Season report card: Tennessee

A fourth straight losing season never computes real well on the report card.


The Vols were hoping to lean heavily on their big, experienced offensive line this season, and while Rajion Neal did rush for 1,124 yards, there simply wasn't enough consistency across the board to be a serviceable offense in the SEC. The Vols finished 12th in the league in total offense (353.3 yards per game), last in passing efficiency and were held to 17 or fewer points in four of their eight SEC contests. Freshman receiver Marquez North was a bright spot and made the catch of the year for the Vols in their 23-21 win over South Carolina. But other than North, there wasn't much in the way of offensive playmakers on Tennessee's roster. Junior quarterback Justin Worley was playing very efficiently in the Vols' best stretch of the season, the overtime loss to Georgia and win over South Carolina, but hurt his thumb. When the Vols were forced to go with true freshman Joshua Dobbs for the remainder of the season at quarterback, he simply wasn't ready, and Tennessee's offensive woes spiraled downward from there.


A lack of speed on defense has been a problem for the Vols each of the last two seasons, and it reared its head again in 2013. The Vols gave up a ton of big plays and were especially vulnerable at safety. They had trouble getting off the field on third down and struggled to pressure the quarterback, finishing last in the SEC with 18 sacks in 12 games. One of the positives was that they were good in the red zone, finishing third in the league in red zone defense. Against SEC competition, Tennessee allowed an average of 30.6 points per game and gave up more than 30 points in five of its eight league games. Tennessee's 2012 defense was so historically bad that just about anything was going to be an improvement this year. The Vols were at least somewhat sound and didn't experience the utter confusion they did a year ago, but they were still a long ways off from being even an average SEC defense.


One of the most improved parts of Tennessee's team was the kicking game, although there were still a few warts. The Vols' coverage units were solid until the latter part of the season. They gave up a punt return for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown to Auburn and wound up last in the SEC in kickoff coverage. Senior punter/placekicker Michael Palardy had an All-SEC season. He was 14-of-17 on field-goal attempts and averaged 44.5 yards punting the football. He had 19 punts of 50 yards or longer, and 33 of his punts were downed inside the 20. The Vols also blocked a punt for a touchdown against Georgia.


The breakthrough win over South Carolina keeps this from being a "D." Losing seasons are never acceptable at Tennessee, even when it's the fourth in a row. But Butch Jones clearly made some strides with this program in his first season in Knoxville. The Vols were right there in the 34-31 overtime loss to Georgia, and to their credit, bounced back two weeks later from that bitter loss with the 23-21 win over South Carolina, their first over a nationally ranked foe after 19 straight defeats. The injury to Worley was a tough blow. Had he stayed healthy, Tennessee might have been able to sneak into a bowl game. The schedule was brutal, too. Five of the Vols' seven losses came to teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 nationally. Jones is working feverishly to upgrade the talent, but this first grade on his watch comes in just south of average.