KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones called it “another gritty win,” but the Tennessee coach knows it was far from perfect.
The 15th-ranked Vols are 3-0 heading into their pivotal clash with Florida (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. ET next Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee overcame 5 fumbles and nearly 100 yards in penalties in beating Mid-American Conference stalwart Ohio on Saturday, but Jones knows it will take a better effort to beat the Gators.
Injuries are a concern for the Vols, who lost All-SEC cornerback Cam Sutton and 2015 tackles leader Jalen Reeves-Maybin to injuries on Saturday.
Here’s how the team graded out, by position:
Josh Dobbs missed a wide-open Josh Malone on two would-be touchdown passes, but he also hit him for 2 TDs. Dobbs isn’t getting much help from his offensive line, so the verdict here is that some mistakes and rushed throws are to be expected. As long as he’s winning, Dobbs is passing the ultimate test.
Running backs: B-
Alvin Kamara’s speed factored in on sweeps to the outside, and Jalen Hurd broke loose for a 28-yard burst, his longest run of the season. Hurd’s personal foul led to the minus part of this grade. Dobbs continues to be the most dangerous runner. John Kelly, however, showed he’s worthy of more touches moving forward with an impressive 9-yard run.
Malone is playing at an A+ level, seemingly uncoverable. Preston Williams had a rough day, as a Dobbs pass bounced off his shoulder pads and was intercepted. Williams also had a fumble, but he was fortunate that it did not result in a turnover. Tight end Ethan Wolf dropped what would have been a TD pass.
Offensive Line: D
Dobbs was sacked 3 times and forced out of the pocket on several other occasions, and Hurd and Kamara were often hit in the backfield. This is a unit that must improve and play better together. It’s puzzling that this unit could be having these issues three games into the season.
Defensive Line: A-
Derek Barnett was dominant, as he had 2 QB pressures on third and fourth downs that led to Ohio giving up the ball. Jonathan Kongbo stepped up and made 3 tackles. Corey Vereen (0.5) and Barnett (1) each had a tally in the tackle-for-loss category.
Colton Jumper had a strong performance filling in for Darrin Kirkland Jr., making 7 tackles, including one for a loss. Cortez McDowell also stepped in admirably after Reeves-Maybin went down. McDowell had 3 stops, equaling what Reeves-Maybin had through the first 18 minutes before hurting his shoulder.
Todd Kelly Jr. struggled with missed tackles at his safety spot, and Emmanuel Moseley was beat twice deep and picked up a pass interference penalty. Rashaan Gaulden stepped up at nickel and made 7 tackles with Malik Foreman suspended. Baylen Buchanan played well in place of an injured Sutton.
Special Teams: B-
Trevor Daniel continued his strong play, averaging 39.3 yards per punt and dropping one inside the Ohio 20. Aaron Medley was perfect on extra points (4-for-4), but his 55-yard field goal attempt was off. Kelly Jr. had a costly facemask on a punt return, and Kamara and Micah Abernathy both fumbled returns that they recovered. Dillon Bates had a costly block in the back to negate a strong return by Evan Berry.
Tennessee responded to its coach’s request for a fast start, but the Vols were not able to sustain it, as Ohio played them even through the first half. Bob Shoop’s defense did an impressive job adjusting after the injuries to Sutton and Reeves-Maybin, but the offense is plagued with issues on the line.