vols have two things they have to find answers for going into the offseason.
One big issue the Vols need to address badly is their offensive line.
Sure, they lost Brandon Kennedy to a knee injury this season and he was slated to be their starting center, but the issues they had do not begin and end with Kennedy. The Vols struggled to find an offensive line combination that would consistently do what they needed to get done.
Unfortunately, they never found a consistent five guys that could handle running their offense. The result was quarterback Jarrett Guarantano running for his life a lot and him taking some bigtime hits.
Not only did he take hits on almost every play, but the defense also covered him so securely he never had any time to read the field. The result was Guarantano taking a lot of sacks, passes incomplete and shorter routes that did not give Tennessee the chance to stretch the field.
Along with the Tennessee offensive line being bad protecting Guarantano, they were also bad in running the football.
Sophomore running back Ty Chandler was expected to have himself a good season, as he was slated to be the focal point of the running game. He did have a solid season, but he could have had better if he had a better offensive line.
Plenty of times, the Vols offensive line was pushed into the backfield and that meant Chandler would have nowhere to run, creating for himself on plenty of runs.
While those runs may be exciting at times, they are not runs that can be sustainable in an offense all season long.
The Vols have to get tougher up front going into next season. They have to hold their blocks and set the tempo instead of allowing people to dictate the tempo to them.
The offensive issues are apparent. but so are some of the issues on the defense. The Vols were young in the secondary this season. They threw plenty of freshman or sophomores out there that were inexperienced.
They fought, but they were not as consistent as you would want them to be as defensive backs. The result was some big plays that happened against some good offenses. And with the big play happening on the regular, more pressure was put on the offense to make some things happen.
Along with pressure put on the offense to produce, there was also pressure on the front seven to produce pressure and especially the edge rushers. The Vols, unfortunately, did not have the guys up front to consistently create pressure.
Usually, a team has either a good pass rush or a good secondary, but no solid football team has been devoid of both.
Tennessee was not a good team this year and being devoid of both things hurt them. The main objective for Pruitt is to find a consistent pass rush. Whether it comes from the players he currently has or from someone he brings in for next season, the Vols need someone to create pressure and do so consistently.
The Vols finished 5-7 and that isn’t the standard Vols fans were used to back in the Phil Fulmer days. The turnaround isn’t going to happen overnight, but if Pruitt is able to take care of these issues, the Vols may be back a little sooner than many feel they should be.