Continual struggles on offense causing Tennessee’s downfall

October 23, 2017

Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings, left, tackles Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano during the first half an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Exactly a month has passed since the last time Tennessee’s offense reached the end zone.

Tennessee’s offense hasn’t crossed the goal line in its last 14 quarters, and the Volunteers (3-4, 0-4 SEC) have been outscored 108-19 during that stretch. That is one reason why after opening the season in the Top 25 Tennessee finds itself below .500

“I want to make sure we make this clear,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “Tennessee is not OK with being 3-4, and definitely Butch Jones is not OK with being 3-4. We have to keep working and work our way through this and work our way out of this.”

That starts with fixing the offense.

Tennessee’s lone touchdown over its last 14 quarters came Saturday on linebacker Daniel Bituli’s 97-yard interception return in a 45-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama . Tennessee’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown since the second quarter of a 17-13 victory over Massachusetts on Sept. 23.

The Vols have totaled 16 points over their last three games. They’re scoring 9 points per game in Southeastern Conference competition and are on pace for their lowest average in conference play since 1964, when they had 4.6 points per game against SEC foes.

“Obviously we’re all disappointed in our performance,” Jones said. “We see things in small increments that are positive, where we’re making progress. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show up on game day.”

That represents a dramatic change from last year, when Tennessee went 9-4 overall and had 35.9 points per game in SEC competition. That 2016 team featured Joshua Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone, who all are in the NFL now.

Tennessee also lost offensive coordinator Mike DeBord to Indiana and replaced him by promoting tight ends coach Larry Scott . Jones said Monday he doesn’t plan on removing Scott’s play-calling duties.

“It’s one of those things where it’s an execution-type deal,” Jones said. “You just have to continue to work and work and work, and eventually you’re going to see that come into fruition.”

Tennessee averages just 289.7 yards per game to rank 125th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams . The Vols rank 122nd in red-zone efficiency .

The Vols also are last in the SEC in scoring (19.6), yards passing (165.1), passing efficiency (109.28) and third-down conversion percentage (31.3).

“There’s no magic or secret potion you’re going to pour on it or whatever,” Scott said. “It’s still football. Let’s turn on the video. Let’s look at it. What do we need to do?”

Tennessee switched quarterbacks with redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano replacing junior Quinten Dormady. The Vols continually have shuffled their offensive line.

Nothing has worked.

Guarantano has been sacked 11 times in two starts. Tennessee lost its most reliable receiver when Jauan Jennings suffered a season-ending wrist injury in its opener. The offensive line has been a major disappointment.

The line lost tackle Chance Hall to a knee injury before the season and suffered another blow Monday with the announcement that guard Jack Jones is ending his football career due to neck and shoulder injuries. Guard Venzell Boulware left the team three weeks ago.

Tennessee’s players still believe in this offense. Running back John Kelly says “our guys are still as confident as they were (when) the season first started.”

“We’re always confident,” offensive lineman Brett Kendrick said. “I wouldn’t go out there if I wasn’t confident, and I don’t think anyone else would either. We know we’ve got playmakers.”

Tennessee’s top playmaker is Kelly, who has run for 615 yards and ranks fourth in the SEC in yards rushing per game. Marquez Callaway looked like a potential breakout performer when he caught three touchdown passes in Tennessee’s first two contests, but he has just 10 receptions for 97 yards and no touchdowns in five games since.

The good news for Tennessee is that the schedule gets more manageable from here. Tennessee next visits Kentucky (5-2, 2-2), which has allowed a total of 79 points over its last two games.

“We know what Tennessee can do,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “I know the way people pile on people when they’re not doing so well, I know how that goes. I’ve been there. We can’t control any of that. We’ve got to control how we’re going to play.”

The Vols believe they’ll turn things around. Kendrick noted a third straight 8-4 finish to the regular season remains possible.

“I don’t think the sky’s falling,” Kendrick said. “It’s just raining a little bit.”


AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.


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