Right Where We Left Off

Tennessee 42  Montana 16
03 September 2011 | Neyland Stadium | ATT: 94,661
Recap | Boxcore | Play-by-Play | Drive Chart

Tennessee’s superior talent outclassed Montana Saturday night. That was no surprise.

There were no surprises in the other aspects of the game either.

The Vols relied on big plays (including a crucial, early fumble recovery on a punt to the Grizzlies), mostly from the powerful and accurate arm of their very talented sophomore QB Tyler Bray, to keep the visitors from having any hope. Bray was 17 for 24 for 294 yards and 3 TDs with no INTs (2 INTs were negated by Montana penalties). Those kind of big numbers are getting to be plesantly ho-hum.

Lightening and heavy rain forced a 1 hour 33 minute delay to the start of the Montana-Tennessee game and only the second cancellation of running through the T. Photo by Michael Patrick (GoVolsXTRA.com).

It was pretty much the Glimmer Twins Show – there may be no secondary in the nation that can harness the sheer energy and athleticism that Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers bring to the game. Both broke for big TDs in the first quarter to put an immediate stamp of superiority on this game.

The Vol defense was decent. They did what that needed to do, putting a lot of pressure on the Grizz QB, allowing Montana little of anything in the way of points when they needed them. The Vol D didn’t really show any major breakdowns with the exception of Jabin Sambrano’s 80-yard jail-break TD scamper after catching Jordan Johnson’s late second quarter pass, leaving Derek Dooley seething as he was interviewed just after the half ended. Art Evans’ Pick Six in the third quarter bailed out a listless second half offense. I’m glad to rely on the big play if that can win ballgames against very good teams. But that remains to be seen.

The Vol running attack was anemic for the most part – 45 carries and 142 yards for 3.2 yards per carry – showing very little ability to consistently pound the rock in the Vol tradition that has faded to a distant memory. It’s really too bad that Tauren Poole, who is a fine tailback in space, has to endure his junior and senior seasons behind such an inexperienced offensive line. The signature of our poor ground game was the safety by the Montana front line early in the second half. No penetration by the outmatched OL. But give credit to the Montana defensive front – they are big, quick, experienced (all seniors), and very, very good. And to continue the fairness, Tennessee’s OL is a grand work in progress – young, inexperienced, and hopefully in the process of improving.

Ball management was almost scary – six Vol fumbles (four in the first half) , including one by the punt returner inside his own five yard line. Luckly, we recovered all of them. With crazy bounces, this game could have been much different. Tennessee recovered two Montana fumbles which helped considerably.

The punting game was underwhelming, but not important in this lopsided game. Placekicking was all extra points – an improvement over Daniel Lincoln, but that’s not saying much. No preview of what kind of field goal specialist the all-world H.S star Michael Palardy is really going to be.

Focus and intensity alarmingly waivered. The second half had moments where the Vols looked like a JV squad. Consistency in this aspect of the game will be mandatory in the coming weeks. Montana outclassed the Vols in this aspect of the game – they played like a senior-laden squad.

***

So, all in all, pretty much the same strengths and weaknesses as the last half of 2010. No sudden improvements, no spectacular declines.

But remember, this opening game was nothing more than a final dress rehersal of summer camp, with a very young team: there are only 9 seniors on the entire two-deep Volunteer roster.

The road of the 2011 season will be a long one, with hopefully areas of significant improvement and no severe regressions. There are a lot of reasons for hope with pleasant surprises. One thing I see right away is that this group of Vols looks like a disciplined bunch – only one stupid penalty (roughing the passer in a meaningless fourth quarter) via the over-exuberance of the past few seasons.

I’ll take little bits of advancement. They’ll all eventually add up.

But it’s going to take a much better running and kicking game, and more consistency in focus and intensity, to do anything better than the Music City Bowl in 2011.

***

NorCalVol gets the nod for the first week’s pick. His +30 spread was the closest pick to the eventual 26-point victory by the Vols.

Bert hit the 58-point game total of points exactly.

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8 responses to “Right Where We Left Off”

  1. TK says :

    i just got home……….this is going to be a long season

  2. Sandy says :

    Billy and I made the trip… after an absolute beautiful day in the mountains, not a cloud in sight, the sudden storm was a strange vibe… without the pregame band festivities, and running thru the “T”, it almost felt like a scrimmage.

    A win is a win, but this team looked slow, on both offense and defense. And although Montana may be experienced, they do not have SEC quality athletic speed.

    There was some discussion about invoking a little known rule that allows preseason predictions to be reconsidered if the opening game is versus a Division II opponent.

    I’ll stick with my 6-6, although that may be a challenge. I think we will learn a lot about Coach Dooley this season. But at least it’s not the “he’s either a genius or an idiot” assessment I had a couple of years ago… we all know how that turned out.

  3. norcalvol says :

    Just send me that rule number and I’ll advise.

  4. rockytop78 says :

    Can I redo my preseason predictions also? :>)

    My thoughts about the game, after being in attendance:

    (1) Thank goodness for the rain, and not just for my yard/garden; 97 degrees at kickoff and 90s+ for the rest of the game would have been horrible.

    (2) I was glad to see Bray throwing to the receivers over the middle, which is where we have ignored our receivers for far too long. I was surprised that we didn’t throw more post patterns, given the speed of our receivers; but I’ll take it. Bray did miss a couple of wide open backs coming out of the backfield, on a couple of long incomplete passes; but I also understand why he threw deeper on those plays.

    (3) I concur about the lack of push on the offensive line; and Poole seemed to hit the holes much more slowly than I had hoped. Marlon Lane was quick, and I was impressed by his ability; I would not be surprised if he is the starting tailback by the end of the season. Good use, also, of Channing Fugate, especially in short swing passes (and he had a great return on a short kickoff).

    (4) I thought that the defense did a pretty good job overall — lots of quarterback pressure, and lots of quarterback hits; I don’t know whether the new Montana quarterback (#17) who came in during the 4th quarter and who played out the game for the Grizzlies was there to supply a spark or because of the beating that the starting Montana quarterback (#10) took over the course of the game. I thought that our defense handled the quick offense of Montana much better than we handled the hurry-up offense of Oregon last year.

    (5) I was happy that Art Evans got the pick-six (or, as General Neyland would say, “oskie-wow-wow”), especially after his dismal performances last year. As for the freshman who missed the coverage/tackle on the long Montana touchdown, well, he’s a freshman; I would be much more annoyed if he were a senior and that happened.

    Next week’s game against Cincinnati will tell a lot more about the Vols — especially whether they will be competitive in The Swamp in a couple of weeks.

    • norcalvol says :

      There has been some talk that Dooley took the pedal off the passing game in the second half to look at / work on the running game, knowing that his defense would not let Montana back in the game. RTT has an interesting article on the predictability of our offense based solely on the offensive formation, and how limited the playbook was Saturday.

      I certainly agree that the Cincy game will tell us a bit more about ourselves going into the real season opener in Gainesville. Unfortunately, the Cincinnaty win over Austin Peay doesn’t tell anybody much of anything about the Bearcats other than they did what they should have against a very weak opponent.

  5. rockytop78 says :

    Yes; except for the “flea flicker” play that resulted in our first touchdown, I do think that Dooley/Chaney ran a “vanilla” offense — perhaps not wanting to tip our hand too much before playing Florida and the tougher SEC schedule

  6. TK says :

    well some more talk
    mixed feelings on lane.,im not sure he might be a better receiver than a tailback, but then again we have receivers………. perhaps dooley did abandon the passing game to explore the running game in the second half. but he needs to keep exploring quickly because the running game just isnt there……the line cant get the push to form the holes……… bray graded out fine in my book but can you really tell with a division 2 opponent……… my thoughts are that i would rather lose to ucla and texas a&m than to beat montana and MTSU…… the comment about not wanting to tip our hand before playing floriday, i dont think that we have too much to tip that floriday would worry about at this point……..the rain did add some excitement to the scrimmage!!!!!!

    and that rule that was mentioned……fred, its rule 21.b.2, which states that after a preseason season record prediction is officially entered it may be changed once if: 1) the change is made after the first game and, 2) the first game is played against an opponent of a lower ncaa division.
    both these conditions were met so i think sandy is correct. congrats on him knowing the rulebook so precisely. ill be thinking if i want to exploit this rule or not……………
    i just realized that i smell like a wet coonhound!!!

  7. norcalvol says :

    Not enough to tip off the Gators… Sadly, you may be right.

    OK. Sandy can alter his preseason pick, but only before Saturday, and only Sandy since he dug out the rule book. We’ll see if he reads the comments section…

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