KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Well, Tennessee’s uninspiring overtime win over Appalachian State left plenty of fans asking questions.
I’m here to answer them.
I do this every week, so submit any questions for future mailbags on Twitter (@JesseReSimonton), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), in the comments section below or on our Tennessee Insiders Facebook page.
Let’s get to it …
Josh asks: What was up with the play-calling? Did (offensive coordinator Mike) DeBord keep the playbook to one page? Did he not want to show his hand?
By design, Tennessee’s game plan was blander than instant grits. The Vols clearly underestimated the Mountaineers, and their vanilla attack nearly got them beat due to DeBord’s extreme conservatism.
Sure, DeBord was handcuffed by a limited offensive line, but he did Tennessee no favors with his predictable play-calling.
UT’s offense never found its flow, as DeBord rarely called any counters, stretch plays, draws or designed quarterback runs — all staples of Tennessee’s offense in 2015. DeBord’s play-calling became so predictable, App State just started selling out on run-blitzes on every first down — resulting in Tennessee averaging just 1.56 yards per carry on first down.
DeBord, now in his second season at UT, did tease some future wrinkles with more snaps under center and two tight-end sets, but I’m not sure why he went away from the quick passing game early (Preston Williams didn’t record a catch after halftime) or refused to get Alvin Kamara more involved.
Josh Dobbs had a rough night, but Tennessee’s receivers towered over App State’s undersized corners and yet the Vols only took 2-3 real shots downfield — including Josh Malone’s 67-yard touchdown.
Expect the Volunteers to make some necessary adjustments (including possible lineup changes) and open up the playbook against Virginia Tech. They’ll need to.
Rob asks: Thoughts on Butch (Jones) praising the App State players after the game?
It was a classy gesture.
For those who may have missed it, Jones went and addressed App State’s postgame huddle following Tennessee’s nail-biting win.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is a class act! pic.twitter.com/D275HIbWsK
— History Of Sports (@BeforeFamePics) September 2, 2016
Matthew asks: How much did the targeting call and ejection effect our morale overall?
To me, two plays completely changed the game and forced Tennessee into some uncomfortable spots: Cam Sutton’s muffed punt and Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s questionable ejection for targeting.
While linebacker Darrin Kirkland is the quarterback of UT’s defense, Reeves-Maybin is its heart and soul. Losing your All-SEC linebacker and team-leading tackler isn’t ideal against a run-heavy scheme — especially considering defensive coordinator Bob Shoop employed a lot of 4-3 looks early on. Backup linebacker Cortez McDowell played well in Reeves-Maybin’s absence, but the penalty and ejection definitely changed the momentum and shell-shocked Tennessee.
As for the play itself, Butch Jones was rather peeved postgame, citing the referee’s lack of discretion.
Reeves-Maybin did make contact with his helmet, so (perhaps???) by the letter of the law it was targeting. However, considering the way the returner caught the football, I have no idea how or where Maybin was supposed to tackle him. It was an effort play with zero malicious intent. The rule needs another update.
One quick note though: SEC Network announcers initially said that Reeves-Maybin would be forced to sit out the beginning of the Virginia Tech game on Saturday. However, it has since been reported that is not accurate, and the senior is eligible to start.
Jason asks: What recruits saw that awful game?
Ha. Well, Thursday’s midweek opener didn’t allow a ton of recruits to visit. Considering how Tennessee played, perhaps that was a good thing.
Still, 4-star cornerback Lamont Wade was the headline visitor, and the top-50 prospect from Pennsylvania drove down on Thursday for an all-day affair. During Wade’s unofficial visit, he toured campus and got some 1-on-1 time with Butch Jones pregame.
By all accounts, Wade had a great time and will return to Tennessee for an official visit on Sept. 24 for the Florida game.
Enjoyed my all day visit at the University of Tennessee ➕➕® I'll be back down on the 24th ? pic.twitter.com/zfAMUwSLCj
— 38Savage® (@Goony_38) September 2, 2016
As for other visitors, Tennessee defensive back commit Theo Jackson, a 3-star prospect from Nashville, made the trip. The Volunteers’ two 2018 commits, Alontae Taylor (Manchester, Tenn.) and 5-star offensive tackle Cade Mays (Knoxville Catholic) also attended the game. Finally, Middle Tennessee State commit Zack Dobson of Knoxville, older brother of slain hero Zaevion Dobson, was at the game with a number of his Fulton High teammates.
Jeremey asks: Seriously, why isn’t Jack Jones starting?
That could change soon, Jeremy. Jack Jones, a sophomore who played in 9 games last season, needs to play more. The 6-foot-4, 307-pound guard has some nasty in him and he’s versatile enough to play multiple spots along Tennessee’s offensive line. He could slide in and start at guard immediately.
With center Coleman Thomas clearly slowed by an ankle injury, Tennessee might be best suited shifting senior Dylan Wiesman from right guard to center, and inserting Jones into the starting lineup. The underclassman showed what he could do in a pinch against Georgia in 2015. After the rest of the unit’s struggles Thursday, he deserves an extended look this week in practice.
Bryan asks: Did anybody get hurt? What’s the injury situation?
Tennessee suffered some bruises against App State, but the Volunteers mostly escaped the win unscathed. Preston Williams was a bit dinged up but should be fine. As mentioned above, Thomas played hurt the whole game and will be one to monitor this week.
Although Shy Tuttle, Alexis Johnson and Kyle Phillips did not see action Thursday, I bet the defensive line trio plays some snaps at Bristol.
Also, wideout Jauan Jennings, who injured his knee in spring and wore a green, non-contact jersey throughout camp, played some Thursday and should see increased snaps as the season goes along.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com