As Vols' tempo improves, so does offensive production

The tempo at which Tennessee's offense runs under coach Butch Jones is unlike others in program history. Learn about how that pace is helping the Vols steadily improve.

Tennessee coaches aren’t afraid to yell.

“Get the snap off! Let’s go! Tempo! Tempo!”

The Vols don’t huddle. They don’t stress ball control. They’re not offering scholarships to fullbacks. They don’t have 355-pound offensive linemen. They’re not conventional.

“I personally like the style of play that we have,” second-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “When you look at our schedule, I mean you have to have advantages with your offense, and I really like the style of play — going fast — because I believe there is a wear-down effect. That’s what I really like about it; I think that’s a big advantage, especially playing the schedule that we have.”

It sounds simple enough.

Run more plays than traditional offenses. Don’t allow defenses to assess the situation while exhausting the foe simultaneously.

Last season, Tennessee had to face the No. 3-ranked total defense in the United States of America. If that wasn’t enough to deal with at a program always smothered in expectation, it also had to take on the nation’s No. 6-ranked defense.

Not through yet. The Vols also had to contend with Nos. 7, 8, 13 and 28 defenses. That’s out of the 127 FBS programs.

Starting to see why coaches that have experience all over the nation and with National Football League experience speak so often of the challenges of the Southeastern Conference? This ain’t the Pac-12, which was home to five of the worse 20 defenses in all of the FBS.

Tennessee had the 64th most pass efficient offense in the nation last year. Not a great number, however, quarterbacks threw just five interceptions. Also, the Vols converted 46-percent of their third downs and possessed the football for 30 minutes, 32 seconds per game.

The tempo at which Tennessee plays under Butch Jones is one of the fastest in program history — and it’s getting faster.

2013 5-7 23.8 353.3 Mike Bajakian
2014 7-5 28.9 370.5 Mike Bajakian
2015 9-4 35.1 422.3 Mike DeBord

That’s a lot of plays, especially if you’re a wide receiver that’s tasked with running routes, running back to the line of scrimmage, running to a pre-snap spot, oh, and blocking.

“We just don’t line up with three receivers and play three receivers the entire game,” DeBord said. “We have to rotate because of the style of play that we use. So, we’ve got to have depth there at all those positions.”

Joshua Dobbs — or any other quarterback for that matter — wants to look out wide or in the slot and recognize someone with which has chemistry and trust. DeBord says that rhythm isn’t affected with the line changes at the X, Y and Z.

“No, I don’t think so,” DeBord said. “I think the amount of reps we play guys will depend upon how they’re executing things, but I don’t think so. I think our style of play is an advantage for us. So, we do have to use guys, but I don’t see it being a disadvantage that way at all.”

Josh Malone laughed. Arguably Tennessee’s best wide receiver visibly laughed at the notion of the Vols going up-tempo for 70-80 plays, using only three receivers.

“I wouldn’t say it’d be difficult, it’d be challenging, especially with the tempo we play and our style of play and just how much we move,” the junior from Gallatin said. “With three wide receivers, by the end of the game, you could probably tell little bit signs of fatigue but instead of that…it’s possible.”

It’s been done in this program and in this offense. Malone said he’s played all four quarters with no sub. Passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni told IT that former Vol Marquez North did the same. Azzanni also said that he trusts five players to play receiver in this offense heading into the final days of preparation for the season ahead.

Those five? Best guess is Malone, Jeff George, Jauan Jennings, Josh Smith, Preston Williams. In the on-deck circle are freshmen and former U.S. Army All-Americans Tyler Byrd and Marquez Callaway.

Between the tempo, the talent and solidarity in the offensive philosophy, the Vols are poised to turn another corner in their fourth year under Jones.

“I feel like we can have a very explosive passing game, and I feel like we could have had explosive passing games in the past,” Malone said. “Just with everybody being more comfortable in the system and everybody knowing the ins and outs and we can all rotate at all positions that the sky’s the limit.”


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