A Day in the Sun
Tennessee 52 Mississippi 14
13 Nov 2010 | Neyland Stadium | 96,044Recap | Boxscore | Play-by-play | Drive Chart
The Tennessee Vols looked like a bunch of youngsters with their whole lives ahead of them, without a care in the world. The Ole Miss Rebels looked old, tired, confused, and not up to the challenge.
As predicted, Tyler Bray used a beautiful autumn afternoon to cement his place as the Vols’ QB. All he did was display a cool, calm, almost a caution-to-the-wind demeanor, throwing 18-of-34 for 323 yards, 3 TDs, and no INTs.
Furthermore, he gave this football program a fresh coat of beautiful, orange paint. Yes, he made mistakes today, including many throws that were not nearly as accurate as desired, but he made some drop-dead, beautifully-paced throws to receivers who are beginning to believe that Christmas happens every Saturday.
After all, Santa Claus is now a tall, skinny dude from the southern San Joaquin Valley.
The big story was how the Vols won the turnover tally, 5-0.
After Tennessee got a very fortunate bounce off the hands of a Rebel linebacker, resulting in a 80-yard TD gallop by Justin Hunter on the Vols’ first play from scrimmage, and after Bray then threw a pinpoint strike to Denarius Moore along the left side of the endzone to put the Vols up by two TDs, little Eric Gordon shrugged off a receiver on a route to view the developing play, and stepped in front of a Rebel receiver on the left sideline for an interception which he ran all the way into the Ole Miss endzone.
The first quarter had yet to expire, and the Vols were already up 21-0 on only 10 offensive plays. It was the first of five turnovers by the Rebels.
Ole Miss turned to the running game for a bit of time, enough to make it 21-7 and let the Vols know they were going to perhaps have to score a barn full of points to win their first conference game of this season. But the Big Orange defense stepped to the fore and allowed the Rebs only one more score. Early in the second half, with the Vols needing perhaps only one more score on top of a 31-14 lead to put this one in the win column, Rebel QB Jeremiah Masoli, who was announced as the starter just before game time, threw an ill-advised floater on a screen pass play that was corralled by Vol Prentiss Waggner and returned all the way into the end zone.
And on the next Ole Miss possession, Janzen Jackson picked off a terrible Masoli pass over the middle, essentially ending the afternoon with most of the second half left to play out. Toward the end of the third quarter, the Vols pounced on a Rebel fumble that was followed by a Tauren Poole 35-yard ramble into the endzone to make it 52-14. Later, local Knoxville native Anthony Anderson intercepted a Nathan Stanley pass to make it five turnovers to Tennessee.
It has to be admitted that there were three plays in which the Vols were very fortunate, allowing the winds to keep blowing in the direction of Tennessee and keeping the Rebels at bay.
The first play from scrimmage previously mentioned – it could have just as easily gone Ole Miss’ way as a pick-six – made me momentarily think that four-leaved clovers are colored orange.
Then there were a couple of Ole Miss punts to Janzen Jackson, our latest version of punt returner. With the Vols up 28-7, Janzen fumbled a punt near his own goal line, forcing the ball toward the near side line. That was the key – a Rebel coverage man fell on the ball, but his legs were lying out of bounds, allowing the Vols to retain possession instead of giving Mississippi a redzone opportunity to score and get back in the game. Much later, after the game had been put pretty much out of reach at 45-14, Janzen fumbled a punt while trying to catch it on his right side instead of directly in front of him. Admittedly, the fumble was more due to his not calling a fair catch and the resulting instantaneous hit after contact with the ball, but this was the glaring weak point of the Vols’ game today – how we recovered the fumble is still a result of a quirky bounce on the ground.
But let’s face it – we were long overdue for a game in which nearly everything went our way.
Other points of interest…
Kudos to Vol RB Tauren Poole, who ran 12 carries for 107 yards, becoming the SEC leader with six 100-yard rushing games. His two TD runs in the second half, a 36-yarder right up the gut followed by a 35-yarder to finish the afternoon’s scoring, left the Ole Miss defense looking like they had called it quits. Poole now has over 1,000 yards in his career, and with more than 800 yards rushing this season, has a realistic shot at eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark for the year against two anemic defenses against the run, Vandy and Kentucky, that remain on the schedule.
A key component of the Vols’ victory was big plays on third down. In the first half, three of Tennessee’s five 3rd-down conversions were on plays of 13, 10, and 15 yards. That’s big. The Volunteers finished the day 7-of-16 on 3rd down conversions, which is evident of huge improvement in this important facet of the game.
Tennessee has become an entertaining team to watch, just as coach Derek Dooley promised during his introductory press conference in January. Right after Ole Miss scored at the beginning of the second quarter to cut the Vol lead to 21-7, the Tennessee kickoff return sported a risky reverse. Janzen Jackson took a handoff from the right sideline all the way to the left side of the field into Mississippi territory. That gave the Rebels a message that we weren’t afraid of them getting back into the ball game, which they never did.
It was good to see Daniel Lincoln kicking FGs again. His 43-yarder late in the second quarter that made it 31-14 gave the former All-American a perfect 8-for-8 on FGs this season.
Could Justin Hunter become the next All-American at the once-proud All-Receiver-U? His TD catch in the second quarter was all-star stuff. Bray obviously has the mindset of letting the playmakers make the plays. Hunter is a big-time playmaker of the future for the Big Orange.
I’m not sure what’s going on with kicker Michael Palardy. Most of his kickoffs were rather short. Was this by design? The coverage was stellar on almost every kick, but I’d rather see kickoffs booming off the wall behind the goalposts.
Rebel QB Jeremiah Masoli didn’t look right. Three INTs plus several errant throws made me think that it was perhaps concussion cobwebs and a lack of practice this week rather than the Vol defense that was causing the San Francisco Area native to look like a second-rate QB for much of the afternoon. You had to wonder why coach Nutt started Masoli. But, this was a big game for Ole Miss as much as it was for Tennessee. With the loss, Mississippi’s season is all but over. The Rebels need wins in their last two games – against LSU and Mississippi State – to become bowl eligible. I wouldn’t waste a dime with the chance for a million dollars on that happening.
Only 96,044 on a beautiful, sun-drenched, homecoming afternoon? I sure as hell hope to see six figures in the house when Kentucky comes calling in two weeks.
In the end, Tennessee did what they needed to do to win – everything and more.
First, their defense contained the Ole Miss option by successfully playing assignment football. Second, the Vols made big play after big play: the first fortuitous 80-yard TD pass play; two pick-sixes; three big 3rd-down conversions in the first half; and two big Tauren Poole TD runs. And last but not least, Tennessee protected the football. With the help of two very lucky recoveries of Janzen Jackson fumbles on punt returns, the Vols finished the day with no turnovers to the Rebels.
The Volunteers are now serious contenders for a bowl appearance. Tennessee now looks ahead to next week’s match in Nashville against Vandy followed by what will likely be an all-out war against Kentucky in two weeks back home. But I’m going to resist the temptation to daydream, and instead enjoy the memories of a well-deserved win by a team guided by a coaching staff who somehow kept this bunch of outmanned players together during a forgettable October.
I’m going to dwell in the glow of a near-perfect performance on a perfect autumn afternoon that would have made Robert Neyland proud. Important, because the General was keeping watch just outside the old ballyard, as he will be for decades to come.