“D” For Disappointment — Tennessee Game Grades: North Texas Edition

“D” For Disappointment — Tennessee Game Grades: North Texas Edition

It’s hard to feel bad about a 24-0 win. But when you consider that North Texas was ranked 120th or worse in FBS (out of 128 teams) in every major defensive category, Vol fans have to be a little disappointed with today’s effort. While Tennessee did get the shutout and yielded less than 200 yards of total offense, the Mean Green’s offense wasn’t much more highly ranked in FBS play than their defense. Overall, the feeling for this game must be “disappointed”. Yes, the offense played well enough to win and the defense got the first shutout in five years, but for a team that thinks it has Top 25 potential for year’s end and SEC contention capability for 2016, you have to look better against one of the five worst programs in the nation.

 

Tennessee Game Grades: North Texas

 

Offense: C-

We talked about consistency last week. This week’s word is rhythm. The offense had two good drives the entire game. With North Texas giving up an average of 40+ points per game, Tennessee’s offense should have been calling of the hounddogs early in the third quarter. That obviously wasn’t the case. Watching this game, it was hard to see where the problems were occurring. Not a lot of blatant pass drops, not a lot of obvious missed assignments by the line, and the running backs seemed to hit the right holes. The offense just couldn’t get in a rhythm as an 11-man unit. As always, the Volunteer offense revolves around Joshua Dobbs. And how was his day?

 

Quarterback: C-

Probably the lowest grade Dobbs has ever received in his life. Dobbs was absent from the running game, which seems to be the single biggest variable in the Volunteer offense. When Joshua Dobbs runs well, the Vols do well. When he doesn’t, they don’t look like the same team. While it might be that a lingering foot injury limited Dobbs’ running, that only affects his running game. Dobbs also didn’t look good in the passing game. He had two early downfield passes that had people thinking the rout was on, but as the game progressed Dobbs’ decision-making regressed. The Vol quaterback had a stretch of four passes in a row late in the fourth quarter that were either extremely poorly thrown or just really, really poor decisions. One should have been a pick-6 for North Texas and one was intercepted to end another Tennessee drive inside the North Texas 5-yard line. Neither of those passes should have been thrown. If Tennessee is to win out this season, Dobbs has to be better next week at Missouri.

 

Running Backs: B-

Alvin Kamara was the obvious choice for most valuable player in this game. Kamara had his best statistical game of the season with 127 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he had an 8.5 yard-per-carry average. Jalen Hurd added 72 yards and was critical in a couple of third down conversions in the first half. While the running backs continued to be the strength of this offense, Hurd particularly looked to have some trouble breaking some tackles that he normally breaks in the second level. Kamara had several nice moves to elude Mean Green linebackers and secondary.

 

Receivers: C+

It’s hard to mark down the receivers too much because of the poor passing performance from Dobbs. The biggest take-away from the receivers were the two instances when Josh Malone and Von Pearson made nice plays to help out their struggling quarterback. Those are the plays that the receivers haven’t made this season. They don’t pop out on the stat sheet and won’t be on the nightly news highlights, but they both extremely athletic plays that extended drives. The worst part of the game for the receivers was downfield blocking. It was easily the worst downfield blocking performance of the season and almost merited an “F” for overall effort.

 

Offensive Line: C+

The offensive line – like the rest of the offense – had a decent game, but not what we expected coming into the contest. While they looked like they made their assignments, they weren’t effective at pushing the line of scrimmage down the field. Additionally, they had a very tough time getting blocks on the second level. The North Texas linebackers aren’t talented enough to cause that much trouble for the Volunteer linemen, even as young as they are. 199 “meaningful” yards (Hurd/Kamara/Dobbs, 3 ½ quarter total) on31 carries is way too low against probably the worst rush defense in the nation.

 

Defense: B

It’s hard to be disappointed with a shutout, that’s for sure. But there were a couple of considerations to grade-out a shutout as a “B”. First, North Texas didn’t help themselves too much in the passing game as they had three blatant drops that would have been first downs. Second, the Volunteer defense wasn’t able to force any turnovers, even though they did lay their hands on two possible interceptions. Lastly, North Texas didn’t help themselves again with some questionable decisions on fourth down. Considering these aspects, this was the most lackluster shutout in a while. Still, the defense did what it needed to do to keep a sub-par offensive performance from turning into a possible epic upset.

 

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line didn’t get the pressure they should have on the passing game. Tennessee was forced to bring blitz packages to pressure the quarterback. And North Texas did get 92 yards of rushing offense, mostly due to some nice blocking at the line of scrimmage by the Mean Green line. The line did keep good contain against a mobile quarterback and limited an outside rushing attack for the most part; which greatly helps the linebackers in the running game.

 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers showed some weaknesses today that they’ve struggled with all season. Most importantly, their coverage in the underneath passing game continues to need improvement. North Texas was able to exploit the tight end and crossing routes. The damage would have been more if not for two bad dropped passes. The linebackers were decent in the running game, but did miss some tackles. Again, hard to be disappointed with a shutout, but the linebackers will still have some things to learn from on film.

 

Defensive Backs: B+

North Texas did take a couple of shots downfield, and this was the strength of the secondary’s performance today. Their downfield coverage was excellent. This was a case of better talent. Much like the linebackers however, there was some missed tackles on quick passes and in support of the run game, but these weaknesses were covered up by really good team defense.

 

Special Teams: D

Aaron Medley continues to look stronger as the season goes on, but the pressure has been a little less the last three weeks than in the first four weeks when he was struggling. The punt coverage – while looking good in protecting against the fake punt – didn’t protect against the delayed rugby style kick that North Texas employed. This prevented Cam Sutton from putting together any returns of substance. Punting as excellent and kickoff return didn’t have any opportunities for returns.

 

Coaching: B-

The coaching staff purposely stressed focus this week, considering a weak opponent and the dreaded noon kickoff. The team came out solid, but seemed to lose interest as the game went along. I think that’s part coaching and part players; it’s a shared responsibility. The offense was – expectedly – bland. You certainly don’t want to put any more on film for Missouri or Vanderbilt than you have to, but it seemed that Tennessee tried to put some wrinkles on film for the Tigers and Commodores and that may have been a contributing factor to the lose of rhythm. At game 10 of the season, you’ve probably got as much on film in the first nine games that you don’t have to be too conservative.

 

The bottom line is the Vols took care of business, albeit in a disappointed fashion. The Vols have their first three-game winning streak in five years and is sitting at 6-4 for the first time in a long time. They are bowl eligible at the earliest point in the season since almost can remember. The signs of progress are evident. But they aren’t where they want to be, and to get to a place of acceptance they still have to beat a Missouri team that will (theoretically) playing for their coach and a resurgent Vanderbilt that played the Vols close last year.

 

Tennessee must focus to finish 8-4 and position themselves for a top tier bowl. They haven’t beaten Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC three years ago. Everyone knows what’s going in Columbia. Can the Vols continue their momentum and get a quality road win in Columbia next week? If they are to do so, it’s got to a be a better performance than today. If not, it’ll be more disappointment for the Vol faithful.

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