Tennessee report card: Ho-hum Homecoming win for the Vols
Tennessee’s win over North Texas was never in doubt. However, even the Tennessee Walking Horse had trouble staying awake at times during this Homecoming snoozer.
As has been the case for most of the games this season, the Vols started strong and then fizzled throughout the game. Here are the deserved grades:
The frustrating thing about Tennessee’s offense on Saturday was that it appeared to be on the verge of dominating. The Vols had three impressive touchdown drives of 56, 71 and 80 yards. Then, at other times, Tennessee’s mistakes repeatedly killed drives.
Running back Jalen Hurd had 15 carries for 72 yards. Against the same defense, tailback Alvin Kamara had 15 carries for 127 yards. Kamara needs to continue to have a larger role.
Remember when quarterback Joshua Dobbs was a running threat? That’s just not the case any longer. The junior had just three yards on four carries. Either he’s banged up as some have suggested or defenses have found a way to defend him. Dobbs is still a pedestrian passer. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 136 yards and an interception and missed several open receivers.
Tennessee spread the ball around in the passing game. Nine Vols caught a pass. Five caught multiple passes, led by sophomore Josh Malone with four receptions for 38 yards. Still, there was not much of a downfield threat for the Vols.
The offensive line gave up two sacks against one of the worst defenses in the FBS. However, pass protection was otherwise solid for the most part.
Sure, one has to consider the opponent, but a shutout is always impressive. That’s what the Vols did against North Texas. Tennessee held the Mean Green to 199 yards. The Vols were most impressive in the second half when their offense lost time of possession, had backups in the game and still held on to blank the Mean Green.
Freshman Darrin Kirkland, Jr. has arrived as one of Tennessee’s top defenders. He had eight tackles and one for a loss. Junior Jalen Reeves-Maybin remains his consistent self. He had seven tackles. Six Vols had a tackle for a loss: Kirkland, defensive back Malik Foreman, defensive tackle Danny O’Brien and defensive ends Corey Vereen, Chris Weatherd and Derek Barnett.
Vereen and Foreman deserve major props for their improved play in the second half of the season. Vereen had three tackles on Saturday. Foreman had four tackles and broke up two passes, although one should have been an interception.
Special Teams: C
The book is out on Tennessee’s special teams: Don’t test them. North Texas refused to kick to sophomore Evan Berry, who didn’t have a single return. North Texas also used an unusual delayed rugby type of punt to limit punt returner Cameron Sutton to two returns for 28 yards.
The Vols did partially block a punt once they decided to rush North Texas’ punter. Berry is on the verge of a record-breaking season. However, he may never get the chance if teams continue to kick away from him.
It’s ultimately Tennessee’s coaches’ responsibility to get their team ready. The Vols seemed prepared to begin the game then slumped off. It’s time for Tennessee’s coaches to find a way to keep up the emotional intensity throughout the game.
First, kudos to the defense. Now, to the offense. The Vols beat North Texas 24-0. Louisiana Tech scored 56 points to beat North Texas 56-13. Tennessee’s offense is incredibly dependent on Dobbs and right now he’s just not a consistent running threat. That combined with his inconsistent passing could soon result in trouble.