Vols Make the Grade In Debut

Not all of Tennessee's ills were cured in the season opener against Fresno State, but there were plenty of signs the Vols are well on their way to recovery. Here's the scores as awarded by Inside Tennessee to the individual units and overall totals. Grades are awarded on a scale of 1 to 100.

OFFENSIVE LINE: This was the offensive line Tennessee was expecting in 2002 that never came together because of injuries and uncertainty. The Vols got off the ball together and carried out their assignments with gusto. Michael Munoz and Scott Well were particularly effective and Chavis Smith played his best game since the 2001 victory over Florida. There were a few blitzes that weren't picked up but 274 rushing yards speaks for itself GRADE: 92

BACKS: On a day when the Vols came out in the retro white shoes, Tennessee's trio of tailbacks Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis and Gerald Riggs looked like other awesome UT threesomes — James Stewart, Charlie Garner and James Hayden, or Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry and Travis Stephens. The tailbacks hit holes with abandon and ripped off big gains with regularity. Fullbacks Troy Fleming and Will Revill provided some outstanding lead blocks, an area of play that was a concern coming into the season. Tailbacks might have got in a hurry once they popped the line of scrimmage and didn't set up down field blocks a few times, but that's erring on the side of aggression which is hard to fault. GRADE: 90

RECEIVERS: James Banks made his presence felt from the outset of the contest and scored Tennessee's first touchdown of the season. Despite his inexperience at receiver, Banks is a rare athlete with a gift for grab. His catch down the sideline in full stride with one foot in bounds and fully stretched was a thing of beauty. Tony Brown made an outstanding touchdown catch during a very active second half. Mark Jones started and looked like a natural pass catcher, but his reps on defense kept him from being more involved on offense. There was miscommunication on several routes, but not any dropped passes. This unit will only get better as the year progresses, especially as Jayson Swain and Bret Smith begin to produce. Overall a very good debut and a sound performance. GRADE: 84

QUARTERBACK: This wasn't Casey Clausen's finest hour. The senior threw a pair of interceptions and fumbled a snap exchange deep in Tennessee territory. He also hurried a few passes, forced a few and made a couple of poor choices with passes, such as, throwing to Fleming out of the backfield on a third down near the end of the first half, when the fullback was in no position to pick up a first down. He's still developing timing with and confidence in his receivers. Overall not the type of performance Tennessee expects or needs from a seasoned veteran. GRADE: 59

OFFENSE: Clausen brings down this average but the work of the O-line, tailbacks and receivers balance the ledger. GRADE: 80

DEFENSIVE LINE: This was and remains an area of concern. Fresno State's young line wasn't able to test the Vols defensive front, but Tennessee is clearly stronger here than most believed. Greg Jones and Mondre Dickerson were quick off the ball and made significant penetration in the middle. More importantly, they kept the Bulldogs guards off UT's linebackers and helped create blitz lanes. Certainly both starting defensive tackles have the size and strength to anchor the interior and Jones was especially effective in pursuit. The addition of LaRon Harris and the return of Justin Harrell will fortify a group that already looks strong. Constantine Ritzmann came off the edge for a sack and looked good in his first live action in a year. Parys Haralson is a special talent who will greatly upgrade the Vols pass rush this season. GRADE: 83

LINEBACKERS: Talk about turning back the clock. Tennessee's linebackers were as conspicuous by their presence as any group in one game since 1969 when Jack Reynolds, Steve Kiner and Jackie Walker ran roughshod over the Crimson Tide in a 41-14 victory. No they didn't force a turnover or score a defensive touchdown but the California Kevins (Burnett and Simon) pressured the passer, blew up runs, ran down receivers and forced Fresno's pro style offense back on its heels. They also exhibited the speed and quickness of defensive backs and the wallop of middle linebackers. In addition to remarkable talent Burnett and Simon demonstrated superb instincts. Solid outing by Robert Peace. Deduct two points for Burnett's failure to recover a fumble he had in his hands. GRADE: 97

SECONDARY: Tennessee did a good job of shutting down super receiver Bernard Berrain and was around the football most of the day. The lack of a running game, the presence of a back-up QB and the constant pressure provided by the front seven made things easier for Vol DBs. However it was still a good outing with the exception of one breakdown that allow the Bulldogs to get their biggest gain of the game. Antwan Stewart also dropped an interception. GRADE: 85.

DEFENSE: When you hold a team to minus yardage rushing and four total first downs it's hard to complain. The failure to force a turnover is the primary concern. GRADE: 92

SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the more disappointing areas of play that should improve dramatically. James Wilhoit won't miss many 30-yard field goals once he acclimates to the distractions of the game. Phillip Newman had a couple of poor kicks that resulted in Ryan Fusco entering the contest and performing well in that role. The Vols nearly had a punt blocked and had a couple of breakdowns on kick coverage. GRADE: 62.

OVERALL: The team appeared to be well prepared and highly motivated. The game plan came directly from Phillip Fulmer Football Philosophy 101 which is fundamentally sound and very physical. It was very well executed with the exception of the passing game. John Chavis finally had a fully loaded weapon on defense and he used it splendidly. GRADE: 88


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