"Tennessees' Midseason Progress Report"

Patrick MacCoonContributor IOctober 23, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Montario Hardesty #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers runs with the ball during the SEC game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 10, 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

       So far this season it has been a lot of up and downs for Lane Kiffin and his Vols.  Even though the team wasn't supposed to perform at a high level this season, one could call it a rebuilding season, they have been very unpredictable.  The season opener against Western Kentucky suprised a lot of people as Tennessees' offense, which is not know to be a great one recently, put up 63 points against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  I'm not saying that is so great to put up that many points because Western Kentucky just entered this level of play in college football.  Then the next weekend, uh-oh, UCLA did it again as they shocked the Volunteers for the second year in a row.  But this was at Neyland Stadium.  This 19 to 15 loss was a major setback for the Vols as they thought they would not run away with this game but most people thought they would win by two scores or more.  Of course the next week Tennessee had to go to the Swamp and face the number one  Gators.  Of course the Vols didn't win this one but they  stayed in the game all the way through as the final score was 23 to 13.  So a quick  summary of the next two games and then I will break down each position on offense and defense for the Vols and say how they have done so far.  After the Florida game they beat Ohio 34 to 23, while the next week they shocked the Bulldogs as they shellacked them 45 to 19.  I was at that game and let me tell you, the Vols performed at the highest point possible in every aspect of the game not just on offense but on defense to as they held Georgias' offense to just 3 points.  Now I will break down each position on offense and defense for the Vols and give them a letter grade for their performance halfway through this College Football Season.


QUARTERBACKS:          Jonathan Compton's first game of the season made him look like a star, as he threw for 233 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions(which were not really his fault).  Well as we all know most Tennessee fans don't like Crompton it's clear to see and hear that at most games, but he looked like he was going on the right path in the home opener.  That's until he faced the UCLA Bruins a week later.  In a 19 to 15 loss to the Bruins Crompton had a terrible day as he threw for only 93 yards on 13 out of 26 passing attempts and not to mention no touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  By the 3rd quarter the fans in Neyland Stadium made it clear that they were not pleased with Crompton.  Now it didn't look good for the Vols or Crompton after this game because they were heading to the Swamp next week to face the Gators who had embarrassed them the last two years they played each other.  So that next Saturday the final score of that game was Gators 23, Vols 13.  Crompton didn't perform great but he didn't do good either.  Tennessees' defense kept them in the game along with Montario Hardesty until the final horn but Crompton didn't help kept them close.  Crompton versus a very tough Florida defense threw for 93 yards on 11 out of 19 passing and two interceptions.  So in Cromptons' career he never beat the Gators ever.  Now the Vols were 1 and 2 and looked to get back on track the next week as they faced Ohio at home.  That they did as they brought their record back to .500 as they beat Ohio 34 to 23.  Crompton improved greatly but once again didn't put up great numbers as this week he threw for 222 yards on 17 out of 34 passing with two touchdowns and one interception.  Next week though Crompton would be facing the undefeated Auburn Tigers.  By halftime of this game every single fan in Neyland Stadium wanted Crompton gone as he completed only I think 2 passes out of 13 attempts!  But for some reason they were still in the game, that is because the running game was still stepping up for the Vols while the passing game continued to falter.  The second half Crompton improved though as he completed 17 out of 30 passing attempts and finished the game with a total of 259 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and wait hold on, he had no interceptions this was the first game in which he didn't throw a pick all season.  Although Crompton performed better than he did in most of the first 4 games the Vols still came up a bit short, as they lost to Auburn 26 to 22.  Now the Vols record was at 2 and 3 and their schedule looked really tough from there out as the following week they would play Georgia and then go on a bye week then play the Alabama Crimson Tide who just happens to be the number 2 team in the country, so it looked very bad for the Vols and first year head coach Lane Kiffin.  No one expected what would happen next week when they faced the Georgia Bulldogs.  When people saw the score on ESPN that night or on Sunday in the paper they couldn't believe their eyes as they saw that Tennnessee stomped Georgia 45 to 19.  Crompton was definitely the top reason to go along with a great defensive performance why they rolled over the Bulldogs.  Crompton had a career game as he completed 21 out of 27 passes for 310 yards and 4 touchdowns and just one interception.  If you watched this game you would have noticed that the Vols play calling on passing situations, almost every time, was a play action by Crompton who then found a wide open receiver almost every time.  Vols fans did the unthinkable they actually cheered for Crompton as he showed them a glimpse of what he was expected to do as 4 years ago when he came into the program after being one of the best quarterback prospects in the country.  So right now Crompton has led his team to  3 and 3 record, but he faces a huge test tomorrow as he and the Vols take on second ranked Alabama, whose defense is one of the best in the country.  So far this season Crompton has completed 102 out of 177 passes for 1,210 yards, and 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  He hasn't performed great this year but it is a huge improvement from what he did last season.

Quarterback Grading:  C


Running Backs:              Everyone knew this year that Tennessees' biggest offensive threat would come from the running backs Montario Hardesty and the two freshman Bryce Brown and David Oku.  They got that right, as the Tennessee running game has averaged 184 rushing yards a game which ranks 4 in the SEC behind Auburn, Alabama, and Florida.  There is no doubt that the workhouse in the running game this year for the Vols has been coming from Senior Montario Hardesty who in just 6 games has rushed for 672 yards on just 125 carries (5.4 yds/rush) and has 6 touchdowns.  Also he has also been a threat in the passing game as well as he has 94 yards receiving on 8 catches and has a touchdown.  There is no question that Hardesty is one of the top 3 running backs in the SEC, just behind Mark Ingram (Alabama) and Ben Tate (Auburn).  If Hardesty continues his great season you can definitely expect to see him playing on Sunday next year.  Now on to the phenom freshman running back Bryce Brown.  Bryce has definitely matched the hype that he had coming into his first season as he has rushed for 250 yards on 55 carries(4.5yds/rush) and has 2 touchdowns.  Just like Hardesty he has also been a threat in the passing game, as he has 105 receiving yards on 8 catches for one touchdown.  Next season Bryce will be the featured back and you can expect over 1,000 yards rushing out of him.  Now lets took a look at David Oku.  Oku hasn't had many opportunities to show how good he is yet but he has had opportunities to show his athleticism on special teams.  Oku is another highly touted back along with Brown, but will not be much of an impact for the Vols until next season once Hardesty is gone.  In his limited playing time he has rushed for 50 yards on 11 carries and has 2 touchdowns.  For such limited time those are great numbers as he has found the end zone twice.  Unlike Hardesty and Brown though he hasn't been a threat in the passing game as he has caught 2 passes for 13 yards.  Oku will turn out to be a good one just like Brown.  The Tennessee running game this year has been as good as it has ever been and hopefully they can keep rumbling for close to 200 yards a game as they have been.

Running backs Grade:  A


Wide Receivers:           Lets just say this is not a great year to be a Vols receiver, as many wide outs have dropped way to many passes this year.  It isn't all their fault as they have a inconsistent quarterback throwing to them but they aren't performing at the level they should be this season.  There isn't a single wide out that is the featured one in the passing game as the team leader in receiving yards is Gerald Jones who only has 15!  Not to mention Jones was out for the first two games of the year and hasn't recovered fully until just two weeks ago versus Auburn.  Jones is looking a whole lot better because in the last two games he has had 77 yards receiving and 105 for 2 touchdowns against Georgia, so he looks like he will be the go to man in the passing game for now until the others step up.  Brandon Warren has been kicked off the team for throwing a tantrum on the sideline in the Auburn game.  You would think that would be a huge loss but it isn't really as he had dropped tons of passes this season.  The other four wide outs Quintin Hancock, Marsalis Teague, Denarius Moore, and Nu'Keese Richardson haven't done great but decent as they have combined for 42 receptions, 510 yards, and 5 touchdowns.  If Tennessee wants to make it to a bowl game this year i really think that the wide outs and the quarterback need to step up their game.  It's been a disappointing year for Tennessee wide outs.

Wide Recievers Grade:  C-


Tight Ends:            The two tight ends for Tennessee this year are Luke Stocker and Jeff Cotam.  Stocker is having a great season as he has made big plays for the Vols this season.  He has 10 receptions for 147 yards and a team high 2 touchdowns.  For his limited use this season he has done great.  Now onto Cottam, the brother of former Vols tight end Brad Cottam.  Cottam hasn't been used much at all as he has only one reception for 4 yards.  He brings great leadership though, as this is his senior year and in that way he contributes for the Vols.  The tight ends for the Vols this year are very help full.

Tight Ends Grade:  B-


Offensive Line:        Wow!  The Vols front line this year has worked wonders as they are creating holes left and right for the running game as they allow Hardesty and company to an average of 184 rushing yards a game.  Center Cody Sullins has stepped up big in the place of injured Senior Josh McNeil.  Not to mention also on the front line is his brother Cory Sullins who has done a good job to this year.  The other offensive linemen are Vladimir Richard, Chris Scott, and Jacques McClendon.  They to have done good jobs this season.  The offensive line this year has only allowed 6 sacks a game!  If they keep this up look for many of them to be playing on Sundays' next year.

Offensive Line Grade:  B


Defensive Line:          Now onto the defensive side of things for the Volunteers.  Wes Brown, Dan Williams, Chris Walker, and Montori Hughes have been very decent this season.  They have only allowed opposing teams to an average of 110 rushing yards a game, and combined they have 8 sacks, and a surprisingly high 2 interceptions.  The standout in this group though is Chris Walker, no question about it.  He is having an All American type season as he has 21 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 interceptions.  There is no doubt he will be playing on Sundays' in the future.  The only thing the front line needs to do now is pressure the quarterback a little more as they only have 8 sacks, but otherwise they have done a stellar job this season.

Defensive Line Grade:  B-


Linebackers:       Rico McCoy and company have done a decent job this year also on defense, even though against Auburn they lost one of their key leaders.  That leader was Nick Reveiz who had 27 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.  He brought great leadership and everyone on the team looked up to him, so it will be hard to go on without him but they have to, as Reveiz had to have season ending knee surgery.  Rico McCoy is a stud as he always finds a way to get to the ball carrier before anyone else as he leads the team in tackles with 53.  But they haven't caused many turnovers this season as that seems to be one of the problems for the Vols this year, as they are having trouble of causing turnovers.  It's weird because last year that was one of their strengths as they caused about 30 turnovers, while they only have caused 11 this year through 6 games.  Rico McCoy and the others need to step it up a little if Tennessee wants to make it to a bowl game.

Linebackers Grade:  C


Defensive Backs:       This year teams aren't taking any chances at throwing the ball close to Eric Berry because they've learned the hard way the last two years.  So Eric Berry isn't putting up the numbers he usually does as he only has one interception but does place second on the team with 50 tackles, but wait is that good for your teams' safety to rank second on the team in tackles?  Well in the Vols case it's not good but not bad because Eric Berry is so athletic and fast he gets to the ball carrier or receiver most of the time before anyone else.  But for the most part this season the Db's aren't doing great as they have only had a combined 3 interceptions!  Last year at this point they had over 10, so they need to find a way to make big plays now and Monte needs to come up with some better coverages or something.

Defensive Backs Grade:  C


Special Teams:         This unfortunately, is probably the teams weakest point out of all.  Opposing teams this year have embarrassed the Vols on special teams as they have outgained them 954 yds to 612 yds.  Not to mention opposing teams special teams' units have scored two touchdowns on the Vols.  Before the Georgia game Lane Kiffin said they had worked all week long on special teams and he said they had improved greatly.  Well guess what happened?  Georgia returned a kickoff for 100 yards for a touchdown and also looked like they could've had at least one more if they could've made just one more player miss.  The Vols must get a whole lot better on special teams if they want to make this season a good one.

Special Teams Grade:  F


Coaches:                Lane Kiffin has definitely brought the media to the Vols this year in good ways and also in bad ways as he has been in sputes Urban Meyer all season long and has called out the Gators and a few other teams.  He must really like the media because he is really good at having the media around him almost all the time.  Lets look at the good things he has done though.  He has formed a coaching staff that looks like the best in all of college football, as he has brought in his father Monte Kiffin to be the defensive coordinator and other star names such as Ed Orgeron.  Kiffin looks to be guiding the Vols program in the right direction after their huge victory over the Bulldogs, a game in which the Coaches came up with outstanding play calling on both sides of the ball.  There is no question though that Kiffin will face the biggest test of the season, besides Florida, in Alabama tomorrow.  If he can somehow manage to come out that game with a victory he will be loved by everyone and Tennessee and he will have Tennessees' program heading in the right direction for sure.  It is still to early to judge though how good of a coach Kiffin is going to turn out to be.  Has the Kiffin Era begun?  Are all fans jumping aboard the Lane Train?  We will find that out after this season.

Coaches Grade:  C

Overall Team Grade:  C