Taking Stock of Weeks 1 and 2
As we all brace ourselves for the trip to the Swamp this Saturday, let’s have a no-frills look at the separate components of the Vol performances during the first two games.
Tyler Bray, Tyler Bray, Tyler Bray, oh Tyler Bray! We were all so concerned after the Orange and White game. So far, the sophomore QB is 51-65 (78% completion rate) for 698 yards, 7 TDs, and 0 INTs. He can’t do much more. Senior sub Matt Simms got a cameo against Montana and completed his only pass for 18 yards. What a difference a year makes.
So far, the running game is Tauren Poole and little else. And, Poole hasn’t been good enough to give the Vol offense any semblance of a balanced attack. Except for flashes on Saturday against Cincinnati, he has looked tentative with a tendency to either being unwilling to move into a gap or unable to see the opportunities. His 199 yards on 45 carries have come mostly the hard way (which credits his effort). Marlin Lane has shown good speed and tenacity, but his 51 yards from 18 caries is a poor bottom line. Rajion Neal and Tom Smith have barely featured. Too many balls dropped by the carriers, too.
The splendid sophomores Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter have had to come up big because of the sluggish ground game. They haven’t disappointed. Each have had two consecutive 100-yard receiving game tallies, and against Cincinnati became the first pair of Vol receivers to each catch 10 passes in a game. TE Michael Rivera had a fine second game with 6 catches after not catching a pass in the opener. Channing Fugate, Tauren Poole, and Marlin Lane have caught a handful of passes out of the backfield as safety valves for Bray’s more vertical game. Zach Rogers made a fine TD catch against Cincinnati.
OL Blocking: Getting better
The young line has improved a bit in their creation of holes for the running game. But, their forte has been pass blocking. A couple of sacks were allowed in the opener, but the Bearcats couldn’t put much pressure on Bray the following Saturday which was a big aid in the 400+ yard aerial attack.
DL Pressure and Penetration: Effective
The Vols defensive front are not coming up with QB sacks, but they are creating a lot of pressure. That means the sacks will come. The pair of 4th down holds at midfield against Cincinnati were significant accomplishments.
Nothing spectacular here so far. But, it must be said that they did an adequate job in containing two weeks of spread offenses. Austin Johnson had six tackles against Cincinnati.
They’ve had their hands full against the offensive schemes seen so far, but we’re lucky the busted coverages (poor Justin Coleman) haven’t cost us more. Even with Janzen Jackson’s absence, the secondary was to be the shining light for the Vol defense this season. Somebody needs to check the bulbs. Art Evans’ pick for a TD against Montana was a nice bright spot.
Special teams: Jury is out
Frankly there is not much to talk about here. PK Michael Palardy has been inconsistent on KO’s, but he got his first FG out of the way against Cincinnati after missing an earlier attempt. Matt Darr’s punting has been, well, underwhelming. Palardy’s two punts in the first game were better, but I hope he can stick to KO’s and FG’s. The returns of punts and KOs has been average on balance. Channing Fugate had a nice KO return for 44 yards the first week, and the entire KO return game has been fairly solid. The punt return game was marred by Lane’s drop the first week near the goal line and penalties against Cincinnati the following week. Palardy’s perfect onsides KO against the Bearcats was a game-changer.