Offense Gets Final Exam

Being home for the holidays is not the preferred post season locale for the Tennessee Vols, who would rather be in Nashville, or Shreveport or even Detroit for that matter.

Nonetheless, after 16 consecutive years of bowl games that includes four trips to the Citrus Bowl, three trips to the Fiesta Bowl, three trips to the Cotton Bowl, two trips to the Peach Bowl, one trip to the Sugar Bowl, one trip to the Gator Bowl, one trip to the Orange Bowl and one to the Hall of Fame Bowl, Tennessee's season comes to an anticlimactic end in November.

Gone with the bowl game is a streak of winning seasons that dates back to 1989. Tennessee also loses a measure of national prestige, a seven-figure check and some great gift packages. Most injurious to the football program is the loss of three weeks of practice that is a considerable boost to the young players on the team.

The good news is the Vols did come away with a win — only their second in the last seven weeks of the 2005 campaign — but many of the problems that have plagued the program throughout the fall persisted.

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Kentucky 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 (96) Arian Foster has been a real revelation for the Vols this season, emerging after senior tailback Gerald Riggs was injured, and exceeding all expectations. Stringing together five straight 100-yard ground games, Foster peaked in the last two contests with a 227-yard performance against Vanderbilt followed by a 122-yard effort against Kentucky. The San Diego redshirt freshman also caught five passes for 44 yards vs. the Wildcats and had touchdowns of 44 and 78 yards called back because of penalties. If those plays hadn't been nullified, Foster would have finished with 288 yards in total offense. Not bad for any back, especially one that played injured and may require two different surgeries during the offseason. David Yancey spelled Foster and gained 23 yards in four carries. Cory Anderson provided some solid blocking at fullback.

OFFENSIVE LINE (83) A patchwork lineup, that featured Ramon Foster filling in for the suspended Albert Tonenia at tackle, David Ligon at center for Rich Gandy and Anthony Parker replacing Cody Douglas at guard after the senior was sidelined with an injury, put together a good game. The Vols complied 371 total yards and averaged 5.9 yards per play nearly doubling Kentucky's offensive output of 3.0 yards per play. The O-line gave the quarterback good protection and came off the ball together, but still wasn't dominate against a less than stellar Kentucky D-line.

QUARTERBACK (75) On balance this was Erik Ainge's best game of the season. He threw the ball with touch and, for the most part, appeared comfortable in the pocket. On UT's first possession he completed five-of-five for 78 yards and hit his first six passes for 82 yards. However, he tailed off after that sizzling start and turned the ball over twice on fumbles in the second half. He was also flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone which scored a safety for Kentucky. Without a doubt, it was a better overall performance, but it also came against a weak defense that hasn't come close to stopping teams this fall. Over it's last three games coming into the finale against Tennessee, the Wildcats had surrendered an average of 45.6 points per game. Against this undistinguished unit, the Vols converted only 4 of 13 third down chances and made a mere 1 of 3 fourth down opportunities. Doubts will follow Ainge into the offseason and his spotty second half play portends another QB competition next spring.

RECEIVERS (71) Some good moments from UT's receivers led by Robert Meachem, who caught three passes for 70 yards highlighted by a 50-yard hook up that was the scoring play for the Vols this season. On that effort Meachem grabbed a low throw under heavy pressure and turned it into six with a nifty spin and sprint. Chris Hannon sliced through Kentucky's secondary on a deep slant for a 32-yard TD. Jayson Swain had a 23-yard catch and H-back Chris Brown made two receptions for 25 yards. Bret Smith had a couple of catches for 21 yards but hurt Tennessee with a pair of penalties that wiped out two Foster TDs. That type of undisciplined play has been the norm for UT's receivers this season. It manifested in dropped balls, wrong routes and inconsistent blocking. In the end, it cost Pat Washington his job.

OVERALL (80) Any compliments come with qualification except for Arian Foster, who shows great instinct as a runner — excellent vision, superb stamina, laudable toughness, soft hands and a nice assortment of moves. He was able to get yards when there weren't any his reversal-of-field run for a touchdown would have been the best play of UT's season if not for Smith's inability to get set before the ball was snapped. Otherwise this was a pretty typical game for an offense that never produced more than 24 points during any regulation game this season.

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