Stokes’ Stance: The Day After
45-0 is a great way to start the season for Team 117. Butch Jones and his Vols dominated in most every facet of the game Saturday, though it was hardly a perfect performance. Even though mistakes were made, and I will talk about that in this article, there were some perfect moments and the stat sheet reflects that. I will say this, as a fan and a member of the Knoxville sports media I am proud of the work this team has put in during fall camp and a lot of that showed during their victory over Austin Peay. Albeit a much lesser opponent than Tennessee, the Governors were able to challenge the new look Vols in a couple of different areas. Let’s start with the perfect.
Zero to One Hundred means a couple of different things for Saturday. First of all, the pace of the offense was 0-100 in very little time. I was impressed with the execution of 1′s on the offensive side of the ball. Worley did a very good job in commanding this offense while he was in as I noted in my halt-time thoughts. The running backs also accelerated 0-100 better than they have since arriving on campus, specifically Neal and Lane.
For the purposes of this section, the zero speaks to the number of penalty flags thrown against the Vols Saturday. ZERO! I think the last time a Volunteer football team played a perfectly clean game from a yellow flag standpoint was 2007. When asked if he could remember a game he was a part of as a head coach at his other two stops (Central Michigan and Cincinnati) where a team was penalty free, particularly in the opening game, Coach Butch Jones said that he could not. That speaks to the attention to detail that this team and staff have put into fall camp. By paying so much attention to the little things in the spring, summer & training camp; this team was able to play penalty free at the pace they wanted and during their very first game with this staff to boot. I was very impressed by that and if they can keep up similar performances, yes I know there will be penalties, they will be able to keep themselves in games because they will not be shooting themselves in the foot.
The 100 stands for the offense’s percentage in the redzone. Six times the Big Orange O made it to the redzone and six times the Big Orange O scored. The goal of every team is to be perfect in the redzone. This team was that and they should be proud of that fact. 100 also stands for the percentage that much maligned do-it-all kick Michael Palardy hit on for his extra points and field goals. He did not miss a kick and looked like a completely different guy Saturday. Obviously there was no real pressure on him Saturday, but even against lesser competition he has struggled. So kudos to Palardy for handling all of the kicking duties very well.
Since Dave Hooker has talked a lot about the offense in his pieces, I’ll take the defense. Defensively, the starters looked very good. There was pressure on the QB, very few holes in the secondary and they sealed the edge very well. They played fast and lived up to their moniker BIG ORANGE SWARM. What worries me is when they have to rotate in the backups. The 2′s and 3′s were less than stellar against a less than stellar Austin Peay football team. Depth is a huge concern for Team 117 as we at TSR have been saying for weeks. The starters will be able to hold their own, but once the toll of the season really starts to take effect, watch out. There was some promise though. True freshman corner Malik Foreman was picked on quite a bit when he was in the game but kept a very level head and ended up bouncing back with an interception late in the game. Basically, all of the big problems that plagued the defense last season reared their ugly heads when the backups came into the game. This will have to be fixed if Team 117 wants to compete with the more talented teams in the SEC. Regardless of the second team struggles, Austin Peay was only able to muster 211 offensive yards with only 79 coming on the ground.
Austin Peay wasn’t much of an opponent but they did pose a couple of problems for the Vols. Their receivers were all very tall and the starters in the Vols secondary did a good job in coverage against them. They also created a turnover and a quick change situation for the defense and Tennessee responded well. I walked away from Saturday feeling confident and concerned at the same time. Is this team as bad as some “experts” may think? Not at all. Is it as good as some fans think? Not even close. The problems are mostly in the overall depth, but also in the timing of starting QB Justin Worley and the receivers. Worley will HAVE to lead receivers with his passes or he will thrown a lot of incomplete passes, interceptions & not be able to take advantage of this receiving corps ability to make plays after the catch. The offensive line also needs to continue to work towards being more aggressive in run-blocking in guaranteed running situations. They starters were stuffed twice on consecutive plays at the goal-line. That is very unacceptable against Austin Peay.
I firmly believe this is a bowl team if it remains relatively healthy, but a couple of key injuries could derail that in a hurry. I can’t wait to see this defense with Jacques Smith and Cory Vereen healthy. There were 18 total freshmen, combined true and redshirt, that played in this game. The future is bright as long as recruiting keeps up, but this team needs help in depth and hopefully will stay healthy for 2013. Now they have a tougher task in Western Kentucky coming into Neyland this weekend.