On a very windy Saturday, 29,451 (looked more like 2,000) Vol faithfuls found themselves sitting at Neyland Stadium for the annual Orange and White game until halftime, when two-thirds of the crowd decided a BBQ was probably time better well spent.
While many anticipated a very electric event, it ended up falling very short of many expectations. There were moments of athletic promise in White's 24-7 win, but there were fewer than many hoped.
It's understandable that coaches don't want to burn up those engines and chassis before they ever hit the track, but I think it's at least responsible to see if they hold onto the corners and have the motors to go 500 laps. Here is a look at the grades position by position, and a few coaches too. Prepare to be disappointed.
While Matt Palardy was busy missing wide right for a 37-yarder into the wind, Derrick Brodus managed to make his field goal minus 10 yards. The Alcoa, Tenn. native continued to impress throughout the game, handling kickoffs and stacking 50-yard averages for each of his five attempts.
Palardy, along with Matt Darr, handled the punting game, averaging a disappointing 38.7 yards for nine attempts. For the stat hounds out there, Palardy did manage a 57-yard punt, but the wind was so strong he could have flown it like a kite.
For the poor kicking display, they get a C-.
Let me mention that I am of course NOT including punt returns, as the scrimmage rules do not allow them to be run, but Eric Gordon still managed to drop a punt, which was recovered by teammate Anthony Anderson.
For the kickoff returns, Da'Rick Rogers managed the longest return of 24 yards. Justin Hunter ran for 17 yards on two returns. Vincent Dallas ran for 11 and even Brendan Downs scooted for a small 12-yarder.
Not exactly SEC-style running, although they held onto the ball and didn't bobble or drop it. It's a small improvement.
For showing nothing short of mediocre, they get a C+.
The receivers had an average day, considering the danger of never really getting an Eric Berry-type hit wasn't on the table. Aside from a few love taps, they didn't have to really earn many of their receptions.
Here is my curve: Cory Eichholtz had the best reception, because he took the worst hit aside from Brendan Down's hit without dropping. Eichholtz took the worst hit, getting t-boned by DB Anthony Anderson and LB Daryl Vereen, and still managed to hop up as if it was a day at the park. Mychal Rivera did catch a 54-yard reception, but he was so open he could have walked under it.
On the day, 12 receivers caught passes for a dismal 299 yards combined.
Even though there were more than few blown routes, and a lot of dropped passes, the largest percentage was on assignment. For that they squeak by with a C-.
As I said in a previous article, history has a bad way of repeating itself. However, Art Evans's stats do not speak for his history or his game. Despite only having one tackle, his presence on the field was easy to see, as receivers found problems trying to get through his real estate.
Of course Marsalis Teague was everywhere, netting three solo tackles. Prentiss Waggner floated on the field and never really seemed as though he took his assignments seriously, but he still showed up for two solos. Freshman Justin Coleman seemed very comfortable with the playbook, and did well reading pass plays and determining the run. For the DB's, he was the standout considering his youth.
Linebackers seemed off their game for the most part, and never really read run plays, allowing Neal and Williams sophomoric type, all-purpose yards. The highlight of LB exposure was the return of John Probst, who was rumored to be injured, but he did manage to sneak through the line for a one-hand touch sack on backup QB Doak Raulston and one solo.
For almost intercepting several passes on the day, but never managing to catch one, the DB's get a C-.
For never really deciding to show up and play, and being decimated by injuries, the LB's get a D.
The star of the offensive line was obvious to anyone that bothered to notice. Sophomore OT and Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard showed Harry Hiestand and the Orange team why he was recruited by Notre Dame. Bullard was indeed bullish, pushing Corey Miller and Montori Hughes, allowing Channing Fugate to open door-sized holes for Neal to escape through.
James Stone is adjusting to the center spot well, and freshman Mack Crowder impressed many by his snapping skills.
On the whole it was a good warmup for the line, and they did a great job even though the QB's were safe with green jerseys. What I saw tells me the line is improving and could come out of summer camps being well-oiled, or at least greasy enough to keep the starter safe for the first half. Depth may tell another story if injuries continue.
Despite the quarterbacks' security net and youth, they get a B-.
Despite having some trouble with Alex Bullard, Montori Hughes returned to prove his health more than anything else. Malik Jackson performed as expected with two tackles for a 14-yard. loss. Daniel Hood continues to work on his defensive skills moving over from offense, but displayed good agility and penetration for being 300 pounds.
Wille Bohannon had the best day by far, netting five tackles, including a sack.
A lot of young guys were out there mixing it up and getting reps. For their tenacity and treating the matchups more seriously, they get a B-.
The running game fell short of my expectations. The offensive line on both sides had ample opportunities to open holes big enough for two runners to get through, so the achievement should have been higher when you factor in their teammates weren't taking any cheap shots.
Tauren Poole had nine rushes for 61 yards, which was nothing short of stepping sideways and sprinting, but he did look fast. Rajion Neal showed that he was indeed ready to assume the role of second man behind Poole with 12 rushes for 60 yards.
And, last but not least, Toney Williams was the best all-purpose runner with 10 rushes for 53 yards. Williams was, by far, superior in shoulder contact and shrugging off physical tacklers, where Poole and Neal accomplished most of their yards by avoidance.
For positive running with no fumbles, they get a B.
Individual outstanding performance for the unsung Channing Fugate, filling the role of fullback. Fugate was relentless, going head to head each play without falter.
Fugate gets the only A.
Okay, finally the only slide anybody cares about.
Saturday was a bad, bad day for Tennessee QB's, unless your name is Justin Worley. The freshman QB's stats do not reflect his performance, going 6-of-14 for 58 yards. If you add in the passes that should have been caught, his number would be more like this: 11-of-14 for 212 yards. I know this isn't horseshoes.
While Tyler Bray had the best passing yards, he still managed only a 5-of-30 day and was sacked once, but by the rules, he should have been down four more times, as he was touched repeatedly but was never called by officials.
And I'm sorry, I know Coach Dooley needs to know what his QB's are doing, but standing in the backfield will do nothing for a QB's confidence, and I don't care which other famous coach does this. Suffice to say, as I mentioned before, there is some issue with Bray, and that should be addressed by QB coach Darin Hinshaw and Jim Chaney.
Simms, on the other hand, may have just enough confidence. He went 6-of-13 for 93 yards and was also sacked once, and by all accounts should have been called down at least two more times. I understand the officiating needs to be a little more loose, but the paper man on the corner could have called a better game. Aside from this, Simms is still the leader of the team in my opinion. He commands more respect and has a calmer demeanor about him under pressure that few recognize.
As a squad Worley raises the average, but Doak Raulston and Nash Nance lower it. The QB's get a D.
On the whole, coach Derek Dooley was responsible for Saturday's game. While many saw the game as a fun way to pass the time, many people who attended were some of the same folks that won't be there when the season rolls around.
I was reminded of this when Alabama FC Larry Burton wrote that the fans attending their spring game were people who might not be able to attend regular season games, and it was a special time for them. When I read this, it occurred to me then that the Orange and White game was very lackluster. The attendance was pitiful on a windy, but beautiful day. And the players were not focused on the game. It was a glorified backyard romp with a band.
What does that say about the state of affairs now? I don't know, but it's not a good representation of Tennessee football. Yes, I did expect fireworks and fanfare. The tradition is there to validate just that, but it was not there.
Below are the coach grades based off of effectiveness at positions and their associated relevance.
Quarterbacks Coach: Darin Hinshaw C-
Wide Receivers Coach: Charlie Baggett F
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Chaney D
Defensive Coordinator: Justin Wilcox D
Defensive Backs Coach: Terry Joseph C+
Offensive Line Coach: Harry Hiestand B
Defensive Line Coach: Lance Thompson C
Linebackers Coach: Peter Sirmon F
Special Teams Coach: Eric Russell B+
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Ron McKeefery C-
Head Coach: Derek Dooley D+
Despite what the reader may think, I actually love Tennessee football. God speed.