The first game of the Jeremy Pruitt era is in the books. The Vols’ performance was a disappointing way to start the campaign. Needless to say, there are several areas that the team needs to improve upon moving froward. Here is a position by position evaluation from the opening game.
This was one of the few bright spots for the Vols. Jarrett Guarantano did not lose the game. His performance was sufficient despite an underwhelming display from the offensive line. The redshirt sophomore was 19-of-25 for 172 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t staggering numbers, but the completion percentage is over 70 percent. When Guarantano had time, he was efficient. The offense essentially never threatened the deep part of the field. Most attempts were of the short and intermediate variety, but JG looked sharp and in rhythm. He seemed to have a good rapport with his receivers. Graduate transfer Keller Chryst only saw action on the last drive while Tennessee ran the clock out.
Running Backs: B-
Tim Jordan was the story of the day for the Vols. The sophomore ran for over 120 yards on 20 carries while delivering punishing blows to defenders. He nearly doubled his carries from all of last year. He also added a touchdown and a couple of receptions. In all, four running backs saw action. Ty Chandler exited in the first half with an undisclosed injury. Madre London and Jeremy Banks had five carries each, but Jordan was the only one from this group to make a significant impact. He gets an A, but the performance of others bring this grade down a notch.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: A-
The best grade of the day comes from the pass-catchers. This group looked really good. Guarantano was rarely able to capitalize on this advantage, but the receivers consistently found gaps in the coverage. Marquez Callaway led the way with seven receptions and 85 yards. Josh Palmer also looked reliable. The highly-touted junior college transfer Dominick Wood-Anderson caught the lone touchdown reception on an excellent fourth down play call near the goal line. Eli Wolf whiffed on a screen in the second half that could have extended a drive. All in all, good performance.
Offensive Line: D
A “D” grade is generous. In reality, this group failed. The offense clipped 300 yards, so we will pass them on that principle. They really set the tone from the first play. Graduate transfer center Brandon Kennedy missed an assignment after the snap and Guarantano took a massive blow. They never seemed to recover either. This group seriously looked at the West Virginia front like Keith Richards looks at a warm glass of milk: not going to happen. To add injury to insult, offensive tackle Trey Smith will have his ankle evaluated when the team arrives back in Knoxville, as reported by our own Trey Wallace.
Defensive Line: C+
This group had a solid outing despite being part of a collective that gave up over 500 yards to the Mountaineers’ offensive attack. Shy Tuttle did not disappoint. The senior made an impact in his home state of North Carolina. He had a sack, tackle for loss and three solo tackles. There wasn’t much pressure from the defensive front, but West Virginia’s offense is designed to get the ball out quickly and efficiently and they did just that. Other than Tuttle, this group was quiet. Paul Bain also recovered a fumble.
It is hard to grade this position in a game like this, but they didn’t kill the defense. More on that in a minute. Darrin Kirkland, Jr. had a solid outing. In his return from injury, the redshirt junior led the way with 10 total tackles. Senior Daniel Bituli had five. With Will Grier gouging the defense apart against a 4-2-5 look, the linebackers were insignificant. However, they were not a liability.
Defensive Backs: D
The offensive line wasn’t the only group that got embarrassed. Grier sliced up the Vols secondary like he was on Top Chef. This unit just couldn’t catch a break. When they did cover, Grier made throws that will be added to his draft tape. Grier was 25-of-34 and posted a career-high 429 yards. Not a good look for the secondary.
The good news is that this will likely be the most potent passing attack they will see all year. Grier and receiver David Sills V are first-round talents. Yet, the defense just couldn’t stop the bleeding. That, coupled with Theo Jackson forcing a fumble keeps this group from failing. Pruitt will have a couple of weeks to repair this unit before conference play begins with Florida.
Special Teams: C
Not much to grade here, other than a fresh face at punter. Jack Doyle punted six times for a modest average of 38 yards per punt. There were no significant plays on either side for special teams. Also, no were field goals attempted.