O Woe are Vols

Let's face it, this was never going to be a style-points performance for Tennessee with only three days to recover from an energy wringing come-from-behind victory at LSU.

Instead, as expected, it proved to be a grind-it-out effort against an inferior opponent that entered with plenty of incentive and a ton of motivation. In many respects that is simply a territorial mandate for top 10 teams. In absence of emotional reserves you count on execution and superior talent to carry the day.

To their credit the Vols came out with emotion and crisp execution and gained control early in this contest. But with the Rebels staggered on the ropes, UT failed to land the knockout blow thanks to an offense that was largely punchless.

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-LSU game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are average marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. We have broken down the units this week to offense and defense. Special teams are also included in the defensive grades.

RUNNING BACKS (90) Isn't it ironic that Gerald Riggs Jr. was regarded as unreliable in his first two seasons at UT, but now he's the only player the Vols' offense can rely upon for consistent production? Riggs ran hard even when there weren't holes to run through, he consistently gave second effort and he finished off carries like a back hungry for playing time, instead of a back carrying the load. Riggs compiled 125 yards in 26 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. The loss of true freshman Montario Hardesty to a season-ending knee injury was a real blow to a backfield that already lacked depth. Hardesty had exhibited great promise in practices and appeared ready to duplicate that type of play in games. Fortunately, redshirt freshman Arian Foster had his best game, picking up 36 yards in 11 carries, including his first collegiate TD on a 1-yard run. Foster also produced UT's longest play on a 25-yard screen pass. Cory Anderson stepped up his overall game and caught a couple of passes for 24 yards, including a 15-y rd reception in which he broke a couple of tackles to get the first down. Better overall ball security with no fumbles by the backs.

OFFENSIVE LINE (76) This grade is more in recognition of overall execution than it is of outright effort. Given the number of injuries and perpetual position changes, it's not surprising UT's O-line has yet to develop into a cohesive unit. Aaron Sears, Rob Smith and Cody Douglas are each outstanding when healthy, but are shouldering too much of the burden up front. The center position remains unsettled with Richie Gandy and David Ligon returning from injuries and redshirt freshman Anthony Parker still gaining much needed game experience. It's difficult to have a solid line without a fully functional anchor. Ideally, Tennessee would have one player handling most of the snaps and making the line calls in the middle. Albert Toeaina is a developing talent at right tackle with the potential to be dominating, but he's not there yet, as UT is still more effective running to the left side. Ole Miss only recorded one sack against the Vols quick hitting passing attack. The O-line has been racked with injuries since 2002 and hasn't fielded the type of dominating unit Big Orange fans are accustomed to seeing during that span. Ramon Foster and Eric Young are gaining on-the-job training, and the Vols are paying for a lack of experienced depth.

QUARTERBACK (72) This wasn't Rick Clausen's best game in terms of numbers, as he finished 18 of 35 for 206 yards and no touchdowns. On the plus side, he avoided the major mistakes that could have fueled the Rebels' fire and he got Tennessee into some positive plays with good reads. Clausen was playing hurt (dislocated fingers on his non-passing hand during the LSU game) which probably affected his passing and ball handling. Maximizes his talent while providing the type of poise and steady leadership the team needs. The lack of big plays and 18-point per game scoring average remain a concern.

RECEIVERS (54) Jayson Swain led UT's wide receivers with three receptions for 43 yards. C.J. Fayton had the longest catch (20 yards) before an ankle sprain put him on the pines. The Vols fastest wideouts, Robert Meachem and Chris Hannon , combined for a mere 35 yards in receptions, while top TD producer, Bret Smith, was held to 17 yards on three catches. The failure of UT's wideouts to consistently get open against man coverage is the source of several problems on offense including: the lack of big plays, greater resistance against the run and more pressure on the passer. Until the Vols prove they can beat man coverage, defenses will continue to crowd the line of scrimmage with superior numbers and take away the short routes. Tennessee averaged a paltry 5.9 yards per pass attempt vs. Ole Miss. Meanwhile, UT's longest run of the game was 13 yards, an indication that the receivers aren't getting the job done as blockers either.

OVERALL (68) This performance wouldn't beat a high caliber team like Georgia and Alabama, which means the Vols need to make a lot of improvement before Saturday or they will find themselves out of the race for the SEC East. Tennessee's offense only generated 20 points and failed to put together a drive longer than 56 yards which came on its first possession.

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