When the Tennessee Vols hired Bob Shoop after the 2015 season, it was a move that was universally praised by fans and analysts.
John Jancek had a solid year as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator in 2015 (UT was No. 17 in the nation in points allowed per game), but the hire of Shoop was widely viewed as an upgrade.
In retrospect, it was anything but an upgrade. The Vols’ defense struggled mightily during Shoop’s two seasons on Rocky Top.
Tennessee finished No. 70 in points allowed per game in 2016. They finished No. 83 in 2017.
That’s a far cry from what Shoop achieved at Penn State (he led the Nittany Lions to the nation’s No. 7 defense in 2014).
Since leaving Knoxville, however, Shoop has once again found success.
Shoop was hired as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator prior to the 2018 season. The Bulldogs finished last season with the nation’s No. 2 ranked defense.
So why didn’t Shoop work out at Tennessee?
Well, it’s because Shoop made a mistake and didn’t do something that new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney excels at doing.
And that should excite fans.
Shoop didn’t correctly identify the strengths of the Vols’ defense in 2016.
The former UT defensive coordinator recently told The Athletic “What I thought might be the identity of that group clearly ended up not being the identity of that group”.
Every team is different. The 2019 Clemson team won’t be the same as the 2018 Clemson team. If Dabo Swinney plans to win another national championship, and I’m sure that’s his goal, he’ll have to re-identify the strengths of his team and play to those strengths.
This is an area where Chaney is a wizard.
There’s not many play callers better at identifying strengths and matchup advantages than Chaney. And it’s something that tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer has already noticed, despite only working with Chaney for seven months.
Niedermeyer said this week that Chaney does “a great job identifying matchups, identifying personnel”.
He added that Chaney “Has been different everywhere he’s been. I think that he really works to what he has.”
Chaney’s ability to adapt, which is something Shoop didn’t do in 2016 and 2017, is the main reason I think Tennessee’s offense will be a consistent force moving forward.
I have no doubt that Chaney will find a way to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, regardless of the state of the offensive line (which is improving, but it’s still a work in progress). It might mean more screen passes to running back Ty Chandler. Or it might mean quick passes to wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings.
However it needs to happen, Chaney will make sure Tennessee’s best offensive players are consistently touching the football.
Chaney has found a way to mold the identity of his offense to his players’ strengths throughout his career. It won’t be any different in 2019.
How successful will the offense be?
That remains to be seen.
But I absolutely believe fans will see a more dynamic offense in 2019 than what they’ve seen in recent years at UT.
Featured image via 247Sports/Knoxville News Sentinel