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Tennessee Game Grades: Tennessee Tech Edition

It's been a rough week in Knoxville, but the Vols bounced back in impressive fashion. See how in Tennessee Game Grades: Tennessee Tech Edition.
Tennessee Game Grades: Tennessee Tech

Tennessee Game Grades: Tennessee Tech Edition

It was a rough week in Knoxville. Saturday, Tennessee turned in the worst performance in Butch Jones‘ four year tenure last week against South Carolina. Then, on Sunday night, Vols star Jalen Hurd decided to leave the program. Both media and fans were hesitant to voice their opinions and disappointment throughout the week.

Tennessee seemingly let the SEC East slip away. And hopes for a 10-win regular season are definitely gone. Injuries and dismissals have mounted. The season seemed like a total disaster on Tuesday morning. Even worse, Tennessee’s expected easy march through November seems much tougher now with Kentucky and Vanderbilt playing better.

But Tennessee showed signs of life against Tennessee Tech today. There’s no doubt that the Golden Eagles are an inferior opponent. They are a middling-FCS school. But this game was exactly what Tennessee needed. They came out and executed well. Most importantly, however, they showed an energy that hadn’t been present previously this season.

Tennessee Game Grades: Tennessee Tech Edition

Offense: A

Playing an opponent like this, you have to grade on a curve. The most impressive thing about the Vols offensive performance today was the execution of a fairly simple game plan. Many of Tennessee’s ills this season have been mistakes of their own doing. We didn’t see that much today. Even against a weak opponent, Tennessee looked focused from the beginning.

Offensive Stat of the Game: Joshua Dobbs: 12/13 (92.3%) Completion Rate

Quarterback: A-
After his worst performance of his career, Joshua Dobbs turned in an almost perfect passing performance. Dobbs was out of the game before halftime, so his numbers don’t reflect his overall performance. Dobbs had five straight completions and touchdown throws of 30 and 43 yards on the first two drives of the game. Quinten Dormady picked up where Dobbs left off, going 9-of-13. It was great to Sheriron Jones — a constant source of energy for the Vols — get some snaps at quarterback.

Running Backs: A
There’s going to be a lot of hot takes about John Kelly’s performance on Saturday. Most of those won’t be about John Kelly. Kelly had 104 yards on just seven carries including a 73-yard touchdown one. That was Tennessee’s longest touchdown run in a decade. Carlin Fils-Aime and Jeremy Lewis perfomed well in back-up duty. The running backs made the right cuts and hit the holes hard. There weren’t many highlight reel moments, but there didn’t need to be. Interesting, the offense didn’t have a single negative play the entire game.

Receivers: A+ 
A great game for the Vols receiving corps, headlined by only one dropped pass during the game. Josh Malone had two touchdown in the games first few moments. The first was a blown coverage, but the second was a great catch right on the goal line. The other great part of the game was the play of two young receivers, Jeff George and Brandon Johnson. And Marquez Callaway added a late touchdown on special teams.
Offensive Line: A-
The running backs had holes to run through, the quarterbacks had little pressure, and no one got injured. This is the unit that gets cut the biggest against the competition as Tennessee Tech’s defensive line was no match for the Tennessee’s size and strength. They must continue this going forward, especially against Missouri and Vanderbilt, if Tennessee wants to get back to Atlanta.

Defense: A

Any shutout gets an A. Tennessee had over 25 players get on the stat sheet on defense, which is also impressive no matter who you are playing.

Defensive Stat of the Game:  Tennessee Tech 60 total yards rushing.
Defensive Line: A
Even a depleted Tennessee defensive line was able to stop Tech’s rushing offense. Tennessee was gashed by a freshman running back last week, and while Tech isn’t a potent offense, holding anyone to less than 75 total yards rushing is a good defensive line performance. As expected, Tech’s quarterbacks were under pressure all game, with Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen playing menace while they were in the game. Kyle Phillips, Quay Picou, and Darrell Taylor made multiple plays along the front in extensive playing time.
Linebackers: A
Much like the receivers, the best part of this unit’s performance was the execution and the emergence of some depth. In a little bit of a surprise, Elliot Berry got the start over Colton Jumper, although Jumper got the majority of the playing time. Cortez McDowell played well in reserve, including an interception. Most importantly, the linebackers were in the correct position for almost every single play.
Defensive Backs: A-
Marquill Osborne and Nigel Warrior were the bright spots in the defensive backfield. Osborne was particularly strong in run support. Tech was able to get three passes of greater than ten yards, and Warrior did have one pass interference call against him, mistakes that have plagued the defense this year. They will get tested much more against Kentucky next week.

Special Teams: A

Aaron Medley was two-for-two including a season long 42-yard field goal. Marquez Callaway added a punt return touchdown. Most importantly, Tennessee was not called for a single block-in-the-back. And coverage teams had no break-downs. Like all of the other units, the special teams did exactly what they had to do.

Coaching: A

Mike DeBord came out agressive with passes for five of the first six plays. Tennessee’s execution enabled success in a conservative play calling effort for the majority of the rest of the game. Tennessee’s defense scheme didn’t allow Tech to ever gain rhythm.

But this A isn’t because of play calling. In a tumultuous week, Butch Jones and his coaches had this team completely focused and each unit came out and executed well. It would be easy for this team to come out lifeless after likely losing their ticket to Atlanta and facing the internal turmoil in the locker room. But they came out and looked like a team that was rolling through their schedule. There’s something to be said for that. And with the heat the coaching staff has faced this week — much of it warranted after last week’s debacle — they had this team ready to go.

Looking Ahead

Next Week: Kentucky. Depending on how Kentucky does later against Georgia, next week’s game could be for sole place of second place in the SEC East. And with Florida looking less than stellar against Arkansas and still facing LSU, it takes on SEC East Championship tones. Kentucky is much improved in the second half of the season, as is Vanderbilt, who’ll be coming up in three weeks. Tennessee will have to come out and execute just as well against a much better caliber team if they want to stay in the race for the East Championship.

Things have settled down a bit on Rocky Top. But as we all know, things can change at any moment.

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