Vols' Marks High Vs. Florida

Here's the top to bottom ratings for the Tennessee-Florida 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 passing but problematical. Any grade below 60 is considered failing.

OFFENSIVE LINE: (95) The Vols front five passed another major test with an outstanding performance against a formidable Florida front seven. It was one of the best examples of power football the Vols have exhibited against a top ten opponent in the last three seasons. The Gators stacked to stop the run after Tennessee drove 80 yards in 12 plays, consuming 6:09 of the first quarter. The O-line also provided good protection throughout. The only sack Florida recorded was due to a missed block by tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. Jason Respert has solidified the middle of the line and UT's level of guard play — Rob Smith and Cody Douglas — is much improved from last year. Michael Munoz appears healthy, while Arron Sears shows All-SEC potential. The addition of Albert Toeania could put this group in a league with some of the top lines in the Phillip Fulmer era.

QUARTERBACKS: (92) How much more could Tennessee expect from any signal caller than what they've gotten to this point with two true freshman. Erik Ainge pulled most of the duty after a couple of turnovers took place with Brent Schaeffer at the controls. Ainge had one interception on a pass to the seam, but his three touchdown passes vs. one pick matched Florida's Chris Leak and most of it was accomplished under pressure with the Vols coming from behind. Ainge handled the two-minute drill with the poise of a veteran and made a beautiful spin move to free himself on the pass to Chris Hannon that set up the game-winning field goal. Speaking of moves: Schaeffer showed why he is compared to Michael Vick on a 22-yard scamper in the second half but he lacked Ainge's consistency and may fall to second-team status. This tandem does afford UT advantages and keeping it in play to some degree makes sense as the season continues to unfold. However it stands to reason the better performer with get the majority of snaps.

SPECIAL TEAMS: (91) There was a lot to like here especially a 50-yard clutch field goal that will go down as one of the most dramatic in Tennessee football history. Of course, if James Wilhoit doesn't miss the conversion kick there wouldn't be have been a dramatic field goal in the game's waning seconds. Likewise, if Florida's Matt Leach doesn't miss a chip shot field goal in the fourth quarter, the game's development would have changed completely with the Gators up by more than a touchdown for the first time in the game. Coverage was outstanding for Tennessee as the Vols held Florida to 43 total yards in five returns. Dustin Colquitt only punted twice but averaged 45 yards per kick (43 net) with one punt pinning the Gators inside its own 10 yard-line. UT is still looking for that big return but Hefney did a good job of securing punts under pressure and Corey Larkins made good decisions not to bring a couple of kickoffs out of the end zone. Overall this is an area of consistent strength for Tennessee that will keep it in a lot of games.

RECEIVERS: (90) Veterans are playing like veterans and younger receivers are beginning to live up to their billing. Chris Hannon led this unit with 8 catches for 89 yards and senior Tony Brown added three catches for 47 yards, including a team-long 32 yard reception that set up UT's last touchdown. Swain scored that TD with a strong run after catching a short crossing route, breaking three tackles before breaking the plane of the end zone. Bret Smith hauled in a 23-yard touchdown with a good adjustment on the sideline. Justin Reed added a 16-yard touchdown with the first catch of his career and the first TD reception by a Vol tight end since Jason Witten. Tennessee didn't test Florida's DBs deep which was a dimension Robert Meachem was supposed to add to the air attack. The best news about this group is that it will get much better in time.

LINEBACKERS: (88) Vol linebackers appeared to be in disarray on pass coverage after the early loss of Kevin Simon in the middle, but came back with a good second half. Kevin Burnett led UT's stop troops with a game high 16 tackles (10 solo). Jon Poe filled in for Simon and made seven stops, including six solo tackles. Jason Mitchell added four unassisted tackles while Omar Gaither had two solo stops with a pair of assists. Florida's game plan took much of UT's aggression away but the Vols adjusted well. Tennessee will need someone to step up as depth here is sure to become a factor. Where is Daniel Brooks?

DEFENSIVE BACKS: (85) With 14 tackles (eight solo), a stop for a loss and an interception, Jason Allen raises this grade 20 points by himself. Allen seems to come through whether he's playing cornerback, strong safety or free safety where he started against Florida. Jonathan Hefney (seven tackles) and Jonathan Wade (six tackles) had their moments and will only improve with game experience. However in the first half they didn't play the type of press coverage that's needed to disrupt a timing offense. Becoming more physical in those roles is the key to how good UT's secondary can be. The 81-yard touchdown from Chris Leak to Chad Jackson was set up by play action could have been a back breaker. There appeared to be a broken assignment on the pass with Brandon Johnson arriving a little late to break up the bomb. Sloppy tackling continues to be a concern.

DEFENSIVE LINE: (80) Lack of pressure on the passer and a 3.9 yard per carry average wasn't what Tennessee was looking for from this unit. However, the play of Jesse Mahelona continues to impress. He finished with four tackles (three solo), one sack for minus nine yards and another stop behind the line for a one-yard loss. More importantly, he did an excellent job of occupying two linemen most of the game, freeing UT's linebackers to make tackles. However Tennessee's other tackles (Tony McDaniel, Justin Harrell and LaRon Harris) combined for only two tackles and two assists. As a whole this group didn't get off blocks well or gain consistent penetration in the middle. The lack of a speed rusher at defensive end has become a glaring weakness through the first two games. Parys Haralson seems a little undersized to play the strong side end while Jason Hall lacks the explosiveness to play the weakside. A switch may be in order here. Turk McBride is coming on but will he end up at tackle? Tennessee used to rotate speed rushers in waves. Not anymore.

RUNNING BACKS: (73) Yes, the Vols gained good yardage (171 net) and the backs were mostly impressive in the early going. However when Houston went down again with an injury the lack of dimension began to show. Riggs didn't perform well in pass protection, Jabari Davis lacked the quickness to get outside against a defense stacked between the tackles and Larkins doesn't have the power to get the tough inside yards or to pick up blitzing linebackers. Although Houston has versatility he lacks durability and he doesn't see the field well enough to be a big-play threat. Riggs also appeared to miss cutback opportunities. Larkins may be a better open field threat but after playing three positions over five years how good a tailback can he really be? It's also noteworthy that the Vols haven't thrown to the tailback this season. Are there no receivers here, because there appear to be opportunities to hit some swing or flare passes against defenses that seem to ignore that threat. Ironically, the most impressive back UT has had to this point is fullback Cory Anderson who never played the position before last spring. UT's staff may be faced with some tough decisions at tailback as the season progresses and the use of a freshman isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

OVERALL: (92) Winning a game of this magnitude with young players at so many positions is a credit to UT's staff. John Chavis made some good adjustments at the half to give the Vols a chance to comeback. Randy Sanders deserves credit for bringing the young signal callers along and not giving them more than they can manage in game conditions. Phillip Fulmer has his team hungry and motivated. There has also been a noticeable improvement in the area of penalties as the Vols only had two violations for 20 yards vs. Florida. The O-line is executing extremely well and shows the type of nastiness needed to take over games. The success of the program this season will be determined by how much the Vols progress each week. Undoubtedly, there is a lot to like but there is also a lot to improve.

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