Vols Shutout MTSU with Stingy Defense, Kid QB, and Sober Place Kicker
Looking for something to build on, Derek Dooley wasn’t afraid to put it on the shoulders of freshman QB Justin Worley. Delivering passes to 9 different receivers, Worley racked up 291 passing on a 23-for-33 performance. Da’Rick Rogers was Worley’s favorite target, getting 9 grabs for 137 yards, including a 47-yard TD strike.
Obvious kudos go to the defense for the shutout, only the third since 2003 (the last being last year’s 50-0 opener against UT-Martin), and the first on Homecoming since the blanking of Okie State in 1995.
Concerns still rain down on the running game. Against a poor team, it was atrocious, with only 120 net yards on 45 carries. That’s a 2.7 yards per carry clip.
The most entertaining part of the evening was the 6:10 pm call to a frat house to round up a place kicker in a pinch.
Let’s talk Justin Worley. Dooley knows his team can’t run the ball (a genius, I know), even against bad competition. So, instead of putting the pressure on the rushing game to open things up for his freshman QB, Dooley trusted his passing game to maybe open things up for the run. The passing part of that strategy worked.
Worley did a lot right. He showed very good presence in the pocket, knowing when to use his feet properly to evade a rusher, or to just give himself a better look. He made some very good reads, and above all, almost all of his throws were nearly perfect in direction and pace, both on downhill and crossing routes. The part that was perhaps surprising was his arm strength. All you hear is that he doesn’t have the arm of Simms or Bray. Maybe so. But many of his passes had some serious zip, and the 47-yard TD bomb to Da’Rick Rogers late in the first quarter had some serious air under it.
This kid is going to be OK. The more reps he gets against much better competition (OK class, start the debate as to whether or not Arkansas’ defense is better competition), the faster his progress will be. It would have been a killer to his confidence if he bombed out this evening. He didn’t. Instead, he was the player of the game.
And, Da’Rick Rogers’ performance was thrilling to watch at times, too. He caught balls in a relaxed way – nice soft hands – and made some good yardage after catches. But, his emotional maturation still appears to be on a snail’s pace. After his TD catch, he flipped the ball back to the defender. Yellow flag, and 15 yards applied on the kickoff to be performed by a walk-on freshman (more on that later). Gotta grow up. He also elected not to speak to the media tonight. I don’t care if he wanted to get back to the crib to watch Bama-LSU (only a wild guess). So, let’s get this out in the open right now. This kid’s gonna be real trouble some day. Let’s just hope it’s not sooner than later. Much later.
One stat of note: the Worley-to-Rogers TD pass thankfully broke a streak of 128 passes by Tennessee QBs without a TD. You have to go back to the third quarter of the Buffalo game for the last time the Vols scored a TD via a pass. No wonder it feels like it has been a long season.
Justin Wilcox’s defense continues to perform. As rare as shutouts are these days in football, blanking a poor MTSU team is nothing to sneeze at. LB Austin Johnson got things started on MTSU’s second possession, when he picked off Logan Kilgore’s pass over the middle. It was a carbon copy of his pick two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa – he was backpedaling as he jumped to get the turnover. This time, though, he added on several yards with a return all the way to the Blue Raider 7 yard line, setting up the rushing game to score UT’s first TD of the night on their third try.
Eric Gordon, playing in the nickel package, made a fine INT just before halftime. A Jacques Smith recovery of an MTSU fumble early in the final quarter made it three turnovers to help the turnover ratio for the season, which needs some help.
The biggest concern regarding the Vol defense was, you guessed it, coming out of the tunnel for the third quarter. After the Vols went three-and-out to begin the second half, MTSU started to put up some serious yards while Tennessee’s defense looked half-asleep. The shutout was saved when, at the Vol 15 yard line, MTSU declined to kick a 32-yard field goal and elected to go for it. Corey Miller batted down a pass from backup QB Jeff Murphy. The Blue Raiders didn’t get a sniff of points the rest of the evening.
The only thing that there was to get excited about with the Vols’ run game was the emergence of freshman Jaron Toney, a product of Alcoa H.S. Toney had nearly twice the carries of senior Tauren Poole, 19 to 11. Toney’s 52 yards added up to a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. But it was some hints he gave that rendered even the most sceptical as hopeful. Toney looks more aggressive as a runner than Poole or Marlin Lane. He also has a nice body turn as he continues to run downhill. I call it promising.
Kick returner Devrin Young keeps on helping the Vol offense. Dropped kicks by Vol returners seem a thing of the past. Dooley has found his man. A return of 16 yards on a punt along with 39 yards on a kickoff return to get the Vols started near midfield were welcome. It occurs to me that the reason we don’t see Devrin run from scrimmage is that Dooley knows that he has found his man, and he doesn’t want to lose him to injury with no one else to trust with fielding kicks. Hopefully with more depth next season, we’ll see Young get his chance in the backfield.
We can’t end this game summary without telling the saga of Vol place kicker Derrick Brodus.
Michael Palardy, Tennessee’s sophomore PK, apparently got bit by the injury bug again. During practice on Thursday this week, he came up lame. He tried it out during pre-game warmups, but it wasn’t going to happen. Enter backup Chip Rhome. During his warmups, he pulled a muscle.
Freshman walk-on Derrick Brodus was on a couch in a frat house when his cellphone rang. It was 6:10pm, and kickoff was in less than an hour. He thought it was a joke. His plans for the evening were to watch the first half of the Tennessee game, and then switch the channel over to LSU-Alabama. Oh, and he hadn’t had a drop of alcohol. “I’m not 21 yet” he said when asked about it in the clubhouse during post-game interviews.
Dooley said, “I’m going to write a book one day about the things that happened to me over the years. It’s a good thing he wasn’t having too much fun on a Saturday afternoon. I told the coaches an intoxicated Brodus is better than nobody, just get him here.”
Dooley’s only other option was nose tackle Joseph Ayers, who Dooley had practicing kicks before game time when police were called to escort Brodus to Neyland Stadium.
Brodus, the former all-state soccer player at Alcoa High School didn’t disappoint. Two perfect extra points and a 20+ yard field goal in the first half, plus adequate kickoffs, put Derrick Brodus’ name in the long history of Tennessee Volunteer football, and a sure bit of trivia years from now.
And, oh yes, in the other game of the night, LSU edged Bama 9-6 in OT. Arkansas-LSU will be a better game.