Tennessee’s blueprint to turning the season around

What can Tennessee do to resurge its team for the remainder of the season?

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

Tennessee's live mascot, Smokey, looks before the Vols' 38-24 win over Nebraska at the 2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers have gotten off to a rugged start on Rocky Top this season. Jones, who many fans have become fed up with, is the front-runner to lose his job first among SEC coaches. The fifth-year head coach has taken lots of criticism from local and national media for some of the things he says in press conferences and post-game losses. What, if anything, can Jones and the Volunteers do to get back on track down in the Tennessee hills?

Get young offensive players involved

Jones has been praised in his first few seasons in Knoxville for his recruiting classes. Unfortunately for Jones and his staff, he has been knocked heavily for his ability to involve his big time recruits on the offensive side of the ball. Jones has also been criticized for his ability to develop the players he recruits, so Jones will have to find a spark on offense in his next few games if he wants to stay put.

Tyler Byrd was the first player to speak out this season. Byrd, a former four-star recruit and Army All-American defensive back, tweeted out a peace sign emoji on his account. The coaching staff clearly listened, as Byrd was finally involved in the game plan versus UMass. Byrd had two catches and a receiving touchdown in the game, and tacked on 15 rushing yards.

John Kelly. Is there really anything to put here? Line him up at quarterback and run behind Trey Smith the whole game. We are seeing it now with Alvin Kamara in the NFL, Kelly is something special like Kamara was – and they both have something in common. Butch Jones underutilized them.

Jarrett Guarantano is the most prized quarterback recruit Butch Jones has pulled in since Josh Dobbs. The Quinten Dormady project is over, and it’s time for Guarantano to prove his worth this Saturday versus South Carolina after being named the starting quarterback by Jones in his press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Guarantano was the fourth-highest rated quarterback according to ESPN for the 2016 class, and the highest rated dual-threat quarterback.

Defensive Line

The defensive line for the Volunteers this year has been lackluster at best. They’ve held their own since being dominated against Georgia Tech and Indiana State in the first two weeks, but have not been performing the way they were expected to when Jones brought them to Tennessee. This defensive line is loaded with talent, and it’s time it shows.

Kahlil McKenzie came to Rocky Top as the highest rated recruit under Butch Jones and the centerpiece to his legacy class. McKenzie has not lived up to expectations so far, and has only produced one sack in two and a half seasons in Knoxville. If this defense is going to have any success going forward, they will need McKenzie to be a force in the middle of the defensive line. Especially with bouts against South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky going forward.

Darrell Taylor needs to control his attitude going forward. Getting in a scuffle towards the end of the Georgia game which caused him to be suspended for the first half against South Carolina, Taylor has been nothing, but trouble the week and a half leading up to Saturday. Taylor was reportedly involved in a scuffle with fellow teammate Trey Smith, which caused Smith needing stitches after Taylor kicked him in the face.

It is hard to knock Shy Tuttle for any of his play this season, as he was recovering from a serious leg injury from last season. Tuttle played a huge role last year in beating the Florida Gators, and has played a significant role in the games he has played in this season thus far. Tuttle never does much to stuff the stat sheet, but he’s always plugging holes in the middle of the offensive line. Tuttle and McKenzie will need to be a dominant duo on the defensive line going forward in order to salvage the season and kickstart the defense.

Coaching

Larry Scott was thrown to the fire by Jones, and there might not be much to fix this situation. Scott has not called plays for a team of the caliber in his entire career, and it is showing.

Scott, the former interim head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, might have to make a couple phone calls down to Mark Richt for advice going forward. Scott’s offense has been disastrous thus far this season, ranking in the bottom echelon of the nation.

Scott needs to get the ball downfield to his playmakers. Run a jet sweep with Tyler Byrd, throw a deep ball to Marquez Callaway, let Jarrett Guarantano run the option and get John Kelly 30 touches. 

The offensive play calling needs to help out these young quarterbacks immediately, or the entire assistant coaching staff could be seeing their first, and last year here in Knoxville.

Bob Shoop has impressed fans lately for his gutsy play calling. The defense has not necessarily been the issue in the past few games, as the defense held Georgia to less than 375 total yards in the game. Although the Vols went down 41-0 in Neyland Stadium, a lot of that can be chalked up to offensive woes.

For Shoop, in order to keep his job here in Knoxville – which I truly believe he can, will have to keep holding opponents to under 350-400 total yards. In SEC games, with the offensive firepower the SEC has been showing of late, that is rather impressive for having no offensive surge on your own side.

Butch Jones

Just stop with the ridiculous one-liners. Coach a football game with your gut instincts, and not by an imaginary chart. Don’t run up and down the sideline against the University of Massachusetts, and cause your team to get a 15-yard penalty that leads to a touchdown that puts them within four. And please, do not lose to South Carolina coming off a bye week for a second straight season.

In all seriousness, Butch Jones has done an excellent job resurging the Volunteers to a rather stable program. Multiple top-10 recruiting classes for Tennessee, and national relevancy has been restored with a trip to the top-10 rankings last season. As I said previously, it could be inevitable for Jones and company, but for now, he remains the head coach leading into the game versus South Carolina on Saturday.

Featured image courtesy of Ben Proffitt 

Edited by Ben McKee

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