Vols Score High Marks in Rout of MSU

Here's the top to bottom ratings for Tennessee's game vs. Mississippi State. 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.

QUARTERBACK: (98) This was three quarters of classic Casey Clausen, as the Vols senior signal caller exhibited what he can do when given open receivers and time to throw. Sure Mississippi State didn't offer the stiffest competition, but when pressured Clausen stepped up in the pocket and propelled pinpoint passes. He connected on 20-of-33 passes for 330 yards and five touchdowns. Moreover, he displayed the deft touch that makes him a deadly passer, hitting a go route, wheel route, slant and fade for touchdowns. He also rolled out and found James Banks on a drag route for a 50-yard gain. Clausen had complete control of the offense and was fully in his element playing pitch and catch — going through his progressions like a seasoned pro and dropping passes into crevices in coverage. Clausen gave his fans a performance to remember in his next to last game at Neyland Stadium and answered critics who have frequently questioned his talent. C.J. Leak, who may be Clausen's heir apparent next season, directed a scoring drive, hitting on one of his two pass attempts for 16 yards. Walk-on Jim Bob Cooter made his debut, but didn't attempt any passes in the one-sided game.

RECEIVERS: (93) Clearly the best game UT's young wide receivers have played this season as they accounted for 320 yards and four touchdowns (five if you count Tinsley as a wideout instead of a slot-back). Sophomore Chris Hannon tied Tennessee record with three TD receptions also held by Donte Stallworth, Carl Pickens and Cedrick Wilson. True freshman Jayson Swain had four catches for 75 yards and senior Mark Jones caught five passes for 90 yards highlighted by a 38-yard touchdown under tight coverage. The keys for UT's pass receivers was getting off the line against press coverage and beating DBs one on one. There were several dropped passes, but there were also some outstanding receptions like the near impossible grab Swain made on a deflection for a first down. UT wide receivers stepped up in this one and appear ready to take their game to a new level. It will take just such a performance to beat a topflight secondary.

OFFENSIVE LINE: (90) It's hard to find fault when the offense gains a season-high 535 yards, scores a season-high 59 points, compiles a season-high 28 first downs and goes seven for seven in the red zone. Vols also had balance, gaining 189 yards on the ground and 346 through the air. Despite losing starting right tackle Sean Young to a sprain ankle, as well as, his replacement true freshman Arron Sears during the game to the same injury, the Vols offense kept on clicking to the tune of 7.3 yards per snap. Line allowed one sack and also let MSU line get pressure a couple of times with just a three-man rush, but overall it was a superb performance from a unit that has been much maligned this season.

SECONDARY: (90) Tennessee's top four tacklers were defensive backs led by Gibril Wilson with nine solo stops, including three behind the line of scrimmage. Wilson, who is playing better than any Vol defensive back in recent memory, recorded a sack and intercepted a pass for the second straight week. Senior corner Jabari Greer had five solo tackles with one behind the line of scrimmage. Brandon Johnson had two solo tackles with one assist. Jason Allen and Antwan Stewart had four solo stops each (one of Allen's was behind the line of scrimmage) and each DB broke up a pass. Mark Jones and Corey Campbell, who started at free safety, each had two tackles. Rashad Baker saw his first action since the Georgia game and contributed a tackle. UT defenders had 52 tackles in the game and 30 of those were recorded by defensive backs. Tennessee held MSU to 19-of-32 completions for 192 yards. However Bulldog starter Kevin Fant completed just 13-of-24 for 125 yards, before being replaced by Kyle York in the fourth quarter who hit 6-of-8 for 67 yards against UT's reserves. Another solid performance by a unit that may be Tennessee's best in terms of talent and depth.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (87) The front four wasn't formidable but it was effective and shut down Mississippi State's inside run, as most of the Bulldogs' 96 net yards rushing were picked up on the perimeter. That's impressive especially in light of Mondre Dickerson's unexpected suspension and revelations regarding his replacement, Greg Jones, who decided to play despite a tragic auto accident that took his sister's life and hospitalized his mother. Jones, who left in the third quarter to be with his family, recovered a fumble, deflected a pass in the game and inspired his teammates with his decision to play at a time that they needed him most. J.T. Mapu caused the fumble Jones recovered and recorded a sack. Parys Haralson had an 11-yard sack while Justin Harrell and Matt McGlothlin each had a solo tackle. The D-line's improvement has paralleled the improvement of UT's defensive fortunes this season. It remains to be seen what impact Dickerson's loss will have if he's unable to return.

RUNNING BACKS: (84) Vols gained 189 yards on 38 carries for an average of 5.0 yards per attempt. Seven carries went for 10 yards or better. Jabari Davis gained 67 yards in nine carries with two going for touchdowns. Davis had a 42-yard run on UT's first possession of the second half, but it appeared he had a chance to go further, if not all the way, had he made his last cut outside instead of inside. Gerald Riggs saw his most extensive action as a collegian with 13 carries for 51 yards, but didn't demonstrate the breakaway ability the Vols need to balance their inside-outside ground game. Fullback Will Revill hit the hole quickly on a 13-yard touchdown run and Troy Fleming added 17 yards on two carries as the up back. Derrick Tinsley continues to prove his value as a slot back as he gained 26 yards on two end around runs. Cedric Houston suffered a mild concussion and only carried three times for six yards. A good effort overall but UT still needs that feature back to emerge who can consistently carry the load.

LINEBACKERS: (81) UT's second line of defense wasn't up to its usual high standards, as starters Robert Peace, Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon combined for just six solo stops in the game. Outside linebackers didn't get in position to make plays on runs of 32 and 36 yards by MSU's Fred Reid and Jerious Norwood. Reserve Marvin Mitchell made a standout interception and Simon added a sack. Highly touted freshman Daniel Brooks saw action and was credited with a tackle and sophomore Jon Poe added two. It should be noted that strong safety Gibril Wilson, who led the Vols with nine stops, often assumes the role of linebacker in certain schemes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: (72) Dustin Colquitt only punted three times, averaging a respectable 43.7 yards per attempt and James Wilhoit made his only field goal attempt, a 26 yarder. Mark Jones had three punt returns for 56 yards, including a 27-yard return. Corey Larkins' only kick return was tentative and only went for 17 yards. The special teams highlight was a blocked punt by O.J. Owens which was recovered by Fleming at the one and turned into a touchdown by Jabari Davis. Owens reached out with one hand to make the block in what was a remarkable effort. The low light was abysmal kick coverage that saw Bulldog return specialists haul nine kicks back for 220 yards and four punts for 103 yards. Poor kick coverage has been a problem for Tennessee all season and it appears to be getting worse. It didn't hurt the Vols against Mississippi State, but in a closer game it could be huge.

OVERALL: (94) Outside of kick coverage and surrendering a couple of late touchdowns, this was the type of dominating victory Tennessee has been looking for all season. Game plan was excellent as was UT's use of different formations which included a split backfield. When Vols get the running and passing game going simultaneously calling plays becomes easy. Randy Sanders deserves credit for mixing things up and keeping MSU off balance. Squad is coming together and if it finishes strong it will be richly rewarded.

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