Right Where We Left Off
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.
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.