Riley Blevins' thoughts
It would be difficult for Tennessee to equal, much less surpass, its defensive performance in a 52-20 downing of Western Kentucky.
The Vols came up with seven turnovers, including five takeaways on six consecutive plays in the first quarter.
The stats are impressive. There's no question about it.
But the real question is: were the turnovers a result of Tennessee playing sound defense or gifts from the Hilltoppers' shaky offense?
It was a mixture.
Dropped passes and poor decision-making ended the game well before the Vols' offense tried its hardest to give it back.
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Whichever way you chalk up Tennessee's defensive performance, there's only one way to view Justin Worley's effort – poor.
Worley eventually found a rhythm, but not before three quarters of pedestrian football. The senior under threw targets and failed to step into throws. Worley wouldn't have completed a pass in the first quarter had Marquez North not haul in a circus catch. The Worley-helmed Vols had 84 yards of offense and four first downs at halftime.
Once more, the offense had to lean on the running game. And once more it delivered. Vols backs rushed for 241 yards. Marlin Lane drew a few "ohhs" and "ahhs" by running over Hilltoppers defenders. Rajion Neal was as sound as ever.
Embattled kicker Michael Palardy appears to have made peace with past demons. The senior connected on a 23-yard field goal and sent kickoff after kickoff deep into the end zone. Vincent Dallas and Jacob Carter handled their newly acquired return duties well. The only blemish – while a big one at that – on special teams was a blocked punt.
Defense — B +
Offense — C+
Special teams — B
Randy Moore's thoughts
When you get outgained 236-84 yards in the first half and still lead 31-17 you know either (A) you're living right or (B) you're extremely lucky. Tennessee was extremely lucky Saturday against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers committed six first-half turnovers that enabled the Vols to grab an early 31-3 lead. Five of the turnovers occurred on six snaps in the first quarter. I've been watching football for half-a-century but I've never seen anything like that.
The Vols should've coasted home after building the 31-3 led but they committed the unpardonable sin by getting a punt blocked that set up an eight-yard WKU touchdown drive just before halftime. Tennessee scored TDs on its first two possessions of the third quarter to go up 45-20, however, and put the game on ice.
Justin Worley completed 11 of 19 passes for 142 yards after a slow start. He lost at least 30 more yards on a perfectly thrown fade that Jason Croom dropped. Marlin Lane ran for 97 yards and Rajion Neal added 74.
The defense forced seven turnovers – two fumbles, five interceptions – but a lot of those were more a discredit to Western Kentucky than a credit to Tennessee. Still, that shows the Vols were usually in position and opportunistic.
Michael Palardy kicked off well, made his only field goal attempt and punted well. The blocked punt wasn't his fault but it's unforgivable.
Defense — A-minus
Offense — B-minus
Special teams — C (two-grade deduction for blocked punt)
Danny Parker's thoughts
It was clear that the 2013 version of Western Kentucky is exponentially better than what the Lane Kiffin-led Volunteers faced in '09. In fact, with Bobby Petrino at the helm, you can make a case that they have the most talented offensive mind in college ball.
So, to beat a foe like the Hilltoppers (who were coming in on a high after beating Kentucky) by 32 points, your making a statement.
Giving up 5 yards a clip to the 'Toppers won't get it done. The Vols must show vast, consistent improvement before they have to tackle elite runners like Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon. Still, picking off five balls (12 all last season) and recovering two fumbles is getting it done. The defensive unit got the 86,783 in the game early and won this football game.
The offensive line stepped up its game in the second half and pushed some people around for Marlin Lane (97 yards) and Rajion Neal (74 yards). I expect to catch poo for saying so, but I will maintain that Justin Worley doesn't have enough qualities lead to this team to victory over elite competition. Worley continues to throw balls late, his deep balls don't have life and if he were more accurate he'd thrown a pick-six toward the end of the first half. I've said these things about Worley since seeing him at Northwestern (S.C.) High School. Perhaps everything clicks for the junior this week because he's in for the challenge of his life with the upcoming stretch.
Although Michael Palardy had a solid day kicking, he was below average punting with the one block, which is unacceptable. In a situation late in the half with your foe down multiple scores, you have to get the kick off extremely quickly and be in max protect. Perhaps both were the planned but neither was executed. Momentums-swinging plays like a punt block cost several teams games.
Defense — B+
Offense — C-
Special teams — C-
Josh Woodward's thoughts
The final score was 52-20, but you take away the turnovers and this is a really close game. The Vols took the opportunity though and cashed in on those seven turnovers and got the win over a well coached Bobby Petrino team.
Offensively the Vols struggled in the first half, but turned it on in the second. Worley has to get better delivering the football and not starring down the receivers. Neal and Lane both ran the ball well, especially in the second half. The offensive line got good push against a much smaller defensive front of Western. Marquez North bailed out Worley on a bad throw and Josh Smith ran good routes and got open. This offense has a long ways to go and next week will tell us a lot about this team.
Defensively I was impressed with the turnovers, the defensive backs and safeties look good, they need to stay healthy this year, because there is definitely a drop off when the ones go out. The defensive front still needs to get more pressure, but Western Kentucky did have a more athletic offensive line. Their right tackle has NFL potential. The linebackers do a good job of tackling and I really like how Brewer is playing.
Probably one of the biggest disappointments of the day was a blocked punt right before the half. You can't have those mistakes and win in the SEC. Palardy's kick offs have been really good and he has punted well. Jacob Carter and Vincent Dallas did well replacing Devrin Young, both caught the ball well and got positive yards.
Defense — B
Offense — B
Special teams — C
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