Tennessee’s passing offense finds itself in a precarious position at the moment.
Butch Jones’ offense averaged 6.1 yards per attempt in its first two games and has completed only 51.9 percent of its passes heading into Saturday’s game against Western Carolina.
With Tennessee struggling to throw downfield coupled with the bruising effectiveness of the team’s run game so far, the passing game has admittedly suffered.
"I think a number of things go into that,” head coach Butch Jones said. “First of all, we had some throws in the first game. We were able to do that. We also made a decision to run the football to protect our defense a little bit. We had two running backs that were performing at a very high level. We also did throw the ball down the field. This past week, we didn't throw the ball down the field and execute as much as we would like.”
Against Oklahoma, the Vols could only scrounge up 125 yards through the air due to what Butch Jones described as ineffectiveness and fixable mistakes.
“One play, it was a breakdown on one position group. The next play, it was a position at another position group. Next play, it may have been a dropped football. Everything in a game is rhythm, spacing and timing,” he said.
“It may be running a 12-yard post, and we run an eight-yard post. Those are the disciplines and small details at the schemes in terms of doing it. Some of it was [Oklahoma is] a good football team defensively. They do some different things, but we have worked very hard on it. I know we have to get better in the throw game.”
One of the most effective receivers for Tennessee so far has been Josh Smith, who went from not catching a pass against Bowling Green to being the team’s leading wideout in the Oklahoma game with 56 yards on four catches for an average of 14 yards a grab.
The redshirt sophomore chalked up the passing game’s early low numbers to a more stringent focus on the run game. The Vols are averaging a whopping 264 yards a game on the ground in 109 attempts — good for 20th in the country.
“I feel like the run game’s been doing so well we’ve been trying to attack that,” Smith said. “We’re trying to really get that going, and it’s going, obviously, as you can tell. We’ve just got to speed up the passing game. We’re getting there. We’re working on it every day. It’ll come.”
Saturday’s matchup with Western Carolina seems like a giftwrapped opportunity to showcase the throw game’s potential with deep passes and more attempts. Players like Smith have confidence in quarterback Josh Dobbs and the pieces around him to show the rest of the SEC they have the talent and scheme to make plays in the air and be a dangerous passing team.
“I’ve never had a doubt in my mind,” Smith said. “We have too much talent not to. I feel like we’re getting to that point, and now I feel like we’re finally getting better."