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Cataloguing all the ways Tennessee has failed to score this season inside the 5-yard line

The Vols have got to fix this.

South Carolina v Tennessee Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Oh, Tennessee, what are we to do with you? The Vols entered Week 8 at No. 113 in red zone scoring percentage, and for the third game this season, Tennessee horrendously botched crucial goal-to-go situations.

Tennessee had four drives get into the red zone against South Carolina last week, and only came away with three field goals. Each of those drives started on Tennessee’s side of the 50-yard line. The Vols easily could’ve put this game away by halftime but would instead allow South Carolina to slowly overtake the lead.

On the most crucial drive, the Vols needed a touchdown to beat South Carolina in the final seconds. They closed in on the goal line, and everyone had the same thought: not another Tennessee game coming down to red zone offense.

Here was the goal-to-go portion:


South Carolina won, 15-9, sending Will Muschamp to 6-0 against the Vols and making it so Butch Jones has to all but win out.

Tennessee deserves some kudos for driving the ball down the field, frankly. The Vols made it 73 yards with limited time. But driving the ball hasn’t been the issue; it’s been getting it into the end zone. The Vols needed 75 yards.

First down

After a South Carolina penalty, the Vols had the ball at the 2-yard line.

They fake a split zone run with John Kelly, and then with only two wide receivers, they run interesting action to the top of the screen.

The outside WR, Josh Smith, ends up running what looks like a fade to the back of the end zone. The play looks like it was a throw to Smith or nothing, given the fact that the inside WR, Marquez White, seems to serve the purpose of pure decoy. He doesn’t run a route into the end zone and is likely pulling his defender away from Smith.

The Vols aren’t gonna run the ball here. South Carolina probably has to know that, and it comes really aggressively. Ineffective blocks allow South Carolina to penetrate the line of scrimmage and give Jarrett Guarantano a near-zero chance to make anything happen.

This play also set up a really long throw for Guarantano from the far hash. I get that you’re hoping for a jump ball with Smith, but with how long it would take the throw to get there, DB Jamarcus King would’ve had easy recovery time, if Smith had been able to get any separation.

I’m really not entirely sure why Tennessee ran this play in this way.

Second down

Tennessee runs all the action to the short side of the field.

As Kelly leaks out in the flat, South Carolina’s defense flows into the play, shutting the already small passing windows.

Guarantano is likely doing what he’s told to do and focusing on WR Marquez Callaway (bottom of screen at the snap). But if he’s gonna throw this at all (and it’s not open), he’s gotta let it go as Callaway breaks into the end zone.

He holds onto it a beat too long and throws late. The fact that it’s batted down actually benefits Tennessee. The clock operator stops the clock no sooner than the ball hits the ground, to say the least.

If this doesn’t get batted down, Guarantano’s throw might get picked off or travel an extra half second in the air and get batted down by the two defenders blanketing Callaway. That would have ended the game.

Third down

With nothing to lose, I’d probably run the ball. Tennessee apparently considered it.

I get why they didn’t, though. Changing personnel probably isn’t something you want to do here, so you just run a play with what you’ve got on the field.

Out of these three plays, at least this passing play gives Tennessee the best chance to win (I know, it’s a low bar to clear).

Tennessee actually runs the pick action to the top of the screen this time, and Guarantano has to make a tough cross-body throw. The South Carolina DBs make two really good plays here.

Because of tight coverage on Callaway, he gets jammed at the line of scrimmage and isn’t able to run an effective pick action. All DB Chris Lammons has to do is sink two yards into the end zone then make a break on the receiver.

This is really good coaching by Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson. Both are DB coaches by trade, and it shows.

For Guarantano, you could say the throw is late, but he did put it where only WR Brandon Johnson could catch it.

In the Florida game, the inability to punch the ball in also cost the Vols.

Here was a particularly awful goal-to-go sequence against the Gators:

Unlike the Florida situation, Tennessee’s incredible running back wasn’t much of a factor against South Carolina. While Tennessee does have one of the more impressive running backs in the country, the Vols weren’t in a position to run because they didn’t have any timeouts.

But things weren’t much better at Alabama.

For a second it looked like Tennessee had actually scored from inside the 5-yard line. RB John Kelly punched it in, but after review it was brought back. The Vols then had a false start which backed the play out to the 5-yard line, and threw an interception on fourth down.

Look upon it and despair:

There will be a lot of ink continually spilled on Tennessee’s offense in general.

Guarantano’s line of 11-of-18 for 133 yards against South Carolina was certainly not breaking any school records at Tennessee. But by and large, the Vols’ offense looked like it had a direction that it hasn’t had yet this season. Not so much against the Tide, but Bama will do that to you.

Jones might not be around to see that purpose realized, though. Perhaps the straw that will break the camel’s back is that the offense loses that purpose when it gets close to pay dirt.