Tennessee has plenty to work on to improve its offense. That was evident in the Vols’ loss to Florida on Saturday. It’s not time for a complete overhaul, but some regrouping is certainly in order.
Let’s start with communication and then get to personnel management. The Vols weren’t nearly as lightning-quick on offense as they were in 2022 and at times in their first two games this season.
There were obvious miscommunication issues during pre-snap moments in which Tennessee didn’t even seem ready to run a play before the play clock expired in Gainesville. That was as unlike anything we’ve become used to since Tennessee coach Josh Heupel hit his stride last season. However, there was more missing against the Gators than just elite clock management. The Vols didn’t take full advantage of two players that can help quarterback Joe Milton III find his stride.
Tennessee has a big orange mountain of players that can produce when called upon, the kind of players that can get open, make a catch and keep the chains moving. However, the Vols have two players, in particular, that can get things going no matter where they get the ball: running back Dylan Sampson and receiver Squirrel White. Sampson had no impact against Florida. White’s effect on the game was minimal, but enticing when he did get the ball.
The Vols didn’t have much of an excuse as to why Sampson wasn’t a bigger part of the game. Heupel said the sophomore was banged up, but should have been more present in The Swamp. White was touch-and-go.
Sampson was the talk of spring practice and throughout the offseason. He backed that up with 16 runs for 60 yards and three touchdowns and a nine-yard reception for a score in the Vols’ first two games. Against Florida, Sampson totalled zero touches for zero yards and no interceptions while fellow running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small handled the load.
When asked if managing snaps for three running backs was challenging, first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said, “It hadn’t been. Saturday night, obviously Dylan didn’t get enough on the field. It is what it is for whatever reason. He knows what we think of him. We know what everyone thinks of him. That’s an electric guy with a ball in his hands.
“We’ll find ways to get that guy the ball whether it’s handing it to him, throwing it to him, using him in the screen game, whatever it is. That’s the guy that will have the ball in his hands.”
White has a similar skillset as Sampson. The two may not be the biggest players on the field, but they have shiftiness that can be tough for defenses to handle. White had three catches for 68 yards against Florida. That’s certainly not a bad day, but for an offense that is struggling, the sophomore can provide some big gains via easy plays on short passing patterns. An end around or jet sweep wouldn’t be the worst idea either.
The Vols still have to beat the University of Texas-San Antonio on Saturday. A loss would be devastating. However, the Roadrunners are 1-2 and lost to Army last weekend 37-29. Tennessee is a 20-point favorite to beat UTSA so there should be room for the Vols to better themselves as they best a lower-level opponent. Getting Sampson and White more involved would be a great step to being a better offense against UTSA, but perhaps vital when the SEC comes calling again.