The Buffalo Bulls were a welcome site for a Tennessee team between a loss to Florida and consecutive games against Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina.
Given the enormous challenge that awaits this young Tennessee team, there's definitely plenty to build on from the Vols first October game of 2011.
As expected, the grades following this week's game are much better than the last report card turned in by the outplayed Vols at Florida.
Once again, quarterback Tyler Bray was stellar for the Vols. The sophomore was 21-for-30 despite multiple dropped passes from his receivers.
In addition to his incredible accuracy, Bray threw for 342 yards and had four touchdowns.
The running game, as a whole, was much better this week. The running backs, however, still left something to be desired.
Even though he ended up with 101 yards rushing, Tauren Poole fell down on a sure touchdown run and still showed a startling lack of ability in many aspects of his game.
Rajion Neal, now listed as a wide receiver, had a 20 yard touchdown run on a reverse play and true freshman Marlin Lane had 28 yards on seven carries.
Da'Rick Rogers had another incredible day as Tyler Bray's favorite target. The sophomore had 180 yards on seven catches—two of which were touchdowns. Rogers did have one really big drop that would have extended a drive in the first half.
Tight end Mychal Rivera dropped a touchdown pass forcing the Vols to kick a field goal in the first quarter.
Eight players caught passes for the Vols. The two drops didn't hurt the Vols Saturday, but similar plays will seriously complicate things in the coming weeks.
Tennessee's offensive line looked really good for the first time this season. It basically had its way on the ground against Buffalo. The 187 rushing yards was definitely more a result of sound, physical play by the Vols offensive line than anything.
The line did allow one sack, but it gave Tyler Bray all kinds of time most of the afternoon.
According to the numbers, the Vols defensive line play is improving. Vols D-linemen had two sacks, two hurries and one other tackle for loss.
Buffalo ended up with 148 yards rushing, on the strength of quarterback Chazz Anderson's 68-yard touchdown run that was a direct result of sophomore defensive Jacques Smith biting on the fake up the middle.
Tennessee's linebackers are just making plays. The Vols big four—Curt Maggitt, AJ Johnson, Austin Johnson and Daryl Vereen—combined for 24 tackles, three-and-a-half of those tackles were for a loss.
The secondary put up a solid day for the Vols defense as well. Buffalo was just 10-of-25 passing and finished with only 116 yards through the air.
Free safety Prentiss Waggner had a sack and two quarterback hurries.
The day started out somewhat promising for Tennessee's second-most maligned unit. True freshman Devrin Young had the Vols longest punt return (43 yards) since 2007 in his debut and Michael Palardy actually made his two field goal attempts.
The Vols fumbled two kickoffs—one on a squib kick that Buffalo recovered. Palardy had a kickoff out of bounds in the second half. And Matt Darr had a punt blocked in the second half.
The offensive line's improvement from the Florida game was encouraging. And the coaches continue to utilize the passing game to perfection.
The Vols looked bored in the second half and had trouble finishing the game and special teams issues continue to plague this team.
Ultimately, the special teams problems didn't hurt against Buffalo, but against Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina, the little things that the Vols have yet to take care of will cost them dearly.
Tennessee did what it had to do against Buffalo. The passing game is firing on all cylinders and the offensive line appears to be improving in the ground game.
Tennessee's defense did enough, even though it allowed two plays of 40 yards or more.
Special teams play has to get better and the Vols running backs must pick up their efforts in SEC play.
Overall, it was a solid win and a nice tune-up for Tennessee.