During the Tennessee Vols 29-21 loss to the Missouri Tigers, Tennessee struggled to put points on the board for most of the game. Until their too-little-too-late touchdown on their final possession, the Vols offense was limited to two field goals and a touchdown on a fake field goal. So what was the problem for the Vols? Ultimately, Tennessee didn’t play terrible on offense. Many times they moved the ball into scoring position. However, almost every drive was killed by a critical tackle for a loss.
The Vols had more negative yardage plays in this game than any other this season. Many came on a third down, but more often than not, they came on first or second down This put Tennessee behind in the down and distance and they struggled to convert in 3rd and long. Tennessee’s offense is built around the inside run game and it is critical to gain positive yards to avoid 3rd and long situations where they must pass.
Many of these negative yard plays were the fault of the offensive line. Center Dylan Wiesman made the first start of his career for an injured Mack Crowder, and generally he struggled. Wiesman was not the only player at fault by any means though; all six linemen who played had plays where they made mistakes that cost the Vols yards.
The play was broken up when left tackle Kyler Kerbyson missed his assignment. Ten players executed the split zone, but Kerbyson blocked down to the right instead of reach blocking to the left like the other linemen did. This left Ray totally unblocked.
Ray was able to come free to make the tackle on Hurd for a loss because Kerbyson blocked the wrong man. Everyone else did their job well; Hurd would’ve been left one-on-one in the open field with a safety, a matchup the Vols like, if Kerybson had made his block.
This negative play left the Vols in a third and long situation, and they were unable to convert.
The next time Tennessee received the ball, they had great field position, starting at Missouri’s 42. The Vols faced 2nd and 7 again on their second snap of the drive after gaining three yards on first down.
This time, the Vols ran counter, while giving Dobbs the option to throw a now screen to either side. Flanker Jason Croom was one-on-one with a cornerback, while slot receiver Von Pearson was blocking for split end Pig Howard on the other side.
Dobbs saw that Missouri had seven defenders in the box to the Vols six blockers, so he pulled the ball to throw the screen. That was a smart decision. However, Dobbs inexplicably decided to throw to Croom, with no blockers and a defender closing in, rather than throw to Howard, who had a blocker in front of him. If Dobbs had thrown to Howard, Tennessee would’ve had a two-on-one advantage on the perimeter and almost certainly would’ve picked up the first down. Instead, Croom caught the ball and was tackled for a loss.
This put Tennessee in another third and long situation, and, once again, they could not convert. Instead of being in field goal range, the Vols had to punt.
Tennessee finally began to move the ball on their fourth possession, gaining 38 yards o their first two plays and moving to the Tigers’ 29 yard line. However, after only gaining no yards on the next two snaps, Tennessee was stuck in a critical 3rd and 10.
The Vols called for a drop back pass, while Missouri rushed their four linemen. The Tigers ran a simple stunt, with the tackles and ends trading gaps.The tackles rushed outside while the ends rushed inside. This stunt gave theVols trouble all day long. Multiple times the Vols’ linemen struggled to communicate with each other and Missouri got a free rusher on this simple stunt.
The Vols had two problems. First, left guard Marcus Jackson never recognized the stunt. He stayed on the defensive tackle instead of switching onto Ray. Kerbyson and Jackson should’ve traded defenders when the linemen ran their stunt. Instead, they both blocked the tackle and Ray came free. Also, Wiesman ended up blocking no one. He wasn’t directly responsible for Ray, but if he had been looking left instead of right he could’ve prevented the sack.
Dobbs never had a chance, and he went down for a nine yard loss. This knocked the Vols out of field goal range and they had to punt. The scoring opportunity was gone.
Tennessee’s fifth drive began similar to the fourth, as the Vols moved the ball 51 yards in five plays. A run for no gain on the sixth play left Tennessee in a critical 3rd and 5 from the 28.
Hurd motioned out of the backfield, and the read defender went with him, so Dobbs kept the ball. However, right tackle Jacob Gilliam could not make his block. Defensive tackle Josh Augusta ran right by him, and directly into Dobbs. The Vols quarterback tried to bounce the run outside to avoid Augusta, but could not get to the edge and was tackled for a loss.
This left the Vols facing a fourth down and a 48 yard field goal, seemingly costing Tennessee a chance at four points. Instead, the Vols faked a field goal and scored a touchdown. While this loss of yardage play didn’t ultimately cost Tennessee points, it still put them in a bad situation.
The Vols sixth drive followed a similar theme as Tennessee moved down the field to Missouri’s 16. The drive went awry however when Dobbs was sacked on first down.
Tennessee ran a playaction pass with right guard Jashon Robertson pulling from right to left in the blocking scheme in an effort to fool the linebackers. Kerbyson, Jackson, and Wiesman were all to block the gap to their right since Robertson was pulling to block on the left.
Wiesman could not secure his block and was beat immediately off the snap with a simple speed rush by defensive tackle Lucas Vincent for the sack.
This put the Vols in a hole they could not dig out of. Tennessee attempted two deep passes in an effort to get a first down and both fell incomplete, so the Vols were forced to settle for a field goal. This first down sack put Tennessee in a difficult position, and potentially cost them four points.
Tennessee went into halftime tied 13-13. The Vols received the opening kickoff moved the ball 22 yards in three plays to open the half, but the drive stalled at the Vols’ 47 yard line. This time it wasn’t a negative play, but a penalty. Jackson committed a false start that knocked the Vols from a 2nd and 2 to a 2nd and 7. Tennessee couldn’t recover and had to punt after two incomplete passes. Another potential scoring opportunity was gone out the window.
The Vols second drive of the second half was similar to most of those from earlier in the game. Tennessee moved the ball 19 yards in two plays, but their momentum was halted when Hurd was tackled for a 5 yard loss on the thrd play.
Vincent beat Wiesman right off the snap and ran into the backfield. Hurd never had a chance; he was wrapped up by Vincent and thrown down for a loss.This negative play set the Vols in a 2nd and 15, and they could not recover. They had to punt after an incompletion on second down and a quick screen on third.
From this point on, the Vols had the ball four more times: turnover, turnover, 3 and out, and touchdown. The two turnovers were both big plays. The first ultimately didn’t hurt the Vols, and their drive was likely about to end anyways. The second was probably the most important play of the game. Tennessee had moved the ball to the Missouri 29 and could’ve tied the game or taken the lead. The drive ended when a Dobbs pass bounced off of receiver Josh Malone’s hands into a defenders hands for an interception. The Tigers scored 3 plays later, extending their lead to a margin that the Vols could not overcome.
While this turnover was a killer, the Vols put themselves in a bad position with all the prior negative plays. If not for the lost yardage early in the game, the Vols could’ve had the lead late in the game and not be forced to move the ball in the 2 minute offense. At the least the score would’ve been much closer.
Tennessee did not just play terrible. They played a solid game offensively, but a few critical plays cost them a chance to win. Missouri’s defensive line deserves a lot of credit for forcing these negative plays, Tennessee must figure out how to reduce negative plays when they go play Vanderbilt this weekend.