Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux made a certain phrase very popular when the former Atlanta pitchers were featured in a Nike commercial and uttered a phrase that is hard to forget.
“Chicks dig the long ball,” Maddux said as a pair of ladies cheered him on after a home run in batting practice.
Well, if chicks dig the long ball, chicks don’t dig Tennessee’s passing game whatsoever.
The Vols have completed 10 passes of 30 yards or longer this season – or 1.4 per game in seven contests. Only Florida has completed fewer passes of 30 or more yards in the SEC this season. Last season was all together different. I know you knew that, but I bet you didn’t realize how much different it really was last season.
Tennessee completed 40 passes for 30 yards or more in 2022, which is just about three such plays per game. That was tops in the SEC by far. Alabama was second with just 26 passing plays for 30 yards or more. The Vols also led the SEC last season in passes over 40, 50, and 60 yards or more. This season, the Vols are no better than the eighth in the SEC in any of those categories.
Why? I let you be the judge. Perhaps it’s quarterback Joe Milton’s fault, the loss of two top-flight receivers and a quarterback to the NFL, a new offensive coordinator or maybe Josh Heupel’s headset isn’t functioning correctly. No matter the reason, it’s a killer to an offense that is predicated on stretching the field.
I thought maybe Tennessee’s plays per game might be the issue. Nope. The Vols are averaging 72 plays per game just like they did last season. It sometimes seems like Milton takes a bit longer at the line of scrimmage than former Vol Hendon Hooker did last season, but that’s not the case statistically. So what is it? I think Alabama coach Nick Saban discovered as much last week when he loaded the box to stop Tennessee’s running game, which was one of the best in the nation at the time statistically. The Vols simply don’t have anywhere near the pop in their bat as they did last season. Will things be different moving forward? Saturday would be a good time to start.
Tennessee has beaten Kentucky nine of the last 11 times they played. Many of those games haven’t been close. In fact the Vols average margin of victory in wins against the ‘Cats in that streak has been 38-19. If the Vols hope to match that kind of lopsided victory, they’ll surely need some long, passing plays down the field. However, those have been hard to come by. Maybe things will change against a rather porous Kentucky pass defense, but we’ll see. We’ll let the chicks be the judge.