Tennessee football: Is Jim Chaney the OC of the future?

Tennessee Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney at the Tennessee Spring Game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, April 13, 2019.Kns Vols Springgame5things
Tennessee Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney at the Tennessee Spring Game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, April 13, 2019.Kns Vols Springgame5things /

The Tennessee football Volunteers need reassurance they have the right OC.

When Phillip Fulmer made Jim Chaney one of the highest-paid assistants in the country, you can bet he envisioned CHany sticking around for some time with Tennessee football. Why else would he make $1.5 million and become the nation’s highest-paid offensive coordinator?

In his second year back in Knoxville, though, alongside head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Chaney has some work to do. It doesn’t take much to see the Vols’ offense struggled in the second half of last week’s defeat to the Arkansas Razorbacks.

After pounding the run game in the first half and bolstering a 13-0 lead heading into the locker room, Tennessee football failed to score in the second half, being outscored 24-0 by a pretty comparable offense. So, what happened?

Rocky Top’s ground game this year under Eric Gray and Ty Chandler has been the team’s bread and butter, so it came as no surprise to see UT rushing early and often. They only threw it eight times in the first half en route to that two-score lead.

Even with Chandler receiving just one carry before exiting the game due to an ankle injury, Gray was poised and solid in the first half. The sophomore from Memphis, Tenn. rushed for over 120 yards in total and scored the Vols’ only touchdown of the contest.

However, after Jarett Guarantano was injured early in the second half, Chaney’s handoff play-calling became incredibly predictable. With Brian Maurer then in under center, Chaney relied heavily on Gray, asking Maurer to throw just four times, all of which were incomplete passes.

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Then, he and Pruitt turned to freshman Harrison Bailey as the Razorbacks took the lead, and time was running out on Rocky Top in a game they once lead. Chaney’s play-calling with Bailey on the field and the Vols down two scores was too egregious to bear.

When Pruitt decided to go for it on 4th and 4 in Arkansas territory, Chaney decided this would be the first time Bailey attempted a pass in the game. A slant pattern intended for fellow true freshman Jalin Hyatt was intercepted. This was almost so bad it was difficult to watch. How does such game-planning help build the confidence of young players, let alone help the team win?

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Most people watching the game at home wouldn’t have looked for Bailey to throw his first pass on a fourth down the Vols’ desperately needed to convert. But it got worse on the next drive, which would be the final drive of the game for UT.

With the clock ticking down and the Vols down by two scores, it seemed as though Bailey was told to look for Gray or Jabari Small on check-downs over the middle. He completed five straight passes to those guys for 41 yards, none of which went for more than nine yards.

What’s even more infuriating is knowing these Tennessee football wideouts have made some of the better defensive back groups in the SEC look silly on the long ball. Still, Chaney dials up maybe only one or two of those a game.

It’s understandable to look at UT’s recent quarterback issues and point in that direction as to why the Vols only posted 107 passing yards at Arkansas. But with play-calling that feels like it’s designed to make the players fail, where does the blame lie?

Only attempting 21 passes with three different quarterbacks, but giving 31 carries to a back more accustomed to sharing the ball isn’t ideal for the Vols’ offense moving forward. Gray clearly has no issue taking the majority of the handoffs, but for an offense that has struggled to find its identity since Week 1, expecting to move down the field solely on Gray’s shoulders is unrealistic.

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It’s been a strange season of Tennessee football, to say the least, and while a 2-4 record isn’t where anyone wants to be, Chaney can’t take all of the blame for this team’s struggles. He has four more games to write some creativity into the playbook that should involve the receiver group a little more.