IT's Take: Rebels follow script, pounds O&W

Get the opinions of the InsideTennessee staff as Tennessee falls to Ole Miss 34-3.

PARKER

Danny Parker's thoughts

The 34-3 outcome for Tennessee in a tough road trip to face No. 3 Mississippi could have been scripted weeks ago.

Defense plays dominant football. Special teams plays well enough. Offense barely moves the chains.

Repeat.

Defense cannot maintain for all four quarters. Tiny mistakes look insurmountable with Vols offense doing next to nothing. Sacks add up. Blowout ensues.

Senior quarterback Justin Worley throwing three interceptions, Evan Berry fumbling a kickoff and two starting Tennessee offensive linemen going out turned the avalanche into a catastrophic event.

As I said last week, Vols fans simply have to accept things as they are about their program. A plus side are that these matchups versus elite teams in tough environments only better a roster that will trot over two dozen of these contributors onto the field in not just 2015 but also 2016 and 2017. Another positive out of it is that, after Alabama, the schedule starts to lighten considerably.

Who will be left standing as Tennessee must win 3 of 4 to be bowl eligible? Toward the end of Saturday night, the Vols had three freshmen on the offensive line and Worley was unable to go.

The more college football I see, the more apparent how different the sport is from its professional version as a mobile quarterback that can move the chains when plays break down is ridiculously valuable. Tennessee had 15 plays where it needed more than 10 yards to move the sticks versus Ole Miss.

Staying on schedule looks near impossible for this team against the type defenses it's been facing.

Moving on, the defense was indeed amazing to watch for a majority of the game. That unit deserves better. A.J. Johnson will be missed but numerous key players scheduled to return, which should have Big Orange Country absolutely pumped about the future on that side.

A solid outing from the specialists was overshadowed by Evan Berry's fumble that the Rebels quickly turned into six. As we mentioned from training camp-on, Berry doesn't possess great ball skills but does have explosive ability. If perhaps the freshman is done fumbling, he skill set is certainly worth continuing to put him back there. Berry seeing time at running back in mid-week practices with assistant coach Robert Gillespie should help him in ball security.

GRADES

Defense — B

Offense — F

Special teams — C

MOORE

Randy Moore's thoughts

Tennessee’s defense played well enough to win. Tennessee’s special teams played well enough to win. Tennessee’s offense should get a game ball from the opponent.

Haven’t we seen this script before?

Yes, we have. Tennessee’s impotent offense wasted another quality effort from the defense and the kicking game in Saturday night’s 34-3 loss at Ole Miss. Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace, who dissected Alabama’s defense earlier this season, completed just 13 of 28 passes against the Vols. Tennessee’s offense couldn’t sustain anything resembling a drive, however, and the Big Orange defense wore down late. After allowing just 17 points in the game’s first 42 minutes, weary Vol defenders allowed 17 more in the game’s final 18 minutes.

Moreover, two of Ole Miss’ four touchdowns were short-field scores following Vol turnovers. A Justin Worley interception set up a 35-yard Rebel TD drive and an Evan Berry fumble on a kickoff return set up a 28-yard Ole Miss march.

Other than the Berry fumble, Tennessee’s special-teams play was excellent. Matt Darr averaged 45.6 yards per punt. Aaron Medley hit his only field-goal try. The punt and kickoff coverage was strong.

Again, the defense and special teams units played well enough to win. But Tennessee’s offense was abysmal, despite superior field position.

The Vols’ second possession began at their 47-yard line. After one first down, however, Worley threw the first of three interceptions. Tennessee got the ball back at its 44-yard line for possession No. 3 but lost three yards on three plays and punted. The Vols’ fifth possession of the game started at the Ole Miss 47-yard line. This time the offense produced a 27-yard Medley field goal for a 3-0 lead. Tennessee’s sixth possession of the game started at its 40 but the Vols promptly recorded a three-and-out. Tennessee’s final possession of the first half saw Worley throw his second pick, setting up the short field for the Rebels’ second TD.

Given the field position Tennessee enjoyed in the first half it should’ve mustered at least a touchdown and a couple of field goals. Instead, the Vols went to the break trailing 14-3. Worley threw another pick in the second half and Berry coughed up his fumble, enabling Ole Miss to pull away.

I feel sorry for Tennessee’s defenders. Those guys are playing championship-caliber football. They just aren’t getting any help from their offensive teammates.

GRADES

Defense — B

Offense — F

Special teams — B

Steven Peake's thoughts

It was the kind of defensive performance that made a 3-0 lead seem good and the kind of an offensive performance that made a 14-3 deficit seem like a blowout.

Looking at the final score, it may not look like the Tennessee defense did much to quiet Bo Wallace and company. The 34 points allowed to Ole Miss is the second most the Vols have given up all season. However, it was again the defense that kept Tennessee in the game. It may have been the most suffocating defense Ole Miss has faced all year, at least for the first half. The Volunteers held Ole Miss to three and out on 6 of the first 7 possessions and just 37 total yards before Ole Miss’ first scoring drive.

Even when faced with one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in Bo Wallace and Laquan Treadwell, the defense continued to play with the swagger that had seen them hold teams to nearly nothing through the air and not much of anything on the ground.

Tennessee had Bo Wallace rushing his throws. Cam Sutton was not allowing Treadwell to get open, minus one time in the 2nd quarter when the star wideout had Sutton beat by 3 or 4 yards. Fortunately for Sutton and Tennessee, Wallace overthrew his man.

The two touchdowns Tennessee gave up came immediately after Ole Miss converted on a third down play and a fourth down play. It was only a matter of time, with Tennessee’s offense unable to extend drives and allow the defense to rest.

The four turnovers, a couple which led to a short field and Ole Miss touchdowns, were just part of the problem with Tennessee offensively. Tennessee’s offense was atrocious on Saturday, flirting with the 253 game streak of not being shutout. The Vols struggled to move the ball in anyway. They tried throwing on first down, double-reverses and getting Worley out of the pocket. Nothing worked against a defense that had only given up six touchdowns all season.

What will be mentioned several times is the lack of a rushing attack in tonight’s loss. That’s putting it kindly. Tennessee carried the ball 28 times without even a single net yard. Jalen Hurd did break one for 17 yards but other than that, the holes were just not there for the freshman.

When Tennessee went to their passing game, things didn't get much better. When Justin Worley didn’t throw the ball to a player wearing blue, the wide receivers dropped the pass. The most notable was a deep ball to the to the usually reliable Marquez North. A play that could have resulted in the Vols getting the ball into the red zone while only trailing by 11. Worley still connected on over 50% of his passes for 191 total yards.

The only positive might have been Jacob Gilliam. The senior playing with a torn ACL, made his incredible comeback tonight. The special teams struggled as well.

Matt Darr’s first punt was assisted by the Ole Miss return man taking a fair catch inside the 5 yard line. After that, Darr had punts go into the end zone and one punt for just 31 yards.

As many fans had hoped, Evan Berry was returning kickoffs tonight. However, we didn’t see anything like his 68-yard return against Chattanooga. Berry coughed the ball up on a return in the third quarter that led to the touchdown that had some of the Volunteer faithful heading for the exits. This doesn’t mean Berry won’t end up being a solid return man. It was just a bad night from the freshman who will look to bounce back next week.

Of course, the special teams needs to be credited for being the only reason Tennessee’s streak of putting at least a point on the board continued.

GRADES

Defense — A

Offense — F

Special teams —C-

WOODWARD

Josh Woodward's thoughts

Offensively, the Vols couldn't handle Ole Miss up front. This has to be the worst offensive line in Tennessee history. When they did block, Justin Worley held the ball too long. You would think they would improve, but that is not the case. It will be just as ugly next weekend in Neyland Stadium when Alabama comes to town.

Defensively I have to tip my hat. This team is playing lights out. Derek Barnett is playing like a first-round draft pick and heck he is only a freshman. Ole Miss was able to pick on freshman Emanuel Moseley, but other than that a solid effort all night from the entire unit.

Special teams was average to me tonight. The fumble by Evan Berry on the kickoff return was costly. Cameron Sutton was bailed out on the muffed punt by a interference call on the catch. If I'm Butch Jones I put Jacob Carter back there and rest Sutton. At this point Sutton is too valuable in his coverage. Matt Darr had a busy night and boomed all but one of his punts. Aaron Medley provided the only points for the Vols; he is likely leading the team in scoring at this point.

GRADES

Defense— B+

Offense—F

Special teams—C

Butch Jones post-game video

Cameron Sutton speaks after the loss

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