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Despite lackluster offense, Tennessee should end season with a win over Vandy

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Many people thought of Tennessee’s offense as plug-and-play under Josh Heupel.

It didn’t matter who the quarterback or receivers or offensive linemen were, the Vols would score points on almost anyone they played.

I didn’t buy into that theory. But I did think UT’s offense would be much more productive than it’s been.

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I predicted UT would go from averaging 46 points per game to 38.

I predicted UT would go from averaging 525 yards per game to 465.

Instead, UT is averaging only 30 points per game and 438.6 total yards. It has been shutout in the second half of games against Alabama and Missouri and Georgia – which makes you wonder about halftime adjustments. It was held to seven points by Missouri’s decent defense and 10 points by Georgia’s stout defense.

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Moreover, UT scored 141 first-quarter points and 337 first-half points last year.

This year: 96 first-quarter points and 198 first-half points.

So why hasn’t Tennessee been able to score at a higher pace?

You’ve got to have a quarterback who is accurate, makes quick decisions and can run a zone-read.

Those are not the strengths of Joe Milton.

But it goes beyond Milton.

UT lost six key cogs in its explosive offense from a year ago. And their replacements haven’t been nearly as good. It’s that simple.

Milton isn’t as good as Hendon Hooker. Milton has completed 64.5% of his passes for 220.9 yards per game with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Hooker completed 69.6% of his passes for 285 yards per game with 27 TDs and two picks.

Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton isn’t as good as Jalin Hyatt, who won the Biletnikoff Award after catching 67 passes for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns. Thornton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and one score in nine games before being injured.

Chas Nimrod isn’t as good as Cedric Tillman, who caught 37 passes for 417 yards and three scores despite an injury plagued season. Nimrod has 13 catches for 141 yards and one score.

McCallan Castles hasn’t been as productive as Princeton Fant, who last year ran for five touchdowns on six carries and caught three TD passes. Castles has 18 catches for 218 yards and three TDs.

Offensive tackle John Campbell isn’t as good as Darnell Wright, who was a first-round draft pick.

Any of a trio of offensive guards isn’t as good as Jerome Carvin, who was a road grader.

Tennessee’s offensive numbers would have looked great under Jeremy Pruitt. But not under Heupel, who raised the bar significantly last season.

Tennessee’s offense – which ranks seventh in the SEC in scoring, 10th in passing yards and completion percentage, and fifth in total yards – should show out against Vanderbilt, even though the Vols’ offensive line has been decimated by injury.

UT has the No. 2 run offense in the SEC. Vandy has the No. 14 run defense, total defense and scoring defense.

Vandy also ranks no higher than 12th in scoring, touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, total offense and pass defense.

Vandy has been outscored in SEC games by an average of 38.4 to 15.9. It lost to South Carolina 47-6.

Tennessee crushed Vandy 56-0 last year.

But the Vols mauled Missouri 66-24 in 2022 then lost 36-7.

Missouri is a top 10 team this season. Vanderbilt is not.

Thus, the Vols should have no trouble ending the regular-season on a high note despite its offensive decline this season.

Prediction: Tennessee 45-17.

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