Ground to a Halt

Taking apart tough Tennessee losses is the prerogative of fans, analysts, sportswriters, talk shows, chat rooms, message boards and all manner of watering holes from Maryville to Memphis.

Such consternation and examination is simply an indicator of how much supporters care about Tennessee football. It's what places the program among the very best in the nation even when the football team isn't.

But evaluation in the aftermath of a heartbreaking loss is an imperative for players and coaches. It is their burden to bear, their problem to solve and their battle to fight. That process should be made better by the fact it wasn't a defeat of effort but one of execution. With that somber qualifier duly noted:

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Florida 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. Each score will be followed by a brief comment. Further analysis to follow.

RECEIVERS (87) Another solid night by UT's wideouts against an athletic Gator secondary. They defeated press coverage consistently and came back to the ball well. Made fine adjustments, ran precise routes and picked up yardage after the catch. It's difficult to judge downfield blocking since the Vols didn't have a run longer than five yards. Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain are much improved. Lucas Taylor made UT's best pass of the game. Tip of the hat to Trooper Taylor.

BACKS (70) Okay I know what you're thinking: How can the running backs get a passing grade when the Vols' rushing total was minus-13? Simple. There wasn't a hole big enough to peek through much less run for UT on Saturday. To his credit Montario Hardesty continued to crash headlong upon a rock-hard defense. He has proven he can run for daylight (when there is some) but his style was poorly suited for Florida. Only a back like Arian Foster who cuts against the flow of the defense had a chance, without better blocking, to pick up some positive yards against the defense Florida fielded. LaMarcus Coker turned in the play of the night on his 48-yard TD reception. (Excuse me, but didn't you used to be Cory Anderson?)

QUARTERBACK (64) Unlike Florida pass rushers we will not beat up on Erik Ainge who threw the ball well at times and not so well other times. No, on balance this wasn't a good game. Yes, he had his share of shaky moments. Maybe it was a big step backwards. It's hard to say. What we do know is that Tennessee's offense isn't designed to thrive on the pass alone. And it's a lot easier to pass without any pressure than it is with a lot of pressure. Finally we know that it's not impossible to pass against pressure as long as you're willing to absorb some punishment in the process. It's a little like a wide receiver going over the middle. You're going to get hit so you might as well catch the ball and make it hurt your opponent.

OFFENSIVE LINE (58) The lack of any semblance of a ground game speaks for itself. The Vols got whipped up front and there's very no way to sugar coat it. Of course, a lot of offensive lines will struggle against a strong Gator front seven this season, but coming on the heels of a 79-yard effort against Air Force you've got to wonder if it's personnel or performance? Vols also failed to pick up several blitzes.

OVERALL (71) This grade might be a little high but you've got to take degree of difficulty in account and the fact that with all their failings, the Vols did score 20 points. That would have been enough to win last year's game. It's the number UT scored in its 1998 OT upset of the Gators. And it was more points than LSU and Auburn scored together. Everything seems worse when viewed from the prism of defeat. But the Vols have to start developing depth and fix the ground game.


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