By Josh Ward | @Josh_Ward
Throw the ball to Ty Chandler.
If you’ve ever heard me talk about Tennessee’s junior running back, you’ve heard me say that very sentence – perhaps too many times to count at this point.
But there’s a reason I’ve said it over and over again. Tennessee’s offense is better when Chandler is involved in the Vols’ passing game.
Tennessee’s two best offensive performances in 2018 came on the road against Auburn and South Carolina. The Vols beat Auburn 30-24 and lost by a field goal at South Carolina (Tennessee’s only close loss last season).
What was one common factor in UT’s offensive performances against Auburn and South Carolina last season? Chandler led the Vols in touches in both games and was a focal point in their passing game.
Chandler caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown at Auburn; he had seven receptions against South Carolina.
The numbers show Chandler is as effective as any running back in the SEC when he becomes a receiver.
When it came to catching out of the backfield, no one in the SEC was better than Ty Chandler. He averaged 8.6 yards after the catch per reception and turned in 3 touchdowns through the air. pic.twitter.com/uima6T8eMk
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 9, 2019
This tweet received a lot of attention last week when it was posted by Pro Football Focus. So if Chandler is such a difference maker as a receiver, why wasn’t Tennessee’s offense more successful last season?
One reason: Chandler wasn’t involved enough. All 19 of his receptions last season came in four consecutive games between Sept. 29 and Oct. 27 (that was the loss at South Carolina). Chandler didn’t catch a pass in Tennessee’s four November games, which ended with blowout losses against Missouri and Vanderbilt.
That needs to change in 2019, and it likely will. New Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has shown the ability to put his skill position players in the best possible position to succeed.
In 2017, Georgia was fortunate to have proven running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel return for their senior seasons. Chaney, who was in his second season as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator, still made sure to involve freshman running back D’Andre Swift, who caught 17 passes and had 98 touches that season.
This isn’t to say Chandler will play at the level of any of the three Georgia backs mentioned above, but it should provide optimism that Chaney will have an idea how to use Chandler in a way that he can be most effective.
Chandler’s receiving ability has also caught the attention of running backs coach David Johnson, who coached Tennessee’s wide receivers last year. Johnson was asked during the spring if there’s anything he learned about Chandler after working with him directly.
“Probably his ball skills,” Johnson responded. “Being a receiver out of the backfield.”
This conversation requires a mention of Tennessee’s offensive line, which has to play better than it did in 2018. Poor offensive line play will limit the potential of Chandler and the rest of Tennessee’s offense. And of course, Chandler’s health will be a factor. He wasn’t 100 percent all of last season.
There will be a number of players who should help Tennessee’s offense take a step forward this fall. Senior receivers Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings can make plays, and junior Josh Palmer might end up being the best of the three. Tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson could break out, too.
But if Tennessee is looking for someone to provide a spark in the offense when things slow down, there’s one obvious answer.
Ty Chandler. Throw it to him.