When talk around the program focuses on whether or not to take the redshirts off talented freshmen quarterbacks, it typically means the position is horribly unsettled. QB Justin Worley, after getting benched, took a strong grip on the position while QB2 Nathan Peterman recovers from a hand injury. Worley misses open receivers and makes poor reads – which is why the Vols are 13th in passing offense – but has improved and, the last time out against Georgia, at least, isn’t making crippling mistakes.
Rest of offense: B+
Tennessee boasts one of the best offensive lines in the conference, if not the nation. That line creates running room for RBs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, who have combined for at least 100 yards five times this season. A young group of receivers needs seasoning, but shows promise. Despite an effective run game, the Vols rank 11th in total offense.
The Volunteers don’t have the best defense in the SEC, but they certainly have been one of the most opportunistic. They are currently tied for the SEC lead with 15 takeaways. Oregon ran all over the field on Tennessee, but at this point that is hardly a criticism. It took a final-minute drive for Georgia to top the 20-point mark in Neyland Stadium, but the defense lacks consistency. Teams like South Alabama have come in and given the Volunteers scares. Tennessee ranks 11th in the conference in scoring defense and total defense.
Expectations in Knoxville will never be “get to a bowl game.” That said, the challenges first-year coach Butch Jones faced in 2013 were numerous and apparent. He has reenergized the fan base and burned up the recruiting trail. Tennessee has long since grown tired of “progress,” though. A truly successful season for Jones includes a win against one of the best teams in the conference.
Offensive Spotlight: WR/RB Pig Howard
Tennessee needs someone other than Neal and Lane to become a viable weapon. Howard seems to be on the verge of becoming that player. The sophomore already leads the team in receiving yards, though 218 through six games are hardly brag-worthy. Howard’s most recent game – a 116-total yard performance against Georgia – showed that Jones is becoming more aware of the need to utilize him more.
Defensive Spotlight: DT Daniel McCullers
McCullers was supposed to be the anchor of an improved rush defense. Instead, his impact has been minimal. The senior has registered just 14 tackles with no sacks. His 2 TFLs simply aren’t getting it done for a rush defense that allows 175 yards per game.