Tennessee Volunteers Football: 5 Things Learned from the Montana Game
No one was surprised by the end result of the Tennessee-Montana game on Saturday.
Everyone expected Tennessee to win big, and they did. After all, Montana is an FCS team and they were playing against a team in the SEC.
Despite the fact that Montana was never a threat, it was still beneficial for the 'Vols. There are quite a few things Tennessee knows better about itself after playing Montana—some good and some bad.
Here are five things Tennessee learned from their season opener.
1. Conservative Play
Yes, the win is what you could call a blowout, as the Vols won 42-16, but they were playing conservatively.
Tennessee went up 28-0 before the half, and it was only after this that Montana was able to answer at all.
Tennessee also ran the ball a lot. This was most likely because of the rain, but I also saw something else in the plays that they ran: the 'Vols are being conservative.
Despite practically scoring at will in the first half, Tennessee came into the second half intent on keeping the ball on the ground. The only second half scores by the 'Vols were off of an interception by Art Evans and a Marlin Lane touchdown run.
Quarterback Tyler Bray was 17/24 for 293 yards. Those are big numbers, but they weren't what his game was all about. Rather, it was about accurate and mistake-free passes. Bray's completion percentage was 71 percent, a big jump from last season (56 percent). He also did not throw an interception.
Tennessee doesn't look like it's going to rip out everything it has against lesser opponents. Instead, Coach Dooley is going to make sure that Tennessee wins, then play it safe.
2. Problems with the Ground Game
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Just because Tennessee ran the ball a lot doesn't necessarily mean that they did it very well.
Running back Tauren Poole put up a decent 98 yards, but it was on 24 carries, and a large part of that yardage came from a single 28-yard play. That made his average, outside of his big breakaway, barely over 3 yards. Poole was also tackled in the end zone, resulting in a Montana safety.
Backup Marlin Lane was no more impressive, rushing 10 times for 35 yards—with 18 yards coming from a single run. Rajion Neal only rushed twice for seven yards.
There were also a large number of fumbles. Perhaps the fumbles can be blamed on the rain, but the same cannot be said for those poor rushing numbers.
Poole and Neal were both injured in the offseason, and it may be the case that neither one is up to 100 percent just yet. But they'll need to be better if Tennessee wants to upset Florida, Georgia or LSU, who are all much better teams than Montana.
3. Issues with the Front Seven
Tennessee had very little success running the ball against Montana, but Montana didn't seem to have as much difficulty running the ball against Tennessee.
The Grizzlies put up 111 rushing yards in the game, with their leading rusher, Peter Nguyen, gaining 67 yards on only nine carries. Montana's backup running back, Jordan Canada, did pretty well too. He managed to get 25 yards on eight carries.
This does not bode well for Tennessee's front seven. Defensive end Jacques Smith was a constant backfield presence and snagged two tackles for a loss, but otherwise, the defensive line and linebackers were unimpressive.
The leading tackler for the 'Vols was senior linebacker Daryl Vereen, who had four solo tackles and two assists.
This is an area that will be critical to the team's success in the SEC, and Tennessee can't afford to neglect this issue.
4. A Great Passing Game
It wasn't all negative for Tennessee. The 'Vols seemed to be able to pass and score at will against Montana, and both Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers had great games.
Hunter caught six passes for 146 yards—including an 81-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Rogers was almost as impressive, catching five balls for 100 yards and the other first quarter score.
Tyler Bray came out restrained, only throwing 24 passes total. But 17 of those passes were completed, and three resulted in a touchdown. More importantly, there were no interceptions.
Tennessee was conservative in the passing game on Saturday, but from the limited results that were there, it was obvious that Tennessee's passing attack will be one of the better ones in the SEC this year.
Expect the game against Cincinnati to show a more aggressive Volunteer passing attack.
5. The Vols Are Contenders
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While there was trouble with the defensive front seven and the running game, Tennessee still looks like a true competitor this season.
I may be an optimist, but I don't think I'm being overly optimistic when I say that Tennessee's running game will get better when Poole and Neal are back at 100 percent. And the 'Vols will be even better once they establish how dangerous their passing attack really is.
I also think the defensive front seven will cohere a little better when they know who they are. The return of junior linebacker Herman Lathers (I've heard as early as October) will help even more.
Georgia proved that they were over-hyped in their season opening loss to Boise State. Alabama's defense was great, but their quarterback play was lackluster. And South Carolina looked less than invincible in their shootout win over East Carolina.
Tennessee just might be good enough this year to get second in the SEC East, and with all the youth on the 'Vols squad, 2012 looks even more promising.