Did Vols Make Grade against Duke?

Here's the top to bottom ratings for Tennessee's game vs. Alabama. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are winning marks. Grades of 60-69 are minimum to a winning effort against unranked teams. Any grade below 60 is considered failing.

SPECIAL TEAMS: (94) For three quarters of Saturday's homecoming contest against Duke (2-7), the only offensive weapons the Vols had were punter Dustin Colquitt, who averaged 49 yards on five punts with three inside Duke's 20, and James Wilhoit, who was three of three on field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards, plus he put five of six kickoffs into the end zone. Wilhoit accounted for Tennessee's 9-3 lead entering the final quarter of play and Colquitt helped compensate for UT's anemic offensive attack. Troy Fleming caused a fumble on one of Duke's punt returns and Corey Larkins recovered. The turnover was only the third fumble the Vols have recovered this season. It led to a Tennessee touchdown and secured a game that was far too close for comfort. Mark Jones added a 23-yard punt return. The only negative was kickoff coverage, a weak link for Tennessee's special teams all season, that allowed Duke Senterrio Landrum a 46-yard return from his own end zone.

LINEBACKERS: (90) Tennessee's starting trio of Kevin Simon, Kevin Burnett and Robert Peace were active, aggressive and productive, combining for 23 total tackles (18 solo). Peace and Burnett had one tackle each behind the line and Simon paced the Vols with nine tackles (eight solo). UT's defense is far from dominating and may still be a notch below solid, but the linebackers have been consistent and conspicious by their presence around the football. Considering that all three were recovering from offseason surgeries that caused them to miss most of the 2002 campaign and all of spring practice, their performance has been remarkable. Omar Gaither recorded a pair of tackles, as the sophomore continues to improve and gives UT quality depth at the outside backer positions. It appears Jason Mitchell has taken a step back this season after coming on strong in 2002 as a redshirt freshman. Based on his 42 tackles last season, Mitchell, who has 4.45 speed and can played either outside linebacker position, would figure to have pushed this year's starters for playing time if not a starting position. He finished with one assist against Duke.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (82) Tennessee gave up too many rushing yards again and allowed another back, Chris Douglas (29 carries for 128 yards), to break the century mark. That's the sixth runner in the last five games that an opponent has accomplished that feat against a defense that is designed to stop the run first. But UT's D-line got tough around the goal line and kept Duke out of the end zone which is an achievement against any opponent. Mondre Dickerson is turning skeptics into supporters as he's raised his game to a new level the last two weeks. Dickerson had six tackle (five solo) and a sack for minus nine yards. J.T.Mapu exited early with a wrist injury, but Tennessee's tackles managed to hold their own. Defensive end Parys Haralson had one of his best overall games with seven tackles (six solo) and a pair of stops behind the line fo scrimmage. Ritzmann is making progress from knee surgery but still doesn't appear 100 percent. However in fairness, the fifth-year senior only had four starts at defensive end in three years before this one. No Justin Harrell sightings Saturday, and Greg Jones' playing time is in a steady state of decline since he lost starting job to the irrespressible Mapu.

Quarterback: (79) Casey Clausen continues to have his critics in keeping with the concept: "the quarterback gets too much credit when his team wins and too much blame when it loses." This game was definitely a step down from his brillant performace in the last two minutes and ensuing five overtimes of the Alabama game. However, he didn't get much help from his receivers, who dropped several passes, and the offensive line missed a couple of blitzes that were turned into sacks. He hit 16-of-27 attempts for 208 yards — including completions of 40 and 42 yards — and a touchdown. The offense was just good enough to beat Duke, and you have to wonder if Tennessee is getting into the best play most of the time when the Vols go three quarters without scoring a touchdown against the worst team in the ACC. Vols were also only four of 12 in third down conversions. On the positive side: since UT had three first quarter turnovers against Alabama, it has gone seven quarters and five overtimes without another. And the Vols were four of four in the red zone. As it all relates to Clausen, I would pose one question: if Tennessee's offense is sputtering with Clausen at the wheel where would it be without him? For that matter, who is the No. 2 QB?

RUNNING BACKS: (75) It's hard to fault UT's 31 carries for 147 yards (a 4.7 average), or Jabari Davis' 113 yards in 17 carries (a 6.6 yard average), or Gerald Riggs 31 yards and a touchdown in five carries. But overall the Vols failed to control the line of scrimmage, move the ball with consistency or put points on the board. Houston sat this one out with an ankle injury, the fifth game in the last season and a half he's been sidelined by injury, which raises further concerns about his durability. Davis is a big power runner with outstanding straight line speed and a north-south disposition, but he lacks the open field moves or vision to break big plays. Riggs has seen so little playing time since he arrived last fall as the nation's No. 2 high school running back, that it's hard to make a fair evaluation where he's concerned. Academics and have kept him in the coaching staff's dog house and he may not be an adept pass protector, so it's understandable that the Vols braintrust is taking a wait-and-see approach with him. With that qualification out of the way, it may well be that Riggs' best chance of becoming inspired may come from signifciant playing time. Ironically, it might also be Tennessee's best chance of finding it's rushing attack this season.

SECONDARY: (70) Duke didn't really challenge the Vols through the air (12 of 21 for 119 yards), but it did move the sticks and made key completions to keep drives going and the clock moving. No interceptions and only three break-ups, but UT's lack of a pass rush limited the opportunity for INTs. Starting safeties Gibril Wilson and Corey Campbell combined for 17 stops (13 solo) while corners Jabari Greer and Jason Allen had four and three tackles respectively.

OFFENSIVE LINE: (65) The offensive line had another mediorce game against a less that stellar opponent. There was the usual list of offenses from blown assignments to missed blocks to drive-halting penalties. Tennessee hasn't taken control of the line of scrimmage with the ground game since the second half against Florida. Consider that Tennessee's longest drive against Duke consumed 3:21 of the clock and it's easy to understand why the Vols have lost the time of possession battle in five straight games, which has placed an even greater burden on inexperienced defensive line. Tennessee's starting five consists of two fifth-year seniors, another true senior, a fourth-year junior and a sophomore. Two of the offensive linemen are team captains and the O-line has 13 seasons of starting experience, but it hasn't demonstrated the cohension or production of a seasoned unit.

RECEIVERS: (59) This much scrutinized unit didn't build on it's courageous effort against Alabama and had a very uneven performance against a Duke team that was suppose to be weak in the secondary. This appeared to be a contest where the Vol wideouts could physically overmatch the DBs, but it never really happened. Too many drops, too much miscommunication on route adjustments and not enough clutch catches. Mark Jones was limited, but sill caught two passes for 37 yards. Awaiting on the arrival of Jason Swain.

OVERALL: (75) How much can you really complain about a win in which the defense didn't surrender a touchdown and turned in a couple of remarkable goal-line stands? The concern is that the Vols are still unable to run or stop the run consistently and if you can't do either one you have to have luck to win. Against a good team luck might not be enough. When you add in the hidden yards of plus-[43 on returns and plus-58 on penalties, Duke actually outgained Tennessee 400 to 355.


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