Story Poster
Photo by Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Texas A&M Football

SEC Round-Up: The mysterious and enigmatic Tennessee Volunteers

October 12, 2023

Tennessee may be the most enigmatic team in college football.

The No. 19 national ranking indicates the Volunteers are strong. But is that because their competition has been weak?

It’s a valid question.

Tennessee is 4-1 but has yet to beat an FBS opponent with a winning record. Its only game against an FBS team over .500 resulted in a 29-16 loss to Florida. The Vols are ranked seventh in the nation in rushing offense. However, that rushing success has come against poor defenses.

So, what is to be made of Tennessee?

The quest for an insider to gain more information on Tennessee led to Knoxville radio personality Vince Ferrara, the morning show co-host at 99.1 The Sports Animal.

“I think Tennessee is above average,” Ferrara said. “I think they’re the second-best team in the East but not quite on Georgia’s level. They’re definitely not as good offensively as they were a year ago. The numbers prove that. But they’re also much improved defensively than last year.”

“I think Tennessee is above average. I think they’re the second-best team in the East but not quite on Georgia’s level. They’re definitely not as good offensively as they were a year ago. The numbers prove that. But they’re also much improved defensively than last year.”
- ​​The Sports Animal’s Vince Ferrara

There’s no argument with that.

Last year, Tennessee ranked 92nd nationally in total defense. So far this season, the Vols are 21st.

Meanwhile, Tennessee — which led the nation last year with a 46.1 scoring average — is ranked 27th this year with an average of 35 points per game.

That decline is expected to some degree. The offense no longer includes quarterback Hendon Hooker and receivers Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman or Bru McCoy, who was lost to injury earlier this season.

Now, the Vols rely more heavily on their running game.

They’ve also gotten a boost with the return of center Cooper Mays, who missed the first four games recovering from surgery.

Tennessee had its entire starting offensive line intact for the first time this season in their most recent game, a 41-20 victory over South Carolina.

But the Vols aren’t nearly as explosive as a year ago.

Last season, Tennessee had 80 offensive plays that covered 20 yards or more. This year, the Vols are on track for about half that with 22 through five games.

A healthy center, no matter how good, may not make a huge difference in explosive plays.

“They’re not as intimidating and prolific, offensively,” Ferrara said. "So, it’s kind of evened out a little with the improvement of the defense.

“Does that change in the SEC when the competition gets tougher?”

The competition gets tougher on Saturday when the Vols host Texas A&M. They visit Alabama the following week. Then Kentucky. They also must travel to Missouri. Then Georgia looms ominously in late November.

A second consecutive 10-win season might be possible. But a 7-5 finish is realistic, too. That's the mystery of Tennessee.

Around the SEC

This week’s games: Texas A&M at No. 19 Tennessee; No. 1 Georgia at Vanderbilt; Arkansas at No. 11 Alabama; Florida at South Carolina; Auburn at No. 22 LSU; Missouri at No. 24 Kentucky

Who’s hot: A strong case could be made for Missouri receiver Luther Burden as a Heisman Trophy contender. In each of the last three games, Burden has caught at least 10 passes for no less than 140 yards. Or put it this way: In three games, Burden has 32 catches for 466 yards and two touchdowns. But that’s just been a high point in a stellar season. Burden has caught at least seven passes for 96 yards in every game. He leads the nation in receiving with 54 catches for 793 yards and five touchdowns.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Edgerrin Cooper, a defensive force for Texas A&M, pounced on Jalen Milroe for three of the Aggies' six sacks last week.

Who’s not: Imagine how tough Alabama would be if its pass blocking were better. Erratic pass protection has been an uncharacteristic issue for the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s offensive line allowed six sacks last week to Texas A&M. The Tide gave up four in each of the previous two games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Before that, Alabama allowed five sacks to South Florida and Texas. Overall, Alabama has allowed 26 sacks this season. Colorado, with 31 allowed, is the only FBS team in the country to have given up more sacks than the Crimson Tide.

Keep an eye on: Georgia tight end Brock Bowers is arguably the best player in college football. He’s certainly made a strong argument of late. In just the last three games, Bowers has 24 catches for 410 yards and four touchdowns. For perspective, consider that’s just two fewer receiving yards than the next most productive tight end in the nation — Colorado State’s Dallin Holker — has accumulated all year. The Bulldogs play Vanderbilt next, which has allowed more than 400 passing yards through four games. Don’t be surprised if Bowers has at least 100 receiving yards for a fourth consecutive game. In fact, expect it.

The pressure is on: Florida (4-2) desperately needs a victory at South Carolina. If the Gators don’t win in Columbia, they may not get the six victories necessary to qualify for a bowl game. South Carolina may be Florida’s weakest remaining opponent, with No. 1 Georgia, Arkansas, at No. 22 LSU, at Missouri and No. 4 Florida State all waiting on deck. Complicating matters, dating back to last year, the Gators have lost their last four road games at Vanderbilt, Florida State, Utah and Kentucky.

Best matchup: Texas A&M’s defensive line and Tennessee’s offensive line is a classic case of strength on strength. The Aggies lead the nation in sacks with 26. They also are ranked ninth in the nation in rushing defense. Tennessee, meanwhile, has allowed just six sacks. The Volunteers are also ranked first in the SEC and seventh in the nation in rushing offense. Tennessee’s line got a recent boost with the return of Mays.

Discussion from...

SEC Round-Up: The mysterious and enigmatic Tennessee Volunteers

4,531 Views | 4 Replies | Last: 8 mo ago by Matsui
How long do you want to ignore this user?
i think losing bru mccoy could be a really big loss for tennessee based on what they like to do. he did a fantastic job of sealing the edges in running plays and was a dynamic receiver for his size. he may not be as flashy as squirrel is for the vols but he played a very important role in making their offense go.
Hot Corner
How long do you want to ignore this user?
I kind of feel like we will be out coached and out schemed again. I hope I am wrong, but it happens so often it is hard not to feel that way.
How long do you want to ignore this user?
According to ESPN FPI, we have a 43.3% of winning at Tennessee, but there are several trends stacked against us.

1. We are coming off a grueling home loss to Alabama and traveling to play a well-rested Tennessee team coming off a bye week.

2. Tennessee will be playing their 3rd home game in 4 weeks and has not played a road game since a 29-16 loss at Florida on 9/16. In fact, that was the only true road game that Tennessee has played so far this season.

3. Tennessee will be looking to snap a 2-game losing streak against us and avenge a 34-13 beatdown that we handed them in Knoxville on 12/19/2020.

4. Tennessee has won 12 (6 SEC) consecutive home games since a 41-17 loss to Georgia on 11/13/2021.

5. We have lost 7 (6 SEC) consecutive true road games since a 35-14 win at Missouri on 10/16/2021.

On the flip side, Jimbo Fisher is 4-1 in games after Alabama.

2018: @Alabama (L): 23-45 | (N) Arkansas (W): 24-17
2019: Alabama (L): 28-47 | @Ole Miss (W): 24-17
2020: @Alabama (L): 24-52 | Florida (W): 41-38
2021: Alabama (W): 41-38 | @Missouri (W): 35-14
2022: @Alabama (L): 20-24 |Bye week | @South Carolina (L): 24-30
2023: Alabama (L): 20-26 | @Tennessee (TBD)
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Let's get that win
Page 1 of 1
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.