Well, here we are again. The Vols played host to Cincinnati Saturday and after a rather eventful evening the the Vols sent the Bearcats home without so much as a parting gift with a 45-23 loss.
Cincinnati was a step up from last week's opponent, Montana, but the Vols almost mirrored their offensive performance; luckily the defense did not follow suit. Against the Grizzlies the defensive was simply flat and the highest point for their production was a late interception return for a TD by Art Evans. This week there were no interceptions, but as a whole they performed better as a unit.
So who got an A and who got an F? Let's step inside for this week's report card.
Let's get this one out of the way. Until this kid does something completely stupid, I'm through poking fun at him. So, for the record, no more skinny jokes or cut-throat jabs.
Here are the essentials: 34-of-41 passing, 405 yards, 4 TDs, 0 interceptions.
My goodness, does it get any better for a game like that? Granted it wasn't an SEC team but when you play a non-conference team, you kinda want to make it sting a little, right? Well, consider the Bearcats stung.
In his second outing, QB Tyler Bray exhibited the leadership the Vols have been waiting on. When tailback Tauren Poole started running early in the game, Bray noticed that the receivers weren't following up on their blocking assignments. This was allowing the secondary to offer tremendous security against the run.
Bray was having none of it. After their second series, he promptly marched up to the receivers and berated them so fiercely that QB coach Darin Hinshaw had to usher him away. He promptly shrugged off Hinshaw and marched up to his seated runner and offered his apologies to Poole as if it was all of his responsibility.
A dramatic 360 from last season when his only vocals were heard at the result of successful completion or TD. For his improved leadership and exceptional performance he gets the unheard of A+.
Take a bow boys, much improved...much improved indeed. Not only did the O-line keep the pass rushers off of Tyler Bray, they didn't allow a sack...as I predicted.
LT Dallas Thomas and G Alex Bullard were the bullies of the day, pushing open spaces and pressing DEs and DTs off balance, keeping Bray free to have ample passing opportunities.
While rush protection still resembled last week's lackluster performance, the O-line gets a small nod for second-half improvements. To be honest the line resembled more of a pro-set formation protecting a shotgun passer; the only problem with that is there is zero penetration down field into the rushing slots.
If the line can start opening bigger holes and steering blocks, they will take their game to the next level. Kudos to OL line coach Harry Hiestand for being vigilant. While I didn't grade the O-line last week, I severely criticized them which would probably equate a D+; this week they have improved and for a sack-free game, they improve one whole grade. If they had done this against an SEC opponent, I would have bumped them a grade and a half. As it is: C+.
On the day you can't expect much more from the receivers....well, maybe a little more.
Taking nothing away from the receivers as a whole, they performed admirably. Justin Hunter and DaRick Rogers ended the day with 10 receptions, 256 yards and three TDs. The six other receivers collected another 149 yards and a TD on 14 receptions.
Ironically the biggest winner also had a case of the dropsies. Rogers dropped a total of three passes that Bray fired at him. The others who shared the disease were Vincent Dallas, Mychael Rivera, Zach Rogers and even Hunter.
Had those passes been caught it would have put Bray over 500 yards. But let me take off the skeptic hat.
The receivers were aggressive and fought the secondary with pride. The Vols held up their end of SEC toughness and speed and did not relent when faced with completions in the face of taking big hits. For an above-average effort against a Big East secondary, they get a B+.
What can you say about the Vols' running game? Hmm...oh, all right. Yes, Tauren Poole did perform marginally better, but it's still a far cry from what is expected. My original prediction was that Poole and Marlin Lane would combine for 125 yards. Well, I was right almost right about the yardage.
Between Poole, Lane, Rajion Neal and Bray, they all combined for 126 yards rushing. We won't count Rogers' minus-4 on one carry.
With the O-line surging in the second half, Poole was able to effectively get better penetration, and it wasn't that he was running any better. The line simply held defenders longer and Poole was a little more patient mapping out his holes. Lane was also a little better, but still managed to fumble the ball during a pivotal drive.
If Poole had been the sole runner, the grade would a be a little higher but not much. Anyhow, for not turning over the ball more than once and keeping a running game barely existent, they get a D+.
MLB Austin Johnson really deserves the credit for being the defensive leader again. Although his numbers were relatively low at two tackles and two assists, he was still everywhere defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox wanted him to be.
Johnson and DT Maurice Couch were responsible for at least one big stop, and at the same time he kept directing OLBs Curt Maggit and AJ Johnson to keep the corners tightened. Curt Maggitt netted three solo tackles and Johnson had three assists. Still the LBs are the second line of defense and the Bearcats still dropped 166 rushing yards on them. I always figured that whatever the D-line let escape was the LBs responsibility, so for that they get a C+.
Note: Cincinnati RB Isaiah Pead avoided the freshmen LBs and chose to run into CB traffic rather than getting close.
WHATCHA GONNA DO WHEN JACQUES RUNS WILD ON YOU!!?? (apologies to Hulkamaniacs)
The defensive line is getting better much like their offensive counterparts. Last week they were simply running wild, penetrating the pocket on Montana, and this week was no exception. The boys in orange were simply wore down the Cincinnati front as I expected. By the end of the third quarter, the Bearcat linemen were all wearing oxygen masks and in serious need of hydration.
DE Jacques Smith was really the star of the D-line for the day, netting three solo tackles and one assist, with two tackles for loss. The rest of the guys might have stacked up great numbers, but they were all the Bearcats could handle. The were fast, strong and had plenty of wind; however the interior tackles got manhandled a bit, allowing too many gaps for Pead to escape through.
For consistency and stamina they get a B-.
Oh no, you didn't!? Yes...I'm afraid you did.
On the fourth play of the first quarter, Pead went 65 yards for the TD. Now, I understand those guys can be pretty fast...wait, isn't Prentiss Waggner fast too? Well, at least I thought he was. Waggner got caught sleeping.
What's worse, Waggner is supposed to be leading the secondary, not CB Marsalis Teague. Brent Brewer is supposed to be spying the RB after the handoff, not CB Art Evans. Justin Coleman is supposed to be covering the passing lanes when the LBs get drawn by the run, but that wasn't happening, period.
Where for all that is good and green in the world is Tennessee's secondary? Giving up 235 yards passing last week, 230 yards this week—and don't even say that is improvement. The only thing you can say is consistency. Yes, we all know they are still young, but enough is enough. That same performance against a faster offense will spell nothing but D-O-O-M.
DB coach Terry Joseph has to sit down with DC Justin Wilcox and come up with a better plan. Somebody on the defense has to make a stand because right now the DBs are sucking wind out loud and you can be rest assured that Charlie Weis smells this like a double-double cheeseburger with bacon. Gators QB John Brantley can hit seven different receivers for 10 yards or better; all Florida needs is a couple of sleepy DBs. Another Coleman faked out by a juke or Waggner getting tied up by a TE, and the game can be over.
They need to tweak whatever it is they can't adjust, and do it now. For being consistent and shutting down deep threats, they get a C-.
For clip relevance you can cut to 19-second mark.
Derek Dooley pulled one out of his trick book, courtesy of special teams coach Eric Russell. The Bearcats were high with a head full of steam after Pead's 65-yard TD, and that onside kick recovery took the steam right out of them as the offense subsequently scored on that same drive.
K/P Michael Palardy did some good with the onside kick and PATs, but he also missed a 43-yard FG without a hint of breeze. When are we gonna see the real Palardy? Hmmm?
The kickoff returns were decent as Rogers brought three back for 70 yards, and Lane trotted one out for 18. The punt returns were negligible for safe catches, and the one punt from Matt Darr was again disappointing for 35 yards.
As a collective unit they get a C+—scratch that. Adding in Justin Hunter's blocked FG before the half and they get a B-.
I won't drag this out, so here it is.
For keeping the team competitive against a non-conference opponent and being productive, he gets bonus points. For allowing a Big East team to score 23 points at home, a deduction. For being creative and shutting up the Bearcat momentum, multiple kudos. In all for giving Vols a second win at home Dooley gets a B+.
Note: Not that it matters to you, but the high grade is simply for winning with 45 points on the board and the opponent three scores behind.