Good Day, My Friends,
Well, it is the end of a season that I never thought that I would see for Football at the University of Tennessee. I am glad that it is over. Watching the game yesterday made me think about the past five years and how this season came about.
Butch was hired five years ago and there were a series of related miscues/mistakes over the five years that all contributed to the terrible season in 2017.
Most of Butch’s staff came with him. They were a team and worked well together. He hired three experienced SEC coaches with mixed records as position coaches. Gillespie (RB’s), Martinez (DB’s), and Thigpen (LB’s) were all good recruiters. Their years with the Vols have shown us that of the three only Gillespie was successful at developing players to perform at the SEC level. Butch replaced Martinez last year, probably two years too late.
Thigpen and the Vols recruited many highly rated LB’s from day one with the Vols but it seems that if they did not have enough “SKILL” to play at day one, they did not develop. This was not an athletic ability question, it was a question of knowing what to do on the field as a play developed. LB’s must be able to play passes over the middle of the field. Over the past five years how many INT’s have they had? I would wager that they dropped every year under Thigpen. In playing the run, the LB’s must cover the gaps the DL are not covering, this year the Vols gave up long runs each game because the LB’s were caught up in the line behind the DL in the same gap. This created natural unblocked running lanes for the other team. With WR’s going down field this opens a huge area for the RB’s or QB to run into and they did just that. This was the worst run defense that I have seen for the Vols, between the poor gap coverage by the LB’s and the DE lack of run coverage discipline the teams that we played had their best run games of the season not only in game yardage but also in yards per carry for the runners. When the DE’s took an inside pass rush they were running into the DT’s and left the Vols with no outside run contain. When the DE’s took an outside pass rush they went too wide and past the QB and lost the inside run contain. Combine that with the LB’s getting doubled up on inside gaps and you create a feast for the other team’s offenses in the running game. It also was a major factor on why the VOL LB’s had so few sacks when they were pass rushing.
Our pass defense was better this year but again it was a victim of the Front Seven play. As games progressed the DB’s and Safeties dropped back on pass coverage to provide run support and this opened up long passes.
The Vols Strength and Conditioning Coach has been a constant rotation and that appears to have contributed to the large number of injuries the past two years. That is a three-fold program. It must cover strength and stamina but a factor that most folks overlook is that it must maintain and contribute to flexibility. Flexibility is a huge factor in preventing joint injuries.
In the past year Butch moved and replaced three long term coaches and added a QB Coach. On the WR front, I am not sure that Beard contributed to improvement in any area. Wells has shown the ability to recruit that appeared to be better than the coach he replaced but the OL performance was much worst then last year. Scott was a good TE coach but as an Offensive Coordinator he did not improve the Vols performance in any area. It is hard to judge the QB Coach Canales because of the problems in team injuries that impacted his players and their performance in every game.
One thing the last three games made very clear, with a Spread Offense, you must have exceptional blocking from the OL and TE’s for the running game to be effective. In the normal Spread formation, you are telling the defense which way you will run. Vandy read that and after the first QTR stuffed the run game as did Mizzou and LSU. Those reads also gave the defense the ability to Blitz more effectively, because they knew where the offense could go if it ran. That impacts the passing game significantly and you can tell that in the passing numbers the past three weeks especially in the third down conversion numbers. In the Iron Bowl yesterday Auburn really read Bama well and that allowed their defense to stymie Bama’s offense.
My two bits on the new coach, his success will be built upon his success at building his staff. The facilities and a nucleus of talented players are on campus. He must have the talent and ability to bring together a staff to use the resources and to realize the potential on the UT Campus. The AD must help him in that.
It should be noted that ALL the great UT Coaches built great staffs and were built around those staffs. Neyland, Dickey, Majors, and Fulmer are names to remember for that characteristic. All of them have members of their staffs that became successful Head Coaches and AD’s as well. I hope in the future that the new Coach is remembered for this as well. We all remember how dysfunctional staffs have ruined a team and wrecked a program.
On to the December National Signing Day and a new coach for the 2018 Season!! The O&W Game will be interesting in April.
Happy Holidays to All of You!