At the halfway point of the SEC race, UT's 2006 model offense doesn't remotely resemble the one that crashed and burned last fall. Many of the parts are the same but they are playing a different game with linemen that block, receivers that catch and a quarterback that appears to an excellent driver of a vehicle that is hitting on all cylinders and putting up impressive numbers. Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Georgia 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. An opponent degree of difficulty (between 1 and 10) has been added to the formula.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (9.0)
OFFENSIVE LINE (96) Count off five seconds in your head and you begin to appreciate just how long UT's O-line was protecting quarterback Erik Ainge against Georgia's pass rush. That's enough time for Robert Meachem to cover half the field. It's time for Ainge to go through all his progressions and check out the cheerleaders. It's an eternity for a cover corner locked up in single coverage with a fleet wideout or for a linebacker assigned to stay with a running back turned receiver. Yet Ainge often had that luxury of that much, and more time on Saturday. The fact it came against a Georgia defense that has one of the best defensive end tandem's in Division I college football made the achievement that much more amazing. The only sack UT gave up came on a safety blitz. The Vols also got some traction with their ground game and, although they only gained 115 yards, they were much more productive around the goal line and in short yardage situations. Aaron Sears and Anthony Parker missed most of the practices last week but they didn't miss many blocks in Athens. Josh McNeil is beginning to come into his own at center and has the look of a longtime anchor. David Ligon is very steady and Eric Young is a talent.
QUARTERBACK (95) The offensive line provided the time, the wide receivers got open and Erik Ainge got them the ball in position to pick up yardage after the catch. He exhibited a soft touch and unerring accuracy on his TD toss to Smith and successfully attack an UGA defense that gave him a lot of looks. Probably his most complete game to date given the venue and quality of the opponent. The Vols production in the red zone (7 for 7) underscored his sound choices and deft delivery. He forced a couple of passes but generally appeared in control in a hostile environment. Passed another test by leading the Vols on an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive just before half that cut Georgia's 17-point lead to 24-14. That may have been the most significant score of the game because it blunted UGA's momentum and fueled Tennessee's second half rally. An A for Ainge.
RECEIVERS (92) A strong suit for Tennessee all season, the receiving corps was on top of its game again Saturday. Robert Meachem (7 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown) and Bret Smith (7 catches for 96 yards and a TD) posted almost identical numbers and paced the Vols air attack. Jayson Swain suffered a sprain that limited his action and production. Georgia used a lot of cover two in an effort to take away Meachem and Swain, but Smith took advantage of single coverage and stepped up with a big game at the right time. Depth could be a problem as Lucas Taylor (1 catch for 10 yards) was the only other UT wideout with a catch against Georgia. Tight end Chris Brown had four catches for 14 yards mostly as a safety valve. Brad Cottam added one reception for 12 yards.
RUNNING BACKS (87) No 100-yard games and the longest gain was only 18 yards by LaMarcus Coker, but it was a good game for UT's running backs, particularly Arian Foster who gained 64 yards in 15 carries and scored three one-yard touchdowns in his return to action from an ankle sprain suffered in the season opener. Foster adds another dimension with his short-yardage power and nose for the end zone. A rotation with Coker and Hardesty gives Coach David Cutcliffe a lot of depth and diversity to work with, but fullbacks may be on the endangered species list at UT.
OVERALL (93) The offense put up 44 points against the best scoring defense in the country. Need we say more?