Vols Munch on Martin Minnows

Tennessee 50  UT Martin 0

4 Sep 2010 | Neyland Stadium | 99,123

Recap | Boxscore | Play-by-Play | Drive Chart

Well…

“Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on th’ expectation of plenty.”

William Shakespeare said that.

“The joy of the present is the known of the past; the terror of the present is the unknown of the future.”

I said that.

Saturday’s thumping of the hapless UT Martin Skyhawks was the first shutout by the Vols since 2003’s 48-0 whipping of Vandy. That’s the joy of the present in the known of the past – wow, we haven’t done that in seven years! We’re on fire!

Saturday’s hapless UT Martin Skyhawks was the first Division-II school we’ve beaten since 1983’s 45-6 obliteration of The Citadel – which was in Memphis by the way; the last Div-II school we faced in Neyland Stadium was Hawaii in 1972 (34-2, Vols). That’s the terror of the present in the unknown of the future – so what does the beating up of a midget tell us about the state of our program?

I hope nobody is getting all giggity based on Saturday night’s performance. I thought last year’s Western Kentucky’s team was bad, but the Martin Minnows take the cake for pathetic. I know, it’s not fair to denigrade a team when your defeat of them was just simply an example of swinging below your weight. This was not a fair fight. We should be picking on someone our own size.

It’s often difficult to ascertain whether the annhiliation of a weak opponent is more of the opponent’s weakness or the measure of our own strength. We won’t know that for about six days.

But can’t we just enjoy a win instead of winging on about it?

Sure. Here goes…

*****

We have a quarterback. Matt Simms looks like a good decision-maker. He has an exceptionally strong arm and doesn’t get rattled. He exhibits good footwork – no ‘happy feet’ – and can take a hit. Simms was just a hair off of being razor sharp as he tended to miss by overthrowing his receivers when missing them. He didn’t pound incompletions into the ground or throw too far behind or ahead of his targets – a mark of an accomplished quarterback is how he misses, just like the difference between a pro and amateur golfer is how they miss their putts (pros keep it high; amateurs miss low, never giving the ball a chance).

When the Vols made it 43-0 in the third quarter, Dooley opted to sit Simms for the remainder of the contest. Matt had earned that honor by going 14-for-24 for 181 yards, 1 TD and no INTs. A very fine evening for the prodigal son’s first appearance in the big time. He looks to be a keeper. Nick Stephens made the right move.

The other story was the defense. The descriptive phrase is efficient energy. Outstanding containment of everything UT Martin attempted. Justin Smith’s troops applied constant pressure to the point where the Skyhawks looked like they gave up. Three first downs was all the visitors could muster. A total yardage of 142 yards (86 passing; 56 rushing) almost seems to flatter UT Martin because it seemed they did anything with the ball. With the exception of a recovery of a Gerald Jones muffed attempt at fielding a punt, it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Skyhawks got inside the Vols’ 40 yard line. And when they did, all they could muster was an attempted 44-yard field goal that drifted wide left.

Vol linebacker Austin Johnson is my player of the game. Johnson, playing his first game at the linebacker position since he was in high school in Hickory, North Carolina, was all over the place, making plays and forcing things to go badly for the opponent. In the second quarter, after a Tennessee punt forced the Skyhawks to begin their possession on their own 6-yard line, Johnson burst into the backfield and nearly had a safety. In the third quarter, after Martin shot themselves in the foot by negating a long gain due to offensive holding, Johnson picked off a pass over the middle to snuff the Skyhawks best drive, leading to a beautiful pass completion from Simms to Denarius Moore on the ensuing possession to put the Vols up 34-0. Johnson made a great tackle on UT Martin’s next possession for force another three-and-out. And then later in the third quarter, when the visitors had to start their drive from their own 3-yard line after the return man fumbled the kickoff near his own goal line, Johnson shot into the Skyhawk backfield once again, made a hit of the running back in the checkerboards for a safety.

Johnson wasn’t the entire story on defense. Early in the fourth quarter, safety Prentiss Wagner made a nifty read of an out pattern on a Skyhawk third-and-two, cutting in front of the intended receiver with perfect timing, picking off the pass and running 53 yards to make it 50-0. Wagner also had six tackles on the night. The defensive line also had an effective evening, continually confusing the Skyhawk offense with different looks and schemes, a hallmark of defensive coordinator Justin Smith. Lead by Gerald Williams, Chris Walker, and Montori Hughes, the Vol defensive line simply overwhelmed UT Martin with their superior speed, size, and athleticism, enabling them to penetrate into the Skyhawk backfield on multiple occasions. Jacques Smith got a solid QB sack in the second half, too.

We can’t pass up kudos to the running game. Tauren Poole led the way with 110 yards on 17 carries, including a 24-yard TD run shortly before the half to give the Vols a 20-0 cushion, and a third-quarter burst of speed around the right end to put the Skyhawks out of their misery at 41-0. After being shunned by last year’s regime, Poole looked like he had a point to prove to the world. To me, he looked a bit like Montario Hardesty with his scampering style and never-give-up finishes. Tailbacks Rajon Neal and David Oku also contributed in big ways with a combined 156 yards rushing. It was Oku’s 45-yard TD run in the first half that seemingly got the Vols unstuck after a very tedious, mistake-filled opening to the game.

*****

Weaknesses of the opponent notwithstanding, Tennessee passed their first test. A passing grade is a passing grade, no matter if it is beginning algebra or differential equations. It was what was needed to give Derek Dooley and his staff and players a sense of accomplishment heading into the real season that begins this coming Saturday, when Oregon comes a-knocking after a 72-0 pasting of New Mexico with their high-octane offense that is like nothing we’ve seen in a very long time.

But until then, I’ll allow myself to enjoy the win, regardless of the circumstances, because playing a Division-II school isn’t always an automatic win.

Just ask an Ole Miss fan if you see one this coming week.

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