KNOXVILLE — When Tennessee first announced the hiring of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney from Georgia in the offseason, nobody questioned the $1.5 million price tag attached.
When the Volunteers got off to a 1-3 start and their offense was sputtering, that changed as fans started to question just when the hiring would pay off.
It may have taken a while to yield game results, but it appears Chaney has developed a grasp on what will work with his offense.
Heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham (6-1), which will be televised by ESPNU, Tennessee (3-5) is coming off its best offensive performance of the season in a 41-21 win over South Carolina. The point total was a season high. So were the 485 yards of total offense and the 351 passing yards.
Making things more impressive was the fact Chaney used three quarterbacks against the Gamecocks: senior receiver Jauan Jennings, junior Jarrett Guarantano and redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout. Due to Guarantano's struggles early this season, it was fair to wonder if there was one quality quarterback on the roster.
Now the Vols have had three contribute to victories (four counting Jennings) as freshman Brian Maurer has three starts on his résumé. They've started six different combinations on the offensive line.
"Oh, yeah, he's a mastermind," running back Ty Chandler said this week of Chaney. "Everybody's starting to grab the whole concept of the offense and parts, why we're doing this and why we're doing that. So everybody is starting to grab that, and I feel like it's all coming together and we've got to keep going."
Chaney doesn't have a position group to coach, so he has the opportunity to move around and instruct where he sees fit. He's been seen at practice working with the offensive line. At times he's with the quarterbacks. Other times he's watching the quarterbacks and receivers work together.
As a result, he has been able to figure out what works in the Tennessee offense — regardless of quarterback — and start to maximize each signal-caller's strengths.
"I feel like Jim's done a good job all year," head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "Saturday we maybe executed it at a higher level. We made some throws down the field. When you get plays in chunks, it makes it a little easier to score. When you sit there and you have to grind it out — 4 yards, 3 yards, 7 yards, convert four third downs in a drive, lots can happen. The more plays it takes you to score, the more self-inflicting wounds you can get. I think it helped us Saturday that we created some explosive plays. I think Jim's done a nice job all year.
"We've got to execute at a little higher level and be a little more consistent everywhere. Our kids are working hard to do that. There have been lots of games offensively where I have felt like we moved the ball, then we turn it over and don't give ourselves a chance. Or we move the ball and we get a penalty, a dead-ball penalty, and now it's first-and-25. It's hard to overcome. That's happened in some of the games where maybe at the end of the game what was on the scoreboard was not exactly probably a good indication of how we played."