Tennessee Report Card: Vols receive solid marks despite loss
Tennessee took the nation’s No. 8 team to the wire on Saturday. However, the Vols couldn’t make enough plays to beat Alabama.
Certainly there are things to learn from the 19-14 loss. Here are the deserved grades for the Vols based on that performance:
The Vols gave up five sacks, including the play that caused a fumble and effectively ended the game. Offensive tackle Chance Hall was beat on that play. However, he and fellow freshman Jack Jones performed well for the most part in their first starts. Jones was a force in the running game at guard. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs deserves some of the blame for the sack total. He held onto the ball too long too often. Dobbs, who finished 13-of-22 for 171 yards passing, was also fortunate when he did throw the ball. He had a handful of possible interceptions dropped. Running back Alvin Kamara was a reliable threat, even if he didn’t break a long run. Running back Jalen Hurd is just a consistently strong performer. He averaged over five yards per carry against one of the best defenses in the country.
The Vols didn’t shut down Bama tailback Derrick Henry, but they held him in check somewhat. Henry had 143 yards on 28 carries. Not bad considering he was the workhorse throughout the game for the Tide. His longest run was only 20 yards. The Vols played behind the line of scrimmage. Eight players registered a tackle for a loss, including linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin. He had 2.5 tackles for a loss, including a sack and led the Vols with 11 tackles. Junior defensive end Corey Vereen had as many sacks (2.5) against Alabama as he has had during his entire Tennessee career. Safety Brian Randolph is always solid. He was tied for second on the team with seven tackles and had an interception. Tennessee’s corners didn’t play well. Emmanuel Mosley and Justin Martin gave up big plays. Even star corner Cameron Sutton was beaten on a key third-and-long in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams D
Aaron Medley was the story on special teams – for all the wrong reasons. Medley missed three field goals and another when Bama coach Nick Saban called a timeout in order to “ice” the sophomore. In fairness to Medley, the kicks weren’t exactly chip shots. Two were from 51 yards and the other was from 43 yards. Still, he’s 9-of-17 this season, so there’s cause for concern. Bama’s deep kicks took returner Evan Berry out of the game. He had only one return. It was a good one in which he broke several tackles and gained 31 yards. Punter Trevor Daniel averaged 43.2 yards per punt and blasted a 53-yarder to flip the field. He was solid but it wasn’t his best day overall.
In hindsight, Tennessee’s coaches could have done more to help Hall on the final drive. He was clearly outmatched against speedy pass rusher Ryan Anderson. Credit Butch Jones with his clock management in the fourth quarter. Timely timeouts gave his team enough time to try to counter Bama’s winning score. Tennessee’s defensive coaches did an admirable job of balancing their attack. At times, they’d mount up against the run. Yet they didn’t put their secondary on an island too often as they did against Georgia.
For the first time in a number of years, Tennessee didn’t look woefully overmatched against Alabama. That’s impressive, especially when two freshman offensive linemen were starting their first collegiate games. The Vols didn’t need gimmicks nor trick plays to hang with the Tide. That only raises the bar for the rest of the season. There’s no reason Tennessee can’t win out and finish 8-4 if it can continue Saturday’s performance in future weeks.