UT Earns High Marks vs. Coma Dores

Here's the top to bottom ratings for Saturday's Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt. 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.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (98) You don't hold a team to 191 yards in 64 plays unless the defensive front does a great job. Vanderbilt is easily dismissed in the immediate aftermath of the 48-0 rout, but the Commodores weren't nearly as bad as their performance indicated. A lot of credit has to go to the Vols, who didn't allow Vanderbilt to cross midfield until the third quarter and held Jay Cutler to 9-of-25 passing for 66 yards with a long of 18. That was also the longest rush the Dores had and that didn't come until backup quarterback Steven Bright took over late in the contest. Nobody in the trenches for Tennessee posted big numbers, but they carried out their assignments came through with a season best effort. The fact UT's D-linemen came through with Mondre Dickerson gone is particuarly encouraging for the future. Defensive ends Karlton Neal (one sack), Parys Haralson and Constantin Ritzmann were active and able to keep Cutler largely contained to the an ever shrinking pocket. It was good to see senior defensive tackle Terriea Smalls get two tackles including one for a three-yard loss. He stuck it out at UT and finished with a flair in front of the home folks.

SECONDARY: (97) This was the other half of Tennessee's air defense and it was outstanding. Gibril WIlson again led the Vols with nine tackles (six solo) and topped UT with three pass break ups. All purpose performer Mark Jones returned an interception 51 yards and Antwan Stewart took another pick back 38 yards. These were the first interceptions this season in which Tennessee has gained positive return yards. Jason Allen is a physical presence at cornerback and has fully come into his own as a sophomore. Senior Jabari Greer's NFL stock continues to rise during a season in which he's matured into comprehensive corner. Rashad Baker had four tackles and is rounding back into form from knee injury. True freshman Corey Campbell is a star in the making and sophomore Brandon Johnson isn't far behind.

SPECIAL TEAMS (95): Tennessee special teams play was tight and posted solid marks across the board. Mark Jones returned five punts for 120 yards highlighted by a 58-yard return for a touchdown — the first by a Vol since Donte Stallworth in 2001. James Wilhoit made both of his field goal attempts (39 and 41 yards) and most of his nine kickoffs weren't returned. Dustin Colquitt only punted twice, averaging 44.5 yards. Kick coverage definitely improved as the Vols allowed a long return of 29 yards and 101 total yards on four returns. Corey Larkins only kick return covered 15 yards and remains an area that needs to be upgraded.

RECEIVERS (94): Nine Tennessee receivers caught at least one pass of 16 yards or better and 12 players had at least one reception. Larkins had a 40-yard reception, Chris Hannon had a 38-yard catch for a touchdown and Tony Brown hauled one in for 35 yards and had another 17-yard reception for a score. C.J. Fayton pull down a 23-yard reception. Derrick Tinsley caught a seven-yard TD for Tennessee's only score in the second half. This unit has come a long way this season and has potential to be outstanding next year. It will likely be tested by a solid secondary in the post season, but is showing many signs of maturing into a standout group of playmakers. Add Robert Meahem to a mix that features: Brown, Banks, Hannon, Fayton and Bret Smith it's easy to see that the wideouts will be a strong point for UT in 2004.

QUARTERBACK: (94) Casey Clausen closed out his Neyland Stadium career with a high-caliber performance. His completion rate (15-of-29) wasn't high but 263 yards on 15 completions was good for 17 yards per completion, his best yard-per-completion performance since 2001. He also broke Peyton Manning's mark for passes without an interception with 141 before having the mark stopped. Great ball distribution for Clausen who earlier in the year was having to rely on Tony Brown and James Banks almost exclusively as third down targets. Clausen has answered his critics this year and has one more road game in which to prove he belongs among the Vols best ever signal callers.

LINEBACKERS: (91) Another sound performance by UT's linebackers who created havoc with the blitz and stuffed Vandy's running game. Robert Peace recorded five solo tackles while the Kevins (Burnett and Simon) added four stops each. Jon Poe contributed three tackles in a back up role and Jason Mitchell had two stops. Six of Tennessee's top seven linebackers will be back next year (assuming Simon and Burnett don't opt for early entry to NFL Draft) and should help form the core of a dominating defense. Omar Gaither, Marvin Mitchell and Daniel Brooks will push for more playing time next season and add quality depth to this talented corps.

OFFENSIVE LINE: (85) It's probably picky to say O-line didn't establish an explosive running attack when Vanderbilt, like most UT opponents, sold out to stop the run. Instead of slamming tailbacks into the tumult of the trenches, Tennessee elected to attack through the air. The decision paid quick dividends and took any early momentum Vanderbilt hoped to establish. Line provided great protection (no sacks), allowing Clausen the opportunity to survey coverage and throw down field. Vols scored on six of its first seven possessions. UT's offense appear in control throughout the contest and presumably could have named its score after racing to a 41-0 lead at intermission.

RUNNING BACKS: (81) Again running backs didn't have a chance to really shine, but Gerald Riggs (44 yards in seven carries) continues his evolution into a feature back. Cedric Houston tried too hard to break the big play and only gained ten yards in six carries. Corey Larkins 22-yard run — Vols longest of the day — was marred by a fumble. Fullback William Revill contributed a 10-yard carry after scoring on a 13-yard run last week. The quick hitter to the fullback could become a staple to UT's running game next season.

OVERALL: (94) What's not to like? The competition may not have been keen, but Vols beat Vandy like no other team has this season (this was the first game in which Dores didn't score a TD). Remember Commodores just lost to Ole Miss by three points and was competitive in its last four games against Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky. Tennessee has definitely improved on both sides of the ball and hopefully will get a chance to prove that against a top flight opponent in a BCS bowl.


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