Offensive line has been a major issue for Tennessee football under Jeremy Pruitt. The Volunteers linemen are improving, but they still struggle in one area.
The good news is that everybody sees it. Tennessee football is much better on the offensive line than it was last year. And the improvement was real from the first game to the second game. But the Vols still have major issues they need to work out.
Interior blocking, in particular, remains a major problem. Sure, the Vols can pick up yards on toss running plays, and Guarantano also has blindside protection when it’s coming from the outside. That is to be expected.
Jahmir Johnson, who is a veteran, is playing out there, as is Marcus Tatum. And Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris are freshmen with elite levels of talent. Taking that into account, Tennessee football should be much better out there.
But when the Vols run it up the middle, or if there’s a blitz up the middle in any way, they are in trouble. This is why they failed to convert two 4th and 1 plays against the BYU Cougars, and it’s why they failed on a 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 2 against the Georgia State Panthers.
If you look at data from Football Outsiders, the Vols’ power success rate is ranked No. 97 nationally, and their stuff rate is ranked No. 89. Power success measures the percentage of runs that achieved a first down with two yards or less needed and it being third or fourth down. Stuff rate measures the number of plays stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Again, those are specifically related to interior blocking. When you look at line yards per carry, which measures running plays that are able to go up to about four yards, crediting the line as a whole, the Vols are ranked No. 60. That’s above average, and it’s indicative of improved run blocking from the tackles and tight ends.
Blocking on the interior is the problem. Now, pass blocking stats are bad too. Tennessee football is ranked No. 111 in sacks allowed on standard pass attempts, which is horrible. But if you actually watch the Vols, that’s when you notice that many of those plays came from blitzes up the middle or the fact that Jim Chaney had Eric Gray, a true freshman running back, in as the pass protector.
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So what’s the solution? Well, for starters, Chaney can stick with Ty Chandler and also use Tim Jordan, Carin Fils-Aime or even have Jeremy Banks back at running back. Gray is not ready yet to handle pass blocking duties as a true freshman back.
When it comes to the linemen specifically, however, Tennessee football just needs time. Brandon Kennedy is back at center after missing all of last year due to injury. It’ll take some time for him to get fully healthy and back into rhythm.
That’s same is true for Trey Smith, who is week-to-week due to his blood clots, missed all of football last November, and spent all of last year playing tackle anyway. He is obviously going to need time to get better.
Meanwhile, Chaney and Will Friend can stop getting cute. They have tried lining up Wanya Morris on the inside multiple times despite spending all offseason working out the freshman at tackle. Of course they will have issues when that happens!
If Tennessee football’s interior line had done its job, the Vols would have beaten BYU by three scores and likely never let Georgia State back in the game after going up 14-7. That’s as much of an issue as anything. Continued development and more consistent play-calling from the coaches will allow it to improve. Tehy n