|OFFENSIVE GRADES: Tennessee Vols vs UAB Blazers|
Tennessee's season opener against UAB was scripted as a breather, but it left a home crowd of nearly 108,000 Big Orange fans breathing a sigh of relief and wondering how the Vols might fare down the road against tougher competition in hostile venues. UT started like a 23-point favorite, scoring a field goal on the opening drive of the game and turning a Blazer fumble of their first play from scrimmage into a quick TD for a 10-0 lead with 9:03 still remaining in the first quarter.
Tennessee's offense would only score seven more points over the final 54 minutes of play, as the Vols managed to hold on for a 17-10 victory. Such a sputtering attack might be expected against Florida in Gainesville, LSU in Baton Rouge or Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but this was against a UAB team that surrendered an average of 29.3 points per game in 2004, including 59 vs. Hawaii, 59 vs. Tulane and 45 vs. South Florida - hardly a murders' row of gridiron giants.
The good news is that the Vols won and received a wake-up call at the same time. They suffered no major injuries and have two weeks to prepare for Florida. If they respond like a champion this performance will be all but forgotten, but if they continue to struggle it will come to define a disappointing season.
Only time will tell if UAB is much better than experts thought, or if UT is simply not as good as expected. For sure, first games are rarely an accurate indicator of how a team will perform. For example: UAB opened with a 56-14 rout of Baylor last season only to lose to Florida State, 34-7, in week two.
With that qualifier out of the way here's the breakdown of UT's individual offensive and defensive units for the UAB contest.
|EXPLAINATION OF THE GRADING SYSTEM|
Offensive ratings - Tennessee vs UAB.
The O-line is large, powerful and has the ability to be punishing, but you couldn't prove it by Saturday's contest vs. UAB. After enjoying success on the ground in the first quarter, the Vols weren¹t able to take control in the second half. Tennessee appeared to have more success running to the left than it did going to the right and weren't able to capitalize by throwing down field against a Blazer defense stacked to stop the run. Even though the Vols didn't allow a sack there were several hurries that could have led to losses if UT's QBs hadn't resourcefully gotten rid of the ball. Rarely did the O-line come off the ball together and get surge across the front, but they did manage to drive from deep in their own territory on their final possession secure the victory.
Hard to grade because duties were split between two signal callers who had very different days. Starter Erik Ainge enjoyed early success but appeared to lose some poise after throwing a second-quarter interception, and he had another pick in his only series of the second half. Like he did as a junior, Clausen came to the rescue and bailed the Vols out with a clutch performance as he connected on 17-of-24 passes for 217 yards, one touchdown and an INT on Anderson's defection. That turnover wasn't Clausen's fault and it coming in the red zone it cost UT a critical scoring chance. Clausen led another drive into scoring range that ended in a missed field goal and had the Vols inside UAB¹s 20 when UT elected to run out the clock. His 12-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Fayton in the final minute of the first half turned out to the be game-winning score. The throw into tight coverage was as dandy as Fayton's diving catch. Clausen had four passes that were dropped.
Not a bad day for the running backs, especially Gerald Riggs who gained 113 yards in 23 carries. However 64 of those yards came on 11 carries in the first quarter, while his next 11 carries produced just 30 yards before he capped off his day with a 15-yard dash that salted away the victory. That was also the longest run Tennessee had on the day, an indication, perhaps, UT¹s down-field blocking wasn't outstanding. Redshirt freshman tailback Arian Foster saw his first college action and performed well, gaining 23 yards in five carries for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. David Yancey picked up 7 yards in three carries and also caught a pass for 12 yards. Cory Anderson had 32 yards on three receptions but dropped a thrown and deflected pass in the air that was intercepted. Anderson didn't have a great day by his standards as a lead blocker and must be more physical for UT's isolation series to work against SEC opponents. Generally when there was running room up front the Vols were effective on the ground, but there appeared to be cut back opportunities that were missed, a common occurrence in early games.
The good news is that nine different players caught passes against UAB, led by Fayton, who had a career high five receptions for 97 yards and a TD. His 53-yard catch and run on the Vols final possession came on a third down play with the game hanging in the balance. The bad news is that at least four UT receivers dropped accurate throws and several failed to adjust to passes that were only slightly behind them. Meachem, Swain and Hannon each had their moments, but Tennessee never really tested the Blazers' secondary long. Former high school all-Americans Swain, Meachem and Bret Smith, who began their third season at UT, combined for six catches, 85 yards and no TDs. Overall down field blocking left something to be desired and there were few big plays. Does UT have a go-to receiver? Does UT have a legitimate deep threat?
Scoring only 17 points (all in the first half) isn¹t the type of offensive display one would expect from a team this deep and talented against any defense - much less a suspect one. However, three turnovers and a missed field goal cost UT dearly and kept the Blazers in the contest. Additionally, UAB had a good game plan that aimed to control the ball and limit the Vols scoring chances. UT's 412 yards in total offense with only one punt shows the potential this unit has when it takes care of the football.