We Won’t Learn Much on the Second Day of Class Either

How did Tennessee’s performance against Georgia Tech affect our outlook on the rest of the season? In this week’s win probability (and you can still fill in your own at the bottom of that post), our readers nudge the Vols to the right side of eight wins:

Opponent Win Probability
Georgia Tech 100.0%
Indiana State 99.1%
at Florida 57.5%
UMass 98.1%
Georgia 51.4%
South Carolina 64.7%
at Alabama 12.4%
at Kentucky 70.0%
Southern Miss 87.9%
at Missouri 71.8%
LSU 33.8%
Vanderbilt 69.1%
WINS 8.16

Most noteworthy here:  our readers now find Florida a more likely victory than Georgia. But the rest of the numbers show this has more to do with what the Gators did than what we saw from the Vols.

Again, it’s difficult to make meaningful observations about the rest of the season from a week one date with the triple option. The good news: it’s Indiana State this Saturday, which means instead of going from a grueling overtime opener to the spectacle of Bristol like last year, the Vols get a much-needed visit from an FCS school with a losing record. The bad news: I’m not sure how much we’re going to learn this week either.

What is most exciting in the week two syllabus?

John Kelly, Marquez Callaway, Ethan Wolf, and…?

When Jauan Jennings went down, Quinten Dormady and Tennessee’s passing game went three places. To no surprise in the Butch Jones offense, the running back played a major role: John Kelly led the team with five receptions. Marquez Callaway was a revelation with 115 yards and two scores. And Ethan Wolf was inches away from what would have been his most productive day in a Tennessee uniform.

Will we see anyone begin to emerge behind those three? Brandon Johnson caught three passes but for only 14 yards underneath against the Yellow Jackets. Josh Palmer started but finished with just one catch. Does Josh Smith play? Can Tyler Byrd get on the same page with the quarterback(s)? Do we see more from some of the backups? The more options the Gators have to prepare for, the better.

How do the Vols rotate on defense?

Plenty of conversation in this short week has emerged around the number of snaps some of Tennessee’s defenders played. The Vols had five of the nation’s Top 50 defenders in total tackles in week one. This is in part because Georgia Tech had 96 offensive snaps in a double overtime game. But it’s also because, despite this, the Vols didn’t really rotate a lot of defenders.

Ten of UT’s starting eleven defenders had at least six tackles; Justin Martin was the odd man out. But behind the starters, no one recorded more than three total tackles. 116 of Tennessee’s 131 total tackles came from those ten players.

The drop-off is even more striking by position:

  • Linebacker:  Bituli, Jumper, & McDowell 54 combined tackles; Elliott Berry 1, Quart’e Sapp 1
  • Defensive End:  Kongbo & Taylor 19 combined tackles; Kyle Phillips 2
  • Safety:  Abernathy & Warrior 22 combined tackles; Todd Kelly Jr. 3

The numbers would have been striking at defensive tackle as well had Kendal Vickers not gone out with an injury. Against 96 plays and 40+ minutes of possession, the Vols rolled with their starters all night long.

The million dollar question here:  was that because the coaches didn’t trust any of the backups against Georgia Tech’s offense, or don’t trust the backups period?

They’ll trust them plenty against Indiana State, and those big names up there could use the rest. We won’t know how deep Bob Shoop and Butch Jones’ trust goes until Gainesville. But seeing who the fourth options are at defensive end, defensive tackle, and safety will be of note, and we’ll get that information this Saturday.

We all know the injury narrative from last season. I’d like to know if guys like Kyle Phillips, Quart’e Sapp, Alexis Johnson, and any number of freshmen can help this team before they have to help this team.

Resting Heart Rate

Months ago you could already see how much healthier Tennessee’s schedule was going to be this year. But I have felt it this week, and you probably have too. We got so used to our hearts beating at 150 bpm every week last fall, we bounced right back to it against Georgia Tech like an old friend who is trying to kill you. But thanks to no Bristol and no Florida-Georgia-A&M-Bama gauntlet this year, we can breathe a little deeper between Saturdays. We’ll get to the Gators. But first, man, we need some Indiana State.

6 Comments

  1. Since practice was closed to the media and public, this week is our open scrimmage. Nothing like going game speed to get ready for an important road game next week. Of course, if we play at scrimmage speed and get guys hurt, that’s the only downside.

    I’d love for JG to play so well that we have a QB controversy. Can you imagine the spin-quotes coming from Coach Chaos if that happened?

  2. Dormady threw to Brandon Johnson several times during the Georgia Tech game. Even though Johnson only caught three balls, he was targeted no less than seven times, if I recall. That may indicate that Johnson will be a significant factor. Dormady also targeted Byrd a few times down field and didn’t complete the passes for one reason or another. Aside from Callaway, those two seemed to get the most looks, Johnson primarily.

    • Good to know – I still haven’t had the chance to go back and watch the DVR, I must’ve failed to notice how often we were going to Johnson in person. Byrd got one downfield look out of the slot too; gotta work on the timing there.

      • I just went back and watched all the offensive plays, and here’s the breakdown of targets as I counted them: Johnson 8 targets; Kelly 8 targets; Wolfe 7 targets; Jennings 5 targets; Byrd 4 targets; Callaway 4 targets (all late in the game); Palmer 2 targets. So, even though Johnson only caught three passes, Dormady threw to him more than any other receiver (of course, Jennings would have gotten more if he hadn’t gone down early). Callaway was a non-factor until he exploded late. Interesting stats.

  3. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one noticing the lack of rotation on that defense. It was driving me crazy watching that game. It seemed like if ever there were one game to rotate guys on that defense, it would be against the team that chews clock, runs the ball nearly every play, and tries to tire out the defense. Instead, it was the same guys play after play after play after play. Watching on TV its harder to keep track of who is going in and out of the game than it is in person, so I thought I might have just been mistaken. Looks like that’s not the case. Thanks for providing numbers to clarify the issue.

    That lack of rotation and John Kelly’s lack of carries in the first half were the two biggest head-scratchers coaching-wise for me after that game. However, I loved the fact that we played turnover free football and the team seemed to keep their heads (even as the fans were losing their minds). This game, I thought, in some ways, hearkened back to some of my favorite Butch Jones games from early in his tenure. I remember seeing how the team seemed to give up on the old coaching staff in 2012, and I remember loving the contrast between that team and Butch’s early teams. I remember being excited when the team would run from one end of the field to the other at the end of a quarter, even if the game wasn’t going great. Maybe I’m remembering through orange-colored glasses, but I seem to recall that those teams won (when they won) with heart and by refusing to beat themselves.

    I still have a lot of hope for this team this year.

    I’m getting kind of scared at this point that Bob Shoop has been possessed by the ghost of Sal Sunseri, but I’m happy its football season; it’s great to be a Tennessee Vol.

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