Danny Parker's thoughts
What's not to like?
Haven't seen a Tennessee quarterback utilize his weapons since 2012 the way Justin Worley did tonight and haven't seen a Vols defense fly to the football as it did against Utah State since...maybe 2006.
Second-year coach Butch Jones seemed quite pleased in speaking to the media in the post-game press conference. So, I'd say we share a similar opinion on the action Sunday night.
From a 7-yard run by freshman Jalen Hurd on third-and-five on Tennessee's second drive that extended a series that resulted in Alton Howard's 8-yard touchdown to the defense pitching a shutout for over three quarters versus a team with a Heisman contender, this team hit on all cylinders until throwing it in cruise control the final quarter.
Seeing Jalen Reeves-Maybin (10) and A.J. Johnson (9) lead the Volunteers in tackles tells me the defensive line did a plenty solid job of keeping Aggies blockers out of the second level and the 'backers running down ball carriers.
Although his half-back pass to Devrin Young was underthrown, the way Alton Howard competed and accentuated the point of attack after catching passes was extremely impressive. Jason Croom wasn't atop the stats sheet, but he had drive-extending catches.
Aside from Aaron Medley's 41-yard field-goal miss that I caught with my left arm, the special teams units did a job.
Utah State signal-caller Chuckie Keeton was harassed often and completed just 51-percent of his tosses and was picked by Johnson and Cameron Sutton. The Aggies did average over 4 yards per carry but JoJo Natson's 38-yard attempt skewed those numbers slightly.
If I was told Tennessee would take this one 2-0 before kickoff, I'd say everything orange would be perfectly fine with that. Taking it by 31...paint me impressed.
Offense — B-
Special teams — B
Randy Moore's thoughts
Justin Worley did what a senior quarterback is supposed to do in Tennessee’s opener: He made good decisions and provided good leadership. He completed 13 passes in a row at one stretch and finished 27 of 38 for 273 yards and three TDs. He kept the chains moving when his O-line gave him decent protection.
Speaking of the O-line, it looked awful at times but decent at other times. The blocking was good enough to beat Utah State but it must improve significantly before Game 3 at Oklahoma.
Pig Howard dropped a pass but caught six others. His fellow wideouts looked good. I believe they’re going to live up to the hype everyone (including yours truly) gave them during the preseason. As for freshman tight end Ethan Wolf, he’s going to be a stud … and soon. Running backs Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane were unproductive but that’s more on the O-line than the rushers.
I thought the defense looked terrific. I knew it would be significantly quicker this fall but I didn’t know if it could hold up against the downhill run. It did. It also made Chuckie Keeton look like Chuck E Cheese. He completed just 18 of 35 passes for 144 yards and managed just 12 net rushing yards on eight carries. That's a quality day's work right there.
A.J. Johnson = Beast. He made a fumble-causing hit to set up Tennessee’s second TD, made a great third-down tackle on Chuckie Keeton to stop a first-half drive, then made his first career interception in the fourth quarter.
Special teams contributed, too. Johnson’s afore-mentioned fumble-causing hit came on a kickoff. Freshman Aaron Medley bounced back after badly missing his first college field-goal try to nail a 36-yarder. Matt Darr punted way better than he has previously.
All in all, it was a pretty impressive debut.
Special teams — A-
Offensively improvement is needed at the offensive line, false starts killed momentum a few times. Only averaging 2.8 yards a carry won't get it done against SEC squads, but Hurd made a big boy move on his touchdown. Wide Receiver is a different story, the Big Orange looked outstanding at receiver. Josh Smith looked great as did Marquez North. Pig Howard had a couple of drops, but played well other than that. Justin Worley made some good throws and didn't have any interceptions. I can't forget the tight ends, they looked real good and will help this team win some gains this year.
Defensively this was the most prepared I have seen a Tennessee defense in a long time. Jalen Reeves-Maybin added an element of speed to the linebacker position, he lead the team with 10 tackles. A.J. Johnson was all over the field, he played at a very high level. I was really impressed with Cameron Sutton, he is as good of corner I have seen at Tennessee is a long time. Derek Barnett is going to be a special player at Tennessee. I also like the pressure that Chris Weatherd brought to the defense when he was on the field. Overall great performed by the Tennessee defense.
Special Teams was was a big question mark coming into tonight. I believe they answered some questions. Aaron Medley missed that field goal, but came back and made a nice 36 yard field goal from the right hash. Matt Darr had some good punts, but could improve on his short field punting. Coverage teams force a fumble and set up the second touchdown, the speed they have recruited really shows up on special teams. Overall quality job by the special teams.
Defense — A+
Special teams — B