4. UT’s 2018 blocking was awful and could struggle against GSU’s defensive line.
We’ve documented already just how historically bad Tennessee football’s offensive line was in 2018. But what was most notable was their run blocking, which is reflective of their interior blocking, and which was the weakest part of an overall horrible unit.
The Vols were dead last in stuff rate, according to advanced stats on Football Outsiders, meaning they had the highest percentage of run plays stuffed or tackled for a loss. They were No. 119 in opportunity rate, meaning they were among the worst teams in the nation at gaining four yards when four yards was an opportunity.
Sure, the Georgia State Panthers had a horrendous run defense. After all, they were in the bottom five in yards allowed and yards per carry allowed last year. But a notable stat is the fact that the defense actually was in the top 50 in opportunity rates according to Football Outsiders defensive line stats. That tracked the percentage of plays they kept from going for four yards or more.
What that means is the run defense was horrible because the back seven could not stop guys when they got past the first line of defense. As a result, the defensive line was actually not bad. And they return two of their three down linemen, including nose guard Dontae Wilson and end Terry Thomas.
Now, they lose Marterious Allen, their most productive lineman. However, he is replaced by Hardrick Willis, who didn’t play in 2018 but as a backup in 2017 had one and a half sacks and two and a half tackles for a loss. So he should offset that, and this is at the least important position when stopping the run up front anyway.
When you take all this into account, it’s clear that UT may struggle to run the ball against Georgia State. Sure, they should be much better on the line as well with Trey Smith back at guard, Brandon Kennedy healthy at center and more experience overall. But this combination could make things much rougher than people think. And the Vols need to be ready.