Tennessee Volunteers Football: What We've Learned the First 5 Weeks
Five weeks into the season and Tennessee is 3-1.
Next week, they begin their run in the SEC against the Georgia Bulldogs before facing the two toughest defenses in the country in LSU and Alabama, followed by last year's SEC East winner South Carolina.
Tennessee has beaten Montana, Cincinnati and Buffalo while dropping a road game against Florida. So, what have we learned about Tennessee in that time? Read on to find out.
1. The Offense Is a Force
Outside of a fiasco against Florida, the running game looks alright now. Tauren Poole has run for 318 yards this season, putting him on pace for just under a thousand-yard season.
Rajion Neal is showing promise as an all-purpose player as well. He has only rushed eight times for 37 yards so far, but one of those runs resulted in a touchdown. He also has a catch for 14 yards.
Of course, the real story is the passing game, which is averaging over 336 yards per game. Tyler Bray is now the quarterback of his class and is looking to perhaps be the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers are also looking like All-Stars. Hunter was leading the SEC in receiving yards before the season-ending injury against Florida. Rogers has stepped up so far and continued to be a force to be reckoned with as the team's new No. 1 receiver. Rogers has 442 receiving yards and six touchdowns thus far.
The offensive line has struggled as well. Dallas Thomas and Ju'Waun James have played admirably as tackles, but the interior line has struggled on run blocking. James Stone has played especially poorly.
Even with a less than stellar running game and pretty poor offensive line play, the offense overall has been great with one of the top passing units in the country.
2. The Defense Is Still Making Dumb Mistakes
The defense is not bad overall. In fact, from what I've seen, they have the ability to be very good. Their problem is inconsistency.
Against Buffalo on Saturday, the Bulls ran a very elementary quarterback keep play and managed to fool the entire defense, leaving their quarterback wide open for a 68-yard TD run. Immediately after, the defense held the Bulls to negative six yards and no points despite extraordinary field position.
That has been the story of the defense this year: spots of horrendous play/mistakes mixed in with pretty decent play overall.
Despite playing pretty well overall, big mistakes costs games, and the Vols have merely been lucky so far.
Still, the defense is young, having only two seniors and two juniors on the whole squad. Young teams make mistakes, so these things are, to some degree, expected. The return of junior outside linebacker Herman Lathers ought to minimize those big mistakes.
3. The Wins and Losses Are Looking Pretty Good
Two of Tennessee's opponents have been inconsequential. Both Buffalo and Montana are simply inferior squads who never stood a chance.
Cincinnati and Florida, on the other hand, are looking better and better.
Cincinnati's only loss is to Tennessee, who manhandled them 45-23 in Week 2. Cincinnati now sports wins over Austin Peay, Akron, North Carolina State and Miami Ohio. None of those wins have been close; the Bearcats have allowed 38 points in four games against non-Tennesseean opponents.
Florida, despite losing to Alabama, still looks impressive. Until the Alabama game on Saturday, Florida was the only team in the FBS to not allow a single rushing touchdown. Florida has outscored opponents 161-36 in their four wins.
Florida sports wins over Florida Atlantic, UAB, Tennessee and Kentucky with their only loss coming from No. 3 Alabama. Florida beat Tennessee 33-23.
With Cincinnati looking like a very real team and Florida looking like the best team in the SEC East, Tennessee's early schedule is making the Vols look like a pretty good team too.
4. The Rest of the SEC Is Showing Signs of Vulnerability
Alabama and LSU have continued to roll through opponents like they aren't there and Tennessee will need a miracle to beat either of them.
Every other team Tennessee will play this season, however, is far from perfect.
Georgia has beaten Coastal Carolina, an Ole Miss team which is possibly the worst in the SEC and a very overrated Mississippi State squad. They have lost to South Carolina and Boise State. Not an impressive resume.
LSU and Alabama are ranked No. 1 and 3 in the country by the AP for a good reason.
South Carolina is now in the middle of a quarterback controversy and lost to Auburn on Saturday. Despite Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery's best efforts, the team isn't very good. South Carolina's biggest win thus far is a 24-21 victory over Navy.
South Carolina's only wins against opponents with a winning season are Georgia (see above paragraph) and Vanderbilt.
Arkansas has a high powered offense, but they were embarrassed by Alabama in Week 4, losing 38-14. They bounced back this week, sneaking a 42-38 win on a Texas A&M team that started playing prevent defense too early. A&M led the entire game until the last score.
Until the win against Texas A&M, the only teams Arkansas had beaten were Missouri State, New Mexico and Troy. None of those teams play in a BCS conference.
With chinks appearing in the armor of Tennessee's tough SEC schedule, the possibility of an upset or two is looking good.
5. 2012 Looks Very Promising
Tennessee has one senior on the offensive squad and two seniors on the defense. Of the few juniors that are starting, only Prentiss Waggner, Herman Lathers and Mychal Rivera have a realistic chance of being drafted this year.
Lathers has been out with an injury for the first four games of the season and may not return in time to play Georgia. With the great outside linebacker class, Lathers would have to play extraordinarily well to leave for the NFL.
Waggner seems to be uncomfortable as a free safety and has been unspectacular so far. This makes him likely to return.
Mychal Rivera has done very well so far, but is still under the radar of NFL scouts, so he may return as well.
This means Tennessee could lose as few as three starters to the draft. With every player one year bigger, better, faster and stronger, Tennessee will be stronger at virtually every position. Add to that the fact that Justin Hunter will be back and Tennessee will be a very dangerous team.
To make things even better, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama will be losing half their starters to the draft. This would leave the SEC East open for Tennessee to roll through. The Vols may even be in the discussion for the National Title.
Of course, a seven win season still looks likely this season. Get a bowl win and a good recruiting class and the Vols will be back on top, where they belong.