Rating Tennessee's Performance vs. Marshall

A hard fought victory over Marshall isn't what Tennessee fans wanted but it may be exactly what the Vols needed before taking on the Gators in Gainesville. Here are the top to bottom ratings of each Tennessee unit based on Saturday's performance.

LINEBACKERS (96): Kevin Burnett, Kevin Simon and Robert Peace combined for 22 tackles and four sacks, displaying they type of athleticism and instincts needed to disrupt offensive timing and flow. Considering all three starters were coming back off serious injuries that required surgery, their performance to this point in the campaign has been nothing short of remarkable. Good support from backups Marvin Mitchell, Jason Mitchell and Omar Gaither makes this Tennessee's strongest unit. Add high school All American Daniel Brooks to the mix and the talent quotient rates with the nation's best.

RUNNING BACKS (93): Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis and Troy Fleming give Tennessee it's best backfield since Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry and Travis Stephens in 1998. Add Gerald Riggs at tailback and Will Revill at fullback to the arsenal and Tennessee has outstanding depth. Houston is approaching the pinnacle of his craft as demonstrated by this second straight 160 yard rushing performance. Bonus points for his incredible dive to the pylon from the just outside the 5 yard-line while fighting off defenders and maintaining his balance along the boundary. He was marked out at the nine, but it didn't detract from his awesome effort. Davis averaged 7.6 yards on eight carries and vaulted into the end zone from the 2. Vols still looking for that change of pace back who can also catch passes out of the backfield. Fleming, who had three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown and was solid as a lead blocker, appears to be playing the best football of his career after last season's disappointing performance.

QUARTERBACK (92): Casey Clausen overcame a slow start and a poor decision on interception to light up Marshall in the last 30:26 of game action. Demonstrated rare touch on the deep routes and could have finished the game with five TD passes if not for a drop by Mark Jones and alleged drop by freshman Jayson Swain. Overall Clausen was sharper than at any point since his sterling effort in the Citrus Bowl victory over Michigan in 2002. He also picked up 16 yards and a first down running the ball. Marshall head coach Bob Pruett went out of his way to say his junior quarterback Stan Hill was the best QB on the field. He didn't mention that Hill was throwing to the NCAA active leader in catches, yardage and touchdowns in Darius Watts, or that he had another 1,000-yard veteran pass catcher in Josh Davis, or that he had an NFL quality tight end to throw to in Jason Rader. Clausen was primarily throwing to three receivers (James Banks, Mark Jones and Jayson Swain) who had never caught a pass in a college game until last week's season opener. Tennessee's tight end Victor McClure is a 290-pound converted tackle who has never caught a pass. No doubt, Hill is a solid quarterback but it's hard to compare someone starting his fourth game to someone starting his fourth season. Deduct points for Hill injuring himself chest bumping one of his offensive linemen while celebrating. Additionally, any QB that gets sacked six times is hardly an artful dodger and most of his 242 passing yards came after the catch.

OFFENSIVE LINE (91): O-line is coming on strong. Paved the way for a balanced attack that eclipsed the 200-yard mark on the ground and through the air. Adjusted very well to the compressed defensive alignment designed to shut down the run unlike last year when such looks created mass confusion. Allowed a couple of sacks, one of which was a coverage sack, that resulted in only six lost yards. The tests in terms of defensive fronts will get a lot tougher.

RECEIVERS (86): Despite a lack of experience this group is coming on like gangbusters. Banks caught another touchdown pass on a slant and exhibited uncommon explosion after the catch in splitting a pair of Marshall defenders. A bigger, stronger Tony Brown has improved vastly and made a clutch TD catch just before the half. Jayson Swain will be a star in the mode of a Sterling Sharpe with his combination of size, strength and speed. Although a great athlete, Swain is also a true football player with all the requisite instincts and competitive desire that define that term. Mark Jones had a couple of drops and may be having difficulty adjusting to multiple roles.

SPECIAL TEAMS (82): Separating the diverse duties this category encompasses isn't easy. For instance: Dustin Colquitt might merit a score of 100 for averaging over 50 yards on four punts and pinning Marshall up inside its own 10 yard-line twice. Freshman James Wilhoit also deserves high marks for kicking a pair of clutch fourth quarter field goals and handling kick off duties splendidly after taking over in the second half. Tennessee kickers struggled on three first half kickoffs and kick coverage wasn't a bright spot overall. Rashad Baker made a critical 35-yard punt return that set up Tennessee's touchdown just before the half, but Corey Larkin isn't aggressive enough hitting the wedge on kickoffs. Kicking game has potential to be one of the nation's best.

SECONDARY (71): Tennessee had trouble in coverage but Marshall had outstanding receivers and UT's defensive scheme put the corners in mostly man coverage to free linebackers up to blitz. Baker got out of position on Davis' 65-yard touchdown, but Marshall caused more of the problems with its solid execution. Jabari Greer had eight tackles from his corner. Antwan Stewart's lack of experience is evident at the other corner. Tennessee needs to develop Brandon Johnson or Jason Allen to take over some of the man coverage duties in order to get better physical match ups against big receivers. Gibril Wilson does some of that on occasion but was suffering from an ankle injury and couldn't go long against Marshall.

DEFENSIVE LINE (58): This has been the biggest area of concern for Tennessee which is replacing four starters in the trenches for the second straight season and has no battle-tested veterans to call upon. Defensive tackles are getting little push in the middle and are also losing position, opening running opportunities for quarterbacks forced out of the pocket from the edge. When Vols go with 3-4 they have no D-lineman capable of anchoring front at nose tackle. Defensive end Constantin Ritzmann is losing backside containment too often with over pursuit and was burned on a reverse. Ritzmann is also having problems when locked up one-on-one with big tackles, although he has outstanding speed as a pass rusher off the edge. Jason Hall saw a lot of duty against Marshall in relief of Ritzmann and flashed potential. At the other end, Karlton Neal is consistent but not spectacular while backup Parys Harralson is spectacular but not consistent. Starting defensive tackles Mondre Dickerson and Greg Jones combined for just three assists and no solo stops vs. Marshall. Matt McGlothin often appears overmatched inside and Jonathan Mapu is still making the adjustment to tackle. Likewise, true freshman Tony McDaniel is an impressive physical specimen who lacks experience and technique. LaRon Harris still hasn't been deemed ready for action and heralded redshirt freshman Justin Harrell is still on the shelf with injury. Someone from this group will need to step up as the Vols competition gets tougher.


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