UT's O Gets an A

Here's the top to bottom ratings for the Tennessee-Louisiana Tech 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. (We have broken down the units this week to offense and defense because there was considerable disparity in their play.)

OFFENSIVE LINE: (97) The O-line leads UT's grades for the third week in a row and the 97 is the highest mark awarded any unit so far this season. And why not? With 595 yards total offense, 26 first downs, 366 yards rushing, 248 yards passing, 33:15 time of possession, 8.2 yards per play and 42 points, the offensive front control every aspect of play. Even the second unit O-Line was dominate as the Vols controlled the ball in the fourth quarter for 10:06. Tennessee gained the most yards on the ground in any game since Vanderbilt in 1994. La Tech did get a couple of sacks, but otherwise the offensive front was virtually perfect in its play. The addition of Albert Toeaina to the rotation will give a large, physical group even more physical presence while opposing D-lines will get no relief.

RUNNING BACKS: (96) With the line coming off the ball in powerful surges, backs Cedrick Houston (160 yards) and Gerald Riggs (116 yards) had career best performances. Both backs were quick to the line and displayed excellent body lean finishing off runs. It was the first time two UT backs had surpassed the century mark in the same game in a decade. While the tailbacks are running hard and showing physical toughness, they are still making questionable decisions after clearing the line of scrimmage. Taking different angles could create some longer runs and bigger plays. Of course, they may not be used to having such running room and will improve as the season progresses. Former walk-on David Yancey also demonstrated some nice moves late in the game, gaining 32 yards in six carries. The play of fullback Cory Anderson is one of the most pleasant surprises in a young season. Not only is the 270-pound former D-lineman a battering ram as a blocker, he also has soft hands and can ramble after the catch. Anderson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield gives UT's young quarterbacks a viable short-range option. Corey Larkins is receiving limited reps at this time but could become a big-play threat before the season is concluded. Overall an outstanding performance that harkened back to UT's glory days on the gridiron.

WIDE RECEIVERS: (95) Speaking of bygone glory days, it appears Wide Receiver U is back in business with an exciting group of young talent that forces defenses to play the entire field as opposed to simply stacking against the run. Bret Smith, Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain are big-time targets that will only improve with playing time. Chris Hannon, Tony Brown and C.J. Fayton are seasoned veterans in their prime. All six WRs have caught TD passes this season and in combination UT always has fresh legs at wideout that can stretch a defense. Derrick Tinsley is another threat who can operate out of the slot or the wing. His ability to turn short catches into big plays with become of great value as the Vols hit the meat of the schedule. Hannon's 38-yard run on a reverse was a excellent play choice that will give defensive coordinators something else to prepare for this year. Easily the deepest and best group of wide receivers UT has had since the Peyton Manning Era.

QUARTERBACK: (94) Erik Ainge continues to amaze as well as whet UT fans appetite for the future. His efficiency and poise as a freshman is nothing short of remarkable. Ainge also has a knack for feeling pressure and escaping it before whipping a ball downfield with his rocket right arm. He completed 10-of-15 pass attempts for 198 yards with three touchdowns no interceptions against La Tech. Brent Schaeffer is certainly no slouch and he can be used in combination with Ainge to give UT an added dimension on offense. Schaeffer may be a little to quick to run when he should probably complete his progressions. However, he's a rookie and will overcome that tendency in time. They both need to avoid forcing passes when taking a loss or throwing the ball away would be wiser. Tennessee is fortunate to have two QBs that are as talented as Schaeffer and Ainge and the future looks bright. And we're talking about the near future.

OVERALL: (96) After a slow start in each half, the Vols offense came on like gangbusters. Consistency is the area UT's offense needs to improve most. Against the very best competition, the Vols can't afford to waste a single possession. However, considering the question marks the team came into the season with and the lack of performance the last two seasons, the progress UT's offense has made this fall is outstanding. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders deserves a lot of credit for how he has brought along the young quarterbacks and for how he is utilizing all of his talent. Ten different receivers caught passes against La Tech and eight different runners picked up yards. If anything UT's peformance on offense has proven that the plays you call are less important than the way you execute them.

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