Tennessee Game Grades: Kentucky Edition

Tennessee Game Grades: Kentucky Edition

 

Tennessee started their quest to finish out their season strong with an impressive win against a Kentucky team scratching and clawing to get up into the top half of the SEC East rankings. It was probably Tennessee’s most complete performance against an SEC team all season. And it certainly sets the stage nicely for Tennessee to finish strong and salvage their season.

 

Tennessee Game Grades: Kentucky Edition

 

Offense: A-

The Volunteer offense had a great evening. But remember, special teams were responsible for two touchdowns and the defense one. The big takeaway from tonight’s game was Tennessee’s big play ability. This was enabled by Tennessee’s vertical passing game. And while the running game didn’t have good numbers early on, Coordinator Mike DeBord’s insistence on balance in the offense paid off later in the game. Overall, this was probably the Offense’s best performance of the season. Two turnovers (an early fumble-six and an interception) and some stalled drives deep in Kentucky’s territory were the only weaknesses on a great night for the Big Orange offense.

 

Quarterback: A

Tennessee’s success is dependent upon Joshua Dobbs. Tonight, Dobbs facilitated the Vols rout of Kentucky. Dobbs’ finally putting his completion percentage, vertical threat, and running attack together made the Kentucky defense completely unable to stop the Vols tonight. Dobbs had his best vertical passing night of the season. His overall passing numbers weren’t earth shattering with 233 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (on a deflection), but his consistency and versatility compromised Kentucky’s defense all night. Most importantly for Dobbs was his passing efficiency at 61.5% and his ability to hit the deep ball. After his 75 yard strike to Josh Malone, the Kentucky defense was forced to take one man out of the front box which. This facilitated an improvement in the Tennessee running game. Dobbs also had a strong night in key situations, going 8-15 on third downs and 2-2 on fourth downs, one of those early in the game. The only thing keeping Dobbs from a perfect game was two fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown and one was recovered by the Vols. Dobbs has had trouble this season with fumbles. All in all, probably Joshua Dobbs’ best night of 2015.

 

Running Backs: A

Tennessee put up 249 rushing yards, although a good 60+ yards came late in the fourth quarter. The running game did what it’s been doing all season; brutally wearing down opponent’s front lines. While Jalen Hurd had more highlight-reel hits, Alvin Kamara led the way with 70 yards on just four carries. Hurd and Dobbs had 61 and 51 yards – many of those yards coming in key situations, particularly Dobbs’ scrambling. Kentucky committed to stopping Tennessee’s run game early on, and Tennessee’s persistence to maintaining balance on offense paid off once the passing attack finally got started. As much as Tennessee’s success is dependent on Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd might be the most valuable player to this team during this season.

 

Receivers: A-

For the first time all season, Tennessee’s receivers made some plays to help the passing game come alive. Josh Malone hauled in the big play, 75 yard touchdown catch. And Von Pearson made some key catches in critical situations on passes that weren’t necessarily perfect. And, as usual, the running back tandem of Hurd and Kamara contributed to almost 20% of the catches and a long touchdown (Hurd). Distribution was excellent, with seven different receivers getting catches. If the receivers continue to play like this for the rest of the season, then the Vols stand a great chance of winning out.

 

Offensive Line: B

The line had another solid night, even after experiencing an injury to possibly their best player, Jashon Robertson, early in the first quarter. The Vols did have a lot of short- to no-gains in the first half and allowed some pressure to the quarterback, but Kentucky was putting numbers against the front in an effort to stop the running game early. Dobbs – again, the key to Tennessee’s offense – made the line look a little bit better than they actually played with some good runs in the first half. Once the passing game got going, Kentucky’s pressure against the line let up a little bit and they were able to steady their performance. Additionally, Kentucky’s defense was worn down by Tennessee’s physical style of play.

 

Defense: A-

The Vol defense had another strong night. Much like the offense, all parts of the defense seemed to be clicking with each other. The pressure with the defensive light – with pressure or with just a base alignment – complemented the secondary’s excellent coverage. Tennessee’s defense gave up just two touchdowns to a Kentucky offense that has big play potential with a quarterback with a big arm. The offense they played tonight is easily the best offense, and easily the best passing offense, that the Vols will see for the rest of the season. They will face a couple of teams with better rushing attacks. But if they play like they did tonight, they should win the rest of the games this season.

 

Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line put pressure on Patrick Towles all night, even with three- and four-man rushes. Even when they couldn’t get to Towles, they forces throw aways. The defensive line was also very effective against the run. Of course they were assisted by the lead the offense was able to provide, forcing the Wildcats into a heavy balance of passes in their play calling. A couple of missed tackles and loss of containment were the only noticeable drawbacks tonight.

 

Linebackers: B+

The linebacker unit had a relatively quiet night, compared to other units, but still had a strong performance. The linebackers were effective in pass rushing when they were tasked, covered the underneath routes well enough, and keep the Kentucky rushing attack from getting to the second level. And Jalen Reeves-Maybin was terrorizing any Wildcat offensive player that got to the outside all night long. Other than Darren Kirkland, Jr.’s interception, it was a quiet, but solid, night for a growing linebacker corps.

 

Defensive Backs: A-

The numbers here tonight tell you what you need to know. Patrick Towles had 184 yards on 33 passing attempts. Towles was just under 50% for his completion rate. But no in the stat sheet is the number of times he was forced out of the pocket into either incomplete passes or rushing attempts because of great coverage in the secondary. The secondary had excellent coverage all night long and had only one poor drive late in the second half. This is considering the unbalanced play calling that Kentucky was forced into with the Tennessee lead. The only weakness tonight was a lack of overall consistency.

 

Special Teams: A+

Well, this was easy. A kickoff return for a touchdown. A punt return for a touchdown. No mentionable return yardage for coverage teams. And Aaron Medley was perfect on extra points and made the one field goal he was asked to make.

 

Coaching: A

This team was clearly ready to play. Coming off another tough loss to Alabama and being 3-4 and on the road, there was some potential for letdown. The game plan was perfect for the Kentucky team and the play calling – on both sides – put the offense in rhythm and enabled the defense to dictate the action against the Wildcat offense. This is what the Jones product looks like when the execution is there. An overall great effort by the entire program.

 

The Vols are now at 4-4, third in the East and have a very favorable schedule ahead of them with South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt. They’ll be favored in each of those games and are clearly the best team in each of those contests. If Tennessee wins out, they’ll get a decent bowl game and still have a shot at a 9-4 season. If they play the way they did tonight, they certainly stand a good chance at seeing this scenario play out.

Main Photo via Getty