|OFFENSIVE GRADES: Tennessee Vols vs Air Force Falcons|
Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Air Force 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 and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. Special teams are included among defensive ratings but they aren't factored into the defense's total score.
|EXPLAINATION OF THE GRADING SYSTEM|
Offensive ratings - Tennessee vs Air Force.
In the continuing maturation of Erik Ainge, the junior signal caller came through with an almost flawless performance until a late interception in the red zone jeopardized Tennessee's chances for a victory. The Vols were in field-goal range at the time with a 14-point lead, that was rapidly reduced to a one-point edge in the closing minute of play. Had the Falcons made their two-point conversion attempt, the Vols would have likely joined the ranks of Saturday's upset victims... Up to that point, Ainge had thrown nothing but precision passes against both man and zone coverage, including three TD tosses of five, five and three yards. Of course, he had remarkable protection for the second week in a row as Air Force had no sacks and only two hurries the entire game.... It appeared that Ainge got a little too comfortable in the pocket when he threw the interception and failed to account for the backside of the zone. A field goal at that juncture would have given UT a 17-point lead and forced the Falcons to score three times in the final eight minutes of play. Coming as it did on the last pass Ainge would throw in the contest causes some concern it will have a carryover effect with a very talented Florida defense on tap Saturday.... Air Force's decision to crowd the line, take away the run and play a lot of zone, gave Ainge options in the short passing game and he passed the test with flying colors. A fumbled snap, which Ainge recovered, knocks this score down a bit also, but it doesn't alter the fact that it was the best passing performance he has had in college. At one point Ainge completed a remarkable 15 straight attempts and his 333-yard total shatters his career best effort set last week against California by 47 yards.
As pointed out above, UT's O-line provided outstanding protection, but the overall lack of production in the ground game limited Tennessee's ability to control the clock or create big plays off play action. The Vols only gained 79 net rushing yards and averaged a mere 2.5 yards per carry. That's simply unacceptable against an undersized defensive front even if it was selling out to the run. Also troubling was the lack of sizable gains on the ground as the Vols longest run of the game was 10 yards. Clearly, Tennessee's front is playing better than it did last year especially where pass protection is concerned, but a one dimensional attack will not get the job done against a strong opponent. An ankle injury to Ramone Foster further hampers a unit that lacks depth and flexibility.
Tennessee's wideouts were able to consistently beat defensive coverage against Air Force and shake free in the red zone. With the exception of a couple of drops they caught the ball well and secured it against well timed hits by Falcon DBs. Robert Meachem had a huge night with eight receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Jayson Swain had six catches for 74 yards and a TD. Austin Rogers had a career best night with five receptions for 69 yards. And Lucas Taylor hauled in a 45-yard pass that set up a UT touchdown. The score isn't as high as last week's total because the receivers didn't do as good a job of blocking down field. Additionally, the Vol receivers didn't pick up as many yards after the catch. Still Meachem is realizing his potential and becoming a receiver that can draw double coverage, opening opportunities for other pass catchers. The return of Bret Smith will make an already deep unit even better.
Not an impressive showing by UT's RBs given the team's paltry rushing totals, but there is plenty of blame to go around beginning with the O-line. The loss of starting tailback Arian Foster (7 carries, 24 yards) to an early ankle injury was a factor. However the Vols didn't get solid work from their fullbacks either, as they routinely failed to clean out holes as lead blockers. Montario Hardesty had some good runs and finished with 72 yards and a touchdown in 19 carries. Unfortunately, no reserve tailback was used to spell him, raising concerns about the quality of UT's depth particularly in light of Foster's injury.
Credit Air Force's ball control offense with limiting Tennessee's scoring chances. Overall it wasn't a bad showing by the offense although it lacked the type of dominance one might have expected against a suspect Air Force defense that has surrendered points in bunches in 2003 and 2004. Also the offense failed to put the game away when the Falcons were on the ropes in the fourth quarter. A similar performance against Florida will likely result in defeat.