KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s 28-19 victory over Ohio wasn’t too inspiring on the surface.
Certainly Coach Butch Jones voiced his displeasure with the 14th-ranked Vols (3-0) fumbling the ball five times and committing nine penalties for 94 yards.
“We can’t have the catastrophic penalties that we had,” Jones said Saturday. “This football team lacks consistency right now. We had a lot of momentum-killers from penalties and too many balls on the ground.”
Tennessee is also down seven starters from the depth chart most projected headed into fall drills, five on defense, two on offense.
Here are five parting shots from the victory over the Bobcats, with an eye toward Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game with 19th-ranked Florida (3-0):
1. The Injuries
The Vols know they will be without All-SEC cornerback Cameron Sutton, and Jones said middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. is “doubtful.” The “questionable” category going into the week would include linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, offensive lineman Chance Hall, defensive end LaTroy Lewis and receiver Josh Smith. Cornerback Justin Martin should be back, while nickleback Malik Foreman’s suspension was indefinite.
2. The fumbles
Tennessee has fumbled the ball 11 times — and lost just one of them. The Vols do work on fumble recoveries, but any way you look at it, that’s pretty fortunate. Especially when you consider opponents have fumbled seven times and lost five of them. In summation: Tennessee has recovered 15 of the 18 fumbles that have occurred in their three games.
3. The offensive line
The Vols have been bad up front, like, take a look at changing coaches or practice procedures at the end of the season bad. Tennessee entered this season as one of the mot experienced units in the SEC, and most equate experience with improvement. That has not happened, and the Vols’ rotation looks to be more out of desperation than strategy. UT has allowed 2.33 sacks per game — 84th-worst in the nation — and even worse when one considers the escapability of Josh Dobbs.
4. What about Josh Dobbs?
Dobbs has led Tennessee to nine straight victories, and he’s as dangerous as ever once he tucks the ball to run. Dobbs’ has UT’s longest run of the season (40 yards) and his 37 carries for 161 yards are second on the team to Jalen Hurd (65-270). But passing the ball, Dobbs has been inconsistent; his QB efficiency rating is 66th (132.8). Dobbs has 6 TD passes and 3 interceptions.
5. The defense
Remember when coordinator Bob Shoop said no one would run on the Orange Swarm? Well injuries have taken some sting out of that sentiment with both linebackers out, UT ranks 71st in the country in run defense, allowing 152.7 yards per game on the ground. More than anything else, how the Vols’ defense stops the Gators’ run will determine Saturday’s outcome.
6. The mindset
Tennessee focused on a fast start, and the Vols got it, opening the game with a three-play, 55-yard TD drive. Tennessee has appeared disengaged at times this season, and players have come across as disinterested in media interviews leading up to the first three games. Human nature would suggest the Florida game has cast a shadow over what amounts to preseason contests.