After a lackluster practice by the Vols on Friday, coach Derek Dooley was elated with the results of Saturday's workout, which he called one of the best in his tenure.
"It was a good scrimmage," said Dooley, whose post-scrimmage tone paralleled his comments. "I was real pleased with the attitude, the competitiveness, the toughness and effort that the players were playing with. That was a good thing to see. We had guys on both sides of the ball making plays."
And while all the preseason hype has centered around the Vol receiving attack, it was the running game that took center stage in the scrimmage, anchored by tailback Rajion Neal, who carried the ball nine times totaling 134 yards and one touchdown, with no fumbles.
"The offense did a really good job running that football today and that was good to see — made a lot of big plays running the football," Dooley said. "I felt like the defense did a pretty good job preventing the big plays in the pass game. Even though we threw the ball pretty decently we didn't generate the yards per attempt that we are trying to get."
Along with Neal's success, freshman tailback Quenshaun Watson added 60 yards and one touchdown, Marlin Lane had eight carries for 34 yards and Devrin Young racked up 36 yards and one touchdown on seven carries.
The Orange & White set themselves up for a big day from the beginning according to the head coach, who saw a fire in his players' eyes from the jump.
"It was one of our better scrimmages from a (competitive) standpoint," Dooley said. "What I could tell was when we got on the buses — there wasn't a word being said. That was good. They were locked in and they were treating it like a game."
Another bright spot was placekicker Michael Palardy's ability to put it through the posts, as the junior went 4-4 (37, 35, 31, 48). The latter coming in the clutch when the Vols finished off a two-minute drive at the end of regulation.
"We had a good situation at the end where we did a good job in two-minute and kicked a field goal to win the game," Dooley said. "Palardy hit a about a 48-yarder with no time on the clock to win the game. He kicked it really well today."
On the other hand, Palardy's competition looked to be just the opposite. Freshman George Bullock only connected on 1 of 3 (35) field goals missing from 33 yards wide left and from 41 yards wide right . Punter Matt Darr tried his hand at the passing game on what was sure to be a fake punt going 1-1 for 2 yards.
Defensive leaders on the day were A.J. Johnson with 10 tackles, including one tackle for loss; Curt Maggitt with 10 tackles and Brian Randolph with seven tackles. Jordan Williams, Channing Fugate, Corey Miller and Rod Wilks all chipped in with a sack apiece, while Naz Oliver collected the only turnover of the day returning a Nathan Peterman interception 32 yards.
See what else Dooley had to say after the scrimmage in Johnson City in this video: