Since his hire in December of 2012, Butch Jones has seemed to be a good fit for a Tennessee football team that had seen better days compared to the collapse the program has gone through the past five years.
Jones has given the team what they have lacked since hall of fame head coach Phillip Fulmer’s departure in 2008. Jones has been known as a “players coach,” since his early coaching days at Central Michigan. His players will tell you he knows how to push you to your furthest limit, and get the absolute best effort out of you play after play.
The problem doesn’t lie on the sideline for Tennessee, rather it lies out on the field. The Vols lack on-field leadership.
Junior linebacker A.J. Johnson is the consensus leader on the Vols defense which is much improved from last year. In fact, the Volunteer defense held Georgia’s Aaron Murray to his worst performance of the season this past Saturday, only allowing him to throw for 196 yards (previous low 298 yards), while he came into the contest averaging 334 yards passing per game. The problem lies on the offensive side, where a leader has yet to be born.
While the saying “defense wins championships,” may be true, the offense still has to put points on the board. In most cases the quarterback is viewed as the leader of each offense. Think back to each national championship team over the past several years. A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy led Alabama to their three national titles in their respective seasons as starters, Cameron Newton led Auburn to their first in 53 years, and Tim Tebow was without a doubt the best thing to happen to Florida since Danny Weurffel and Jesse Palmer. Still yet to be mentioned are Vince Young, Ken Dorsey, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
Tennessee’s Justin Worley is far from being a leader for his team at this juncture of the season. The junior quarterback out of Rockwell, S.C. is only in his first season as starter for Tennessee, but has yet to build any confidence in himself and it shows on the field.
While he had his best game of the season against Georgia, Worley has shown a lot of instability when out on the field by forcing passes into triple coverage, and drastically over and under throwing wide open receivers.
Not only in the passing game, but in the rushing game as well Worley lacks confidence. In Butch Jones’ newly implemented read option offense the quarterback is required to read the defensive end and decide to hand the ball off to the running back if the end stays put, or keep it and run if he crashes to the inside. So far this year, no matter what the defense has given him, Worley has kept and ran the ball only a handful of times. That, in turn, has allowed defenses to overload the middle knowing they don’t have to worry about covering the outside for a quarterback run, and allowed them to virtually shut down the Volunteers rushing attack in general.
The upcoming bye week may be just what Worley needs. Coming off the best performance of his collegiate career he has a chance to harness any confidence he may have gained, build on it and carry it forward through the second half of the season.
The Vols still have a tough road ahead, but at 3-3, with a team building momentum from week to week, they still stand a chance to pull off an upset in 2013 beginning against South Carolina and play their way into a bowl game for the first time since 2010. In order for it to happen, though, a leader must be born.