IT's Take: Vols offense picks up the defense

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Scott Hall's take

Two weeks ago Tennessee fans were discussing replacements for Mike Debord, begging for the Joshua Dobbs era to give way to Quinten Dormady, and the program was in disarray with Jalen Hurd leaving town like Bobby Petrino at midnight. On Saturday, Vols fans realized all is well with this offense.

The Vols dominated the game offensively and nearly missed having three different 100-yard rushers. Dobbs delivered a number of beautiful passes downfield as the wide receivers continue to have a stellar year, especially Josh Malone.

It was not a surprise that Chance Hall was out with an injury but it was a shocker what lineup started in his absence. The surprise was Coleman Thomas at right guard with Brett Kendrick and Drew Richmond at the tackles. Center Dylan Wiesman left early in the contest, which forced Jack Jones in at right guard while Thomas replaced Wiesman and all the moves made proved to work wonderfully as the Vols had their best rushing effort of the year and astoundingly averaged over 10 yards per play.

Defensively it was a mixed bag as the ‘Cats ran up and down the field. Once again the Bob Shoop defense wasn't able to stop the opponent at the start of the game. However, after giving up the opening-drive touchdown, the defense was able to play well within the red zone, forcing the visitors to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

Special teams had their share of troubles and the Vols a sorely missed Evan Berry on kickoff return, which put Tennessee in poor field position a number of times. There also was a fumble by Josh Smith on a punt return. Another check in the negative department was the Vols failed to recover an on-side kick late in the fourth quarter.

Overall this clearly was a game that was won by Joshua Dobbs and the offense. A far cry from just two weeks ago.

Grades

Offense: A+

Defense: D

Special team: C-

Danny Parker's take

Tennessee came back from two deficits, scored in every quarter and came 6 yards shy of having three runners go over the century mark in a 49-36 win over Kentucky.

This one wasn’t as close as the score suggests and that’s not bad considering the Wildcats will finish no worse than third in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division standings.

Tennessee got its seventh win. Remember when a seventh win would have been a dream come true for this program? That was barely a hot minute ago. It also kept pace in the race to Atlanta as Florida took care of South Carolina 20-7.

Joshua Dobbs was too much for Mark Stoops’ defense, again, accounting for five total touchdowns. The quarterback was 11-of-17 passing for 223 yards and a net of 147 rushing yards on 14 attempts. That gives the senior four victories versus the Wildcats, and they’re sure to be glad to see Dobbs moving on.

In the Eagles Ridge Resort Game Prediction Contest, was off by a single reception as Josh Malone caught four balls, gaining 92 yards, including a 51-yard score.

Bob Shoop’s defense totaled nine tackles for loss, six pass breakups and held the visitors to 6-of-17 on third downs. However, surrendering 443 rushing yards is beyond bad. Does Shoop get a pass with six defensive tackles being unavailable? That’s certainly a factor. But, five Wildcats ran for 72 yards or more and their total offense output of 635 yards was the seventh-highest in school history.

Safeties Micah Abernathy (9 solo) and Todd Kelly Jr. (6 solo) were two of Tennessee’s leading tacklers and combined for 17 stops. Senior defensive end Corey Vereen stepped up with five tackles and two sacks. Derek Barnett got his 30th career sack, which puts him two behind a tie with the late Reggie White all-time.

Trevor Daniel got into a couple punts, launching a long of 56 with a four-attempt average of 48.8 yards. Half of Aaron Medley’s eight kickoffs went for touchbacks. The return game was not on point with the longest attempt on kickoffs going for 22 yards and Josh Smith fumbling a punt. The absence of All-SEC returners Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton is evident. Not recovering an on-side kick is th same as a turnover, too.

Butch Jones kept almost every starter in on both sides of the football while up 20 points with less than three minutes to play. That confused me, especially given the injury concerns, but I’m not the fella earning $4 million-plus to coach.

Grades

Offense: A

Defense: C-

Special teams: D+

Jesse Smithey's take

Tennessee stayed in the SEC East chase Saturday with a 49-36 win against Kentucky, thanks to a strong run game. But the Vols’ defense did everything it could to make sure Kentucky’s rush attack looked every bit as stout — if not better.

Tennessee ran for 376 yards against the Wildcats. Kentucky ran for 443.

It was the Anti-Bama/LSU game.

Quarterback Josh Dobbs set the Tennessee career record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27. Jimmy Streater set the former mark with 25. Dobbs rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries Saturday while completing 11 of 17 passes for 223 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

I was actually OK with his pick, since it meant Tennessee was being aggressive offensively near the end of the first half – instead of the Vols’ normal conservative behavior in that time frame.

The returns of running back Alvin Kamara (knee) and defensive back Cam Sutton (ankle) from the injured list also galvanized Tennessee. Sutton set the Vols’ career record for pass breakups by adding two to his total before the half.

Kamara wound up with 128 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.

Budding young tailback John Kelly got fewer carries than I would have liked through the first three quarters. Still, he made good on his ample late runs and finished with 94 yards on 16 carries.

The resurfacing of Josh Smith and Ethan Wolf was a definite plus. Smith’s 24-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was his first scoring grab of the season. Wolf had four catches for 44 yards, and his 10-yard touchdown catch with 2:53 left in the second quarter gave the Vols a 21-13 lead. Wolf hadn’t caught a touchdown pass since the Florida win.

But Tennessee showed no ability to stop the run, allowing 8.1 yards per carry. It gave up a two-play, 85-yard scoring drive just 2 minutes into the first quarter. That foreshadowed what was to come. It then struggled to stop an antiquated Wildcat formation. And it allowed 194 ground yards before the break.

As for the small positives on defense, Corey Vereen notched two sacks, giving him four over the last three games. Derek Barnett got a sack late, leaving him two shy of tying Reggie White’s career sack record at Tennessee. And a forced fumble inside the 10 by Stephen Griffin prevented a Kentucky score with 5:41 left in the third.

The Vols capitalized on the turnover in six plays and 96 yards and took a commanding 35-16 lead via a Kamar 17-yard run.

Offensive coordinator Mike Debord showed a smidgen of creativity, using Jauan Jennings in the wildcat formation in the first half for a modest 7-yard gain and calling a 51-yard, flea-flicker touchdown pass from Dobbs to Josh Malone in the third quarter. I bet we see Jennings throw in the next game or two.

Special teams? Well, the kick-return game was non-existent without injured star-return specialist Evan Berry. Smith’s fumbled punt return didn’t help matters much. But Trevor Daniel averaged 48.8 yards per punt, and Aaron Medley made all seven PATs.

Tennessee can still get to Atlanta if Florida falters. I just shudder to think what Tennessee's defense will surrender again to Alabama if the Vols get the rematch.

Grades

Offense: A

Defense: D

Special teams: C

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