There were errant throws, head-scratching decisions, frustrating drops, and missed blocking assignments all evening long. Each theoretically could’ve placed Tennessee head coach Butch Jones at a quarterback crossroads.
Does Butch, after one half of offensive execution akin to that of a Jalen Hurts led offense, pull the plug on Quinten Dormady and insert Jarrett Guarantano?
Clearly, the answer to that question Monday night was no, and for all intent and purposes, Butch made the correct call. Leaving Dormady in the game for its entirety showcases a level of confidence every coach should have in their quarterback. But if the Dormady saga is to continue in Knoxville, then Butch — along with offensive coordinator Larry Scott — can’t replicate Monday’s pedestrian play calling performance.
From the start, Dormady — making his collegiate debut on national television — was given a workload no first-time starter should ever receive against a quality team like Georgia Tech. With the offensive line barely able to function and receivers dropping passes left and right, maybe the passing game just wasn’t in the cards for the Vols.
Stubbornly, Butch kept his foot on the pedal, so much so that Tennessee attempted more passes (37) than runs (22), which under no circumstances should’ve happened. Not only was Dormady under duress on several occasions, but more often than not, he flat out missed on downfield throws.
Call it a lack of cohesiveness with the first-string receivers after a lengthy quarterback battle during the offseason. Call it first-game jitters, call it whatever you like. Instead of the Vols opening the floodgates with Dormady’s rattled arm, they should’ve pounded away with John Kelly, who ran rather successfully against Georgia Tech. The numbers alone do his performance justice — 19 carries, 128 yards, 4 touchdowns — but watching this madman run in real time takes his performance to another stratosphere.
It’s more than the highlights, though. It’s simple strategy.
Butch (and Scott) had all offseason to prepare for Georgia Tech’s triple option, which predicates itself on ball control. Instead of beating the Yellow Jackets at their own game, it was decided that Dormady was going to deliver the knockout blow.
The plan backfired, as Georgia Tech gained 655 total yards of offense, including 535 on the ground, the highest mark the Orange and White have ever allowed. Even after his defense endured an onslaught of misdirection runs and last-second pitches, the offense still ran plays like this:
Imagine what the defense is thinking. They had just experienced an excruciating 16-play drive from Georgia Tech, and the offense immediately goes 3-and-out because of plays like the one above. Plays like that allowed the Yellow Jackets to seize control of the game.
But regardless of the small details, Tennessee won anyway. It wasn’t as improbably as UCLA’s stunning 34-point comeback victory over Texas A&M, but to those who witnessed, Georgia Tech had Tennessee on the ropes.
Moving forward, Butch and Scott should peel Dormady back and focus on simpler throws, which they flashed on a handful of occasions in Atlanta.
Not to suggest that Dormady isn’t intelligent, but simplifying the game during the early stages of his starting career is the most practical move.
Also, and this is just a suggestion, Marquez Callaway should receive more than four targets from now on.
Tennessee’s play calling was its Achilles Heel on Monday night, but the Vols managed to escape. If they want to avoid repeating their 2016 campaign, where they pulled off multiple miraculous comebacks before faltering down the stretch, then Butch needs to help his young quarterback, not put pressure on him.