2016 was supposed to be the Year of the Vol or the season that UT competed for conference and national championships. That didn’t happen. An extremely talented Tennessee team with six players drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft finished the regular season 8-4. 8-4 is not a bad record; but how, when, and who it lost to is what has the doubters lighting up the air waves and social media. Butch Jones is on the hot seat, or is he?
Jones has drastically improved the talent level and cleaned up the mess left behind by Derrick Dooley. Tennessee is one of three SEC teams to win nine games for two consecutive seasons. However, consecutive 8-4 regular season finishes does not match talent level or the financial investment the university has divvied out over the years. So yes, Jones’ seat is warm.
Tennessee started 5-0 before dropping three straight to Texas A&M, Alabama, and South Carolina. To make matters worse, Tennessee lost to instate rival Vanderbilt to close out the regular season which prevented a trip to the Cotton Bowl. According to Phil Steele, Tennessee is 5-30 against ranked teams in the past seven seasons. Out goes six assistant coaches, in comes 6 new ones and a boat load of fresh support staff. Jones has to replace the vast majority of production and leadership on both sides of the football.
-Head Coach: Butch Jones 30-21 at UT
-2016 Record: 9-4, beat Nebraska 38-24 in Music City Bowl
-Opener: Vs Georgia Tech in Atlanta
First year offensive coordinator Larry Scott has to replace several key contributors and the unit’s leader. Quarterback Josh Dobbs, RB Alvin Kamara, and WR Josh Malone are now in the NFL. RB Jalen Hurd transferred to Baylor. I voted RB Alvin Kamara as the best opposing RB that the Cats faced in 2016. Either Quinten Dormandy (148-career passing yards) or redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano will assume signal calling duties. Jones said in Hoover that he won’t name a starter until the time is right. RB John Kelly (630-yards, 5 TDs) returns from the once loaded Volunteer backfield and will run behind the strength of the team which is considered to be the offensive line that returns four starters: Brett Kendrick, Drew Richmond, Jashon Robertson, and Coleman Thomas.
It’s difficult to project UT’s explosive play capabilities due to skill player departures. But, WR Jauan Jennings (40 catches) and TE Ethan Wolf (21 catches) could be the new quarterback’s primary targets early in the season.
Returning Statistical Leaders
-Returning Starters: 7
-Passing: Quinten Dormady-11/17, 148-yards
-Rushing: John Kelly-98 carries, 630-yards, 5 TDs
-Receiving: Jauan Jennings-40 catches, 580-yards, 7 TDs
2016 Offensive Standings
-Scoring 36.4 ppg (SEC-2nd)
-Rushing 205.2 ypg (SEC-7th)
-Passing 238.5 ypg (SEC-5th)
-Total 443.7 ypg (SEC-5th)
Tennessee allowed 5-yards per carry in 2016. Not good, but it does return seven starters. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop brought in former Michigan head coach Brady Hoak to oversee his defensive line. 2016 saw a run on defensive personnel injuries. Shoop has to improve the run defense while replacing the program’s all-time sack leader Derek Barnett. There is still a high level of talent on the depth chart.
The Vols return seven of its top eight tacklers from a year ago. Defensive tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Kendell Vickers are solid up the middle and will be joined on the edge by DE Jonathan Kongbo. The secondary returns four players that produced a high number of tackles in 2016: safety Todd Kelly Jr. (71 tackles), Emmanuel Moseley (57), Rashaan Gaulden (68), and Micah Abernathy (69). Much like the defensive line, Darrin Kirkland and several other LB’s battled injuries a year ago. Linebackers Kirkland and Cortez McDowell (54 tackles) have several combined starts and will provide back-line stability.
Returning Statistical Leaders
–Returning Starters: 7
-Tackles: Todd Kelly-71
-QB Sacks: Kendal Vickers-2.5
-Interceptions: Todd Kelly-2
2016 Defensive Standings
-Scoring 28.8 ppg (SEC-9th)
-Rushing 218.4 ypg (SEC-11th)
-Passing 230.7 ypg (SEC-10th)
-Total 449.2 ypg (SEC-11th)
IMPACT ON KENTUCKY
Significant. The Vols travel to Tuscaloosa the week prior to visiting Kroger Field for what could be a highly anticipated matchup between the border-state universities. That trip to Bama could leave Jones’ squad wobbling as it does to most football teams. Talent disparity is no more; rosters are now comparable. The Wildcats haven’t enjoyed success in this one-time rivalry. 2017 could see favorable results for the BBN.