Tennessee vs. Missouri: 10 Things We Learned in Volunteers' Loss
If you're reading this, you're probably a diehard, masochistic Tennessee fan (or a taunting, cold-blooded Missouri loyalist).
On Saturday night, the Volunteers looked like the football brethren of the Washington Generals. Let's call it what it was.
The offense progressed like a snail dog-paddling in a flood of molasses (yes, I'm aware that's not possible). The defense would lead you to believe that it couldn't hold back a teenage Bieber groupie.
But if you overlook all of the headache-inducing eyesores, there were still specks of optimism to be unearthed.
Make a trip to the medicine cabinet, grab the aspirin bottle and follow along for 10 takeaways from Tennessee's dispiriting loss.
10. The Front Four Can't Generate a Pass Rush
Coming into Saturday, Missouri allowed 17 sacks—fifth most in the SEC. Against the Volunteers, the Tigers protected Maty Mauk like the Secret Service.
If there's one archenemy of subpar coverage, it's a lackluster pass rush.
Honestly, Tennessee's deficient defensive effort probably made Mauk look better than he actually is.
The freshman completed less than half of his passes, and the majority of his highlight-worthy completions stemmed from blown coverages.
That being said, the Volunteers could have All-Madden candidates anchor the secondary—it's irrelevant if the quarterback is shrugging off pass-rushers like gnats.
9. The Receiving Corps' Depth Is Anemic
Alton Howard and Marquez North combined for 18 receptions and 157 yards. The rest of the receiving corps recorded six grabs for 79 yards.
Inexperienced quarterback play doesn't exactly help matters, but that doesn't have any effect on half-hearted routes and baffling drops.
The above image was snapped as Josh Smith bolted across the across the field in a critical juncture of the game (if Tennessee still hoped to remain competitive, at least).
The Volunteers were marching through enemy territory, and Joshua Dobbs dropped back in the pocket before spiraling a picture-perfect pass.
The completion would've moved the chains and advanced the offense within sniffing distance of the end zone. However, the rocket ricocheted off of Smith's gloves and served as the catalyst for a negligible field goal.
8. The Volunteers Should Paint Their School Flag Yellow
I don't know what has Butch Jones looking like a bloodthirsty doberman, but there's a good chance that it was prefaced by a flag diving toward the ground.
Tennessee found itself the culprit of nine penalties that totaled 65 yards.
Third-and-longs will puncture quarterback confidence in the blink of an eye, and yellow projectiles pave the way for them.
Any time you're facing a revered pass rush like Missouri's, you're bound to trigger more flags than usual. But nine are inexcusable.
7. The Offense Is Turnover-Prone
If you enter a stadium as the irrefutable underdog, you're going to get trounced if you finish the turnover battle at minus-three. Every time.
Like I said, the sky is the limit for Joshua Dobbs and, being a true freshman, he's going to endure his share of rough patches. But it doesn't take four years to figure out that heaving passes into double coverage is going to end with your name attached to four-letter words and a gang of exclamation marks on Twitter.
In the pictured play, Tennessee aligned with trips to the left. One of the wideouts ran a quick out and subsequently became so wide open that he could've rumbled past the first-down marker with cement in his cleats.
Instead, Dobbs eyed a receiver darting down the sideline and sandwiched between two defenders, then launched a pass that was equally pretty and hopeless.
Later in the game, Dobbs also rounded the corner and exploded up the field. His momentum was already carrying him toward the sideline, and pausing the clock would've benefited the offense, but he stubbornly fought his way back toward the middle of the field and was victimized by a ball-jarring tackle.
6. Tennessee Is Allergic to Handoffs
This traces back to the illogical play-calling, but it deserves its own slot in this diatribe of disapproval.
When facing Missouri, veering away from the run—on paper—makes sense. The Tigers flaunt better-than-average run support and the worst passing defense in the conference.
That being said, excluding Missouri's lone loss to South Carolina, no team has come within 15 points of their final score. In other words, their defensive numbers are skewed because offenses are forced to play catch-up by airing it out and abandoning the run.
Saturday, the passing game continually prompted turnovers.
Meanwhile, the rushing duo of Joshua Dobbs and Marlin Lane collaborated for 82 yards on 13 carries (6.3 yards per carry). The tandem had read-option written all over it, but the coaching staff refused to acknowledge the ground game.
Considering Dobbs' right arm is a modern catapult, he's a walking endorsement for play-action success. But the defense isn't going to bite the bait unless you give it reason to.
5. The Secondary Is a Primary Concern
On Saturday, Tennessee's secondary chased wideouts like out-of-shape cops.
The safeties, for whatever reason, jumped underneath routes instead of supplying help over the top.
Collectively, the defensive backfield looked unprepared and outwitted.
It's one thing to get abused in Cover 1 or 0, but allowing pass-catchers to dust the secondary with a pair of safeties covering the back end adds an extra layer of failure.
4. Joshua Dobbs Is a Passing Project
Joshua Dobbs' stock will teeter-totter throughout the remainder of the season.
His (on-field) naivete sporadically reared its head throughout Saturday's contest.
Dobbs' fumble could've been avoided by conceding an extra yard or two and jogging out of bounds.
He tried to snipe balls into nonexistent windows. He made flawed decisions during read-option handoffs.
However, given the amount of elements working against him, he was facing the Everest of uphill climbs.
Dobbs wasn't the primary suspect in Tennessee's drubbing. Far from it. While fanbases clamor for instant gratification, Volunteers fans will be forced to exercise patience with No. 11.
3. Joshua Dobbs Is a Promising Prospect
Now that his shortcomings have been covered, allow me to add a silver lining to the critique.
Joshua Dobbs completed 26 of his 42 passes for 240 yards. Against Missouri's defense, that's good for anyone. For a true freshman, that's something to be excited about.
Dobbs displayed the pocket presence of a veteran and periodically rifled passes that treated the pigskin like a cannonball. His poise never showed any hints of wavering throughout the evening.
Impressively, he also doubled as Tennessee's leading rusher. His 33-yard rush was only 17 yards shy of the backfield's collective total for the game.
Virtually every time he dropped back, Dobbs was hunted like someone who scammed John Walsh, but he gave reason to believe that his future his bright.
2. The Play-Calling Is Counterproductive
Tennessee's play-calling is a disaster waiting to happen. It's like watching your drunk uncle kick off his penny loafers and fill his attention quota by joining the kids on the Twister mat.
For the love of common sense, Tennessee coaching staff, you're starting a true freshman who's lining up against one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country. And your junior running back, Marlin Lane, finished averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
You hand the ball to him six times? Six?
And on the other side of the ball, nobody's claiming that John Jancek was dealt the greatest of hands. The defensive talent pool is shallow enough to moonlight as a half-pipe, which begs the question: Why is Tennessee so intent on employing conventional play-calling, especially in obvious passing situations?
The safeties were committing to mind-boggling angles and reads in Cover 2 (seriously, how many times can run-of-the-mill go routes beat double coverage in one game?).
Cut your losses and blitz them more than once per leap year. Send a corner to beeline toward the quarterback and roll the coverage over. Do something.
Either way, it would assist your anemic pass rush and give subpar safeties pre-determined assignments—there's no reading and reacting. Two birds, one stone.
Instead, Jancek insists on predictably deploying two deep safeties, branching the linebacking corps out in zone coverage and crossing his fingers, hoping that the broken record finally finds its groove.
Once in awhile, don't be afraid to add a scoop of sherbert to your vanilla, coaches.
1. Tyler Bray's Departure Has Handicapped the Offense
Mentioning Tyler Bray's name to Volunteers fans is like belting out, "T-tops are for tools!" in a Mississippi bar. Half of the crowd will cheer you, the other half will start foaming at the mouth and hunt you down like a cackle of hyenas.
As someone who lives a stone's throw away from Arrowhead Stadium (40 minutes away—it's a light stone), I can relay that (Kansas City) Chiefs fans felt like their team hit the undrafted jackpot when Bray was signed this offseason. And for good reason. This preseason, in a typical game's worth of attempts (40), he registered 220 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
However, any sane-minded person would tell you that declaring for the draft as an underclassman was a mistake. And one that ultimately hurt both parties.
Remember, if you put his beer-bottle-checkered past behind him, Bray passed for 3,612 yards, 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season, slotting Tennessee as the second-ranked passing offense in the SEC.
While Bray has never been accused of being a Buddha-like mentor/role model, a talented prospect like Joshua Dobbs could've waited in the wings and soaked in Bray's on-field knowledge.
Instead, nine games into the season, Tennessee's passing "attack" ranks 12th in the conference, and the Volunteers are currently at the bottom of the barrel in touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.2).
And of all places, Bray now plays for a Missouri team. Two stones, one bird?
(With this slide now completed, feel free to ignore the stats, pound caps lock and litter the comment section with exclamation marks while explaining why you're glad Bray's gone.)
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