With the intra-squad scrimmage just 11 plays old and 14 points already on the scoreboard, you had to wonder:
Was Tennessee's offense that good?
Was Tennessee's defense that bad?
Was it too early to start making snap judgments?
The answers: No, no and yes.
After allowing 56 yards (9.2 per snap) and seven points on its first six plays, the White defense allowed 280 yards (5.8 per snap) and 10 points on 48 subsequent plays. After allowing 75 yards (15.0 per snap) and seven points on its first five plays, the Orange defense allowed just 165 yards (4.1 per snap) and seven more points on 40 subsequent plays.
While many of the 35,421 fans watching from the stands may have been doubting the defenders after the game's first two possessions, their head coach was not.
"I thought they'd settle in a little bit," Derek Dooley said. "That happens sometimes. You're not panicking on the first drive."
The defenders settled down, all right. A sack of Justin Worley by nose tackle Allan Carson short-circuited the Orange's second possession after one first down. The Orange D then forced the White offense into a three-and-out.
Senior linebacker Herman Lathers was pleased with the way defenders bounced back after the shaky start.
"Both teams have special playmakers, and guys are going to make plays," Lathers said. "On this defense, once you give up a play you just have to go on to the next play and forget about what happened. We're doing a good job at that and getting settled in. That's going to help us in the fall."
The next three possessions saw defenders register three turnovers. That was an encouraging development, since Tennessee forced just 18 turnovers in 2011 to finish 10th among 12 SEC teams in the category.
Redshirt freshman safety Geraldo Orta of the White recovered a Tom Smith fumble. Sophomore safety Brian Randolph of the Orange answered by stripping the ball from Da' Rick Rogers and recovering it himself. White linebacker John Propst then capped the turnover spree by picking off a Worley throw over the middle and returning it 25 yards.
The half appeared destined to end 7-7 until the White defense overplayed the pass, enabling Marlin Lane to bolt 39 yards up the gut on the final play of the second quarter to produce a 14-7 Orange lead.
Virtually duplicating his first possession of the game, Tyler Bray drove the White team 70 yards in 11 plays on its opening possession of the second half to tie the score at 14. Shortly after a pass interference call against Orange safety Byron Moore, the Orange defense watched speedy Rajion Neal skirt left end for a 12-yard gain to the 1. He scored on the next play.
The tie was short-lived. Worley converted a fourth-and-three at the White 32-yard line by completing a five-yard pass to walk-on Jacob Carter, and Derrick Brodus booted a 37-yard field goal with 9:04 remaining to give the Orange a 17-14 lead and conclude the game's scoring.
Although Bray finished 14 of 26 for 157 yards and Worley 17 of 26 for 143 yards, the pass defense was reasonably good. What concerned Dooley was the fact the White averaged 4.4 yards per carry (19 rushes, 83 yards) and the Orange averaged 6.5 per attempt (26 rushes, 168 yards).
"I think we're going to have to do some things (schematically) to stop the run," the head man said. "Nobody's really put their hand in the dirt on the defensive line and said, 'We're going to line up and whip your tail on offense.'"
After conceding that Tennessee's offensive line is way ahead of the defensive line in terms of experience, Dooley added, "We've got a lot of work to do to stop the run. We played base defense out there and gave up a lot of yards running the ball. We're going to have a hard time stopping anybody, just lining up and playing seven men in the box."
That means Tennessee's safeties may be very involved in run support this fall. As a result, a key man could be sophomore free safety Randolph, who finished the O&W Game with 4 stops, a tackle for loss, a fumble forced, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
Randolph says the slow start by Vol defenders in the spring game was easily explained, especially when Da'Rick Rogers beat cornerback Justin Coleman for a 51-yard pass play to set up the White's first touchdown.
"It was pretty much jitters," Randolph said. "We bit on a stop-and-go route. I don't think much of it."
Since Tennessee's offense was devoted to developing a physical running game all spring, Vol defenders should benefit from getting so much work stopping the run.
"It helped us a lot," Randolph said. "It's helping us in our run fits, finding what gap we have."
Interestingly enough, defensive backs topped the tackle chart in the O&W Game. Coleman led all tacklers with 9 stops, and fellow cornerback Jaron Toney chipped in 7. Linebacker Propst also had 7 stops. Safety Rod Wilks and cornerback Marsalis Teague added 5 each.
Defensive backs weren't terribly involved in run support last fall but that's about to change.
"A lot of DBs aren't used to being in the run fits from last year, so it's helping us learn the A and B gap and all that stuff," Randolph said. "The safeties and cornerbacks are coming up more in the run fits this year."
To get a look at what Herman Lathers and Marlin Lane had to say following Tennessee's spring game: