Gun or Run?
I probably have a most peculiar view of Saturday’s game: I am fascinated to see how Derek Dooley and his staff approach this dud on the schedule.
The Vols have some massive problems. They are quite young, not very deep in any sense of SEC competitive quality in critical areas, and have exhibited some glaring holes in their game during the first part of the schedule. And, they have the Schedule from Hell coming up later this month.
But first, a cupcake on Saturday.
So how does Dooley look at his situation, from the perspectives of the upcoming schedule and quality of play/personnel?
We’ll focus on the offense.
There are two basic end members here: the passing game and the running game.
The Vols have exhibited some world-class play while throwing the ball so far. However, Justin Hunter is gone for the season, leaving even the most faithful with massive doubt. And, the Vols have shown one of the worst running attacks I have seen by a team wearing orange and white.
So what do you do this coming Saturday?
That depends on what you think it will take to
defeat compete against Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina in the coming weeks. It also depends on what you think about particular personnel.
Dooley is a coach who was bred and tutored within the philosophy of rushing dominance wins football games.
Many believe the running game is broken. Dooley is more optimistic (cautiously).
“We need to run the ball better. It’s that simple. We’re in the day and age to try to dissect everything. At the end of the day, we need to line up, snap the ball, block the man in front of us and run the ball better reading our keys. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
This means that Dooley believes they really can improve in the short term. But what if the personnel involved simply aren’t good enough?
Let’s face it. Tennessee’s ground game is vanilla – it has shown no semblance of creativity. One possible reason for that is that the quality of personnel is not sufficient to infuse the rushing attack with anything but off-tackle plays and the like.
You have to be quick, fast, and have a good read of the game to be able to run outside. That goes for the RBs as well as the OL.
We are none of that. Tauren Poole rushed for 1,000 yards last season. That mark frankly flatters his overall game. For a starting SEC running back, Poole is slow and ponderous, with very little quickness and a lack of burst speed and power.
Devrin Young has a broken collar-bone. Marlin Lane? Rajion Neal? Tom Smith? Jaron Toney?
And, Buffalo, for all their mediocrity and worse, has a decent defense against the run.
The offensive line. Young, yes. But to listen to their interview comments, they are “confused.” That’s what they all said last year as freshmen. I really don’t like to beat on people, especially college kids. But, I fear that this frontline crew is basically soft – they don’t have the physical and mental toughness that it takes to compete with the best of the SEC.
A lot of attention has been paid to how our OL is much better at pass blocking than run blocking. Which leads to a pretty obvious idea.
Why not let Bray and Co. wing it all over Shields Watkins Field?
Justin Hunter’s absence be damned. Bray connected to about a dozen different receivers in Gainesville two weeks ago after Hunter’s early exit. This brings massive opportunity.
So, instead of trying to “fix” the running game, how about advancing the passing game by experimenting with a multiple of passing schemes and personnel?
I do not believe for a single minute that the running game is “fixable” to the extent needed to cause damage in the next four weeks. Therefore, I believe to maximize our chance to pull an upset this season for that 7-5 or 8-4 mark, the passing game will have to carry us there. Running the ball in the aggregate will get us nowhere.
Dooley will not heed such advice. And he is right not to. As a head coach, I don’t believe he can throw the rushing game under the bus. He simply has no choice but to try to coach these kids as much as he possibly can. A season is a process. Dooley wants this process to progress to what he knows it will take to eventually be a consistent winner.
So look for Saturday to be a bit of a pig’s breakfast: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a lot of different folks seeing some playing time.
If nothing else (which has to include a win), it will be maddening, frustrating, and in part exhilarating as the Vols will roll to a 3-1 record. Pretty will not describe it. But hopefully, we will gain discover a measure of toughness upon which we will need to rely in the upcoming weeks.
Tennessee 38 Buffalo 7