UT Grades and Analysis vs. Kentucky

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

Secondary: (96) Vols held Kentucky to 19-of-43 passing, 136 yards and no touchdowns while picking off two passes. The yeomen's work by the secondary is even more impressive when you consider that Lorenzen was only sacked twice in the game. That's nothing less than a remarkable achievement when one factors in Kentucky's scoring average in Lexington, which was 37.5 points per outing coming into the contest. The lowest point total the Cats had amassed at home before Saturday was in a 24-21 loss to Florida. Tennessee's secondary accounted for two of Kentucky's three turnovers in the game on interceptions by Rashad Baker and Antwan Stewart. The secondary also had a hand in a third-quarter fumble by Kentucky as Mark Jones made the tackle, Jason Mitchell knocked the ball loose and Robert Peace made the recovery. Gibril Wilson recorded what was, undoubtedly, one of the most wicked licks ever landed by a Tennessee defender when he unloaded on Wildcat wideout Chris Bernard who caught the ball on a middle screen. Bernard made it to the sidelines with assistance but didn't return to action. The play set a tone of Tennessee superiority down the stretch and underscored Wilson's ferocious physicality. Wilson again led the Vols with nine tackles and he had a sack. Baker had five stops while Jabari Greer and Mark Jones had four each. Greer recorded a third-down tackle for a five-yard loss. Most of the passes Lorenzen completed were in the short flats and his longest completion of the game covered just 17 yards.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (92) Tennessee didn't record as many sacks as it might have expected against Lorenzen, but the Vols kept pressure on the passer, particularly from defensive end Parys Haralson who had four tackles with a sack and another stop behind the line of scrimmage. Ritzmann added three stops from his right defensive end post and defensive tackle Greg Jones had two. J.T. Mapu went out in the first quarter with a neck stinger and didn't return. That stripped the Vols of the second tackle who has played the most reps this season. (Mondre Dickerson remains suspended and his college career is likely over.) Despite a shortage of troops in the trenches, the Vols held Kentucky to 51 yards on 25 carries. This unit was the team's biggest question mark coming into the season, but will be one of UT's decided strengths next year.

SPECIAL TEAMS: (90) In many respects, the kicking game has been the Vols most consistent category this season. That trend continued against Kentucky with punter Dustin Colquitt averaging 45 yards on six punts in windy conditions and freshman James Wilhoit connecting on both of his field goal attempts from 33 and 47 yards. Wilhoit also did a good job kicking off, although kick coverage remains abysmal as Kentucky averaged 30 yards on its two returns. Wilhoit was forced to make another TD-saving tackle. Mark Jones returned a punt 16 yards on UT's only chance of the day and maintains his 16-plus average for the season. The Vols didn't get a chance to return either of Kentucky's two kickoffs.

LINEBACKERS (83): Tennessee's linebackers remain active and consistent, but aren't creating nearly as much havoc as they were earlier in the season. Some of that is due to the tactics opponents have employed since the South Carolina game. The good news is that Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett, who hadn't enjoyed a complete season without injury during their college careers, have gone wire-to-wire in a grueling 12-game slate without missing a beat. Both Kevins should benefit greatly from the experience gained this year and put themselves in position for successful pro careers after next season. Robert Peace is a steady hand in the middle who rarely gets out of position or misses an assignment. Tennessee's trio of starting linebackers had four tackles each vs. Kentucky.

RUNNING BACKS: (81) Cedric Houston ran with abandon en route to 87 yards on 12 carries, highlighted by a 10-yard touchdown run with 1:27 remaining that secured Tennessee's victory. Houston tore through four tackles to reach pay dirt and exhibited the style that's been missing since he posted back-to-back 161-yards games to begin the season. He had runs of 27 and 14 yards on a Tennessee scoring drive in the third quarter. Jabari Davis picked up 56 yards on 14 carries, but tripped over his own feet on one run. He also appeared tentative approaching the line a couple of other times. Gerald Riggs had 13 yards on four carries, but he didn't have enough carries to develop any rhythm. Davis is big, strong and has good straight-line speed, however, he doesn't appear to have the type of vision or balance one would expect from a tailback at this level. Next year he might be more effective at fullback where he can hit the hole quickly and take advantage of his power. That would free up carries that Houston and Riggs need to get into the flow of the game. Overall, it was a good effort by Tennessee's backs who picked up 160 yards on 38 carries. Troy Fleming made a couple of critical third-down catches which he turned into first downs on UT's final scoring drive. Derrick Tinsley had an eight-yard gain on an end around.

WIDE RECEIVERS: (68) Perhaps this grade should be an incomplete since the Vols had only two wideouts make catches, neither of whom ever caught a pass in college before this season. Mark Jones pulled down three passes for 36 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown. James Banks had two catches for 28 yards, including a spectacular 21-yard grab of a high pass on a crucial fourth down play in the first half that led to UT's initial score. C.J. Fayton dropped a pass that was slightly behind him and Tony Brown had a couple of drops. Jayson Swain and Chris Hannon were missing in action. It's difficult to tell from watching the game on television if UT's wide receivers were failing to get off press coverage or if Clausen just didn't have time to find them. Either way, this young unit took a step back against the Cats.

QUARTERBACK: (67) Whether it was frigid temperatures and high winds or the fact his health was below par, this wasn't the type of performance Vol fans have come to expect from Casey Clausen. The senior signal caller hit only 11-of-27 passes for 110 yards with one INT and one TD. Often he wasn't even close on his throws. To his credit, Clausen had several drops and not nearly the protection he needed. He engineered a couple of nice scoring drives in the second half and was poised down the stretch. The bottom line is that Tennessee won and that's a QB's first priority.

OFFENSIVE LINE: (64) The O-line remains the most problematical and puzzling unit on Tennessee's team. Against a Kentucky defense that was next to last in the SEC, surrendering 392.4 yards per game coming into Saturday's match, the Vols managed just 270 total yards. UT had 160 yards rushing against a UK defense that was also No. 11 in the conference, giving up 189.1 yards per game. Tennessee had difficulties picking up Kentucky's stunts and blitzes throughout the game. Of course, backs also figure into pass protection packages, but many of the Vols problems came when Clausen was in the shot gun with an empty backfield. He was almost decapitated on one blitz that came straight up the middle so suddenly he didn't have time to duck. He threw several passes away while running for his life. Additionally, UT's backs were tackled four times behind the line of scrimmage. Line gets kudos for final time consuming scoring drive, but the backs deserve at least as much credit. By the way, Houston finished the year with 720 total yards. It was the second straight season he has led the Vols in rushing despite gaining less than 800 yards. That's the lowest two-year yardage total by UT's leading rusher since 1985 and 1986 when Keith Davis and William Howard top UT's ground gainers with 684 and 787, respectively.

OVERALL: (82) This game figured to be tough going in and it proved to be even tougher because of weather conditions. The Vols weren't emotionally into the contest early but managed to wake up in time to take command in the second half. It seemed like Tennessee had a tendency to get away from the run just when it appeared to be gaining momentum, and the passing game was never developed any rhythm. Ultimately, the team displayed the same type of true grit and unity allowed it to fight back from consecutive defeats at midseason to put together six straight wins.


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