Better Late Than Never

Scoring 17 points at home against the nation's lowest rated Division I defense won't inflate public opinion or impress pollsters, but cutting its losses in half while nearly doubling its victory total puts Tennessee football back on firm footing and positions the Vols to make a title run in 2007.

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 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.


RECEIVERS (90) Robert Meachem is the man most responsible for this grade and deserves the lion's share of credit for carrying Tennessee to victory over a highly motivated and very determined SEC foe. Meachem caught a 15-yard TD on what appeared to be a throw away from Erik Ainge and he finished with six catches for 116 yards to set a new UT single season receiving record. In good times and bad this year Meachem has been the man that made UT's offense go. Anytime he touches the ball he's a threat to score and he has the size, strength, speed and skills to make a smooth transition to the next level. Replacing Meachem would be Tennessee's toughest job if he decides to enter the NFL Draft. The Vols didn't get much from their other starters as Bret Smith (2 catches for 19 yards) and Jayson Swain (2 catches for 15 yards were held in check. However tight end Chris Brown hauled in 3 catches for 25 yards. Brad Cottam had one catch for 9 yards. Once again the Vols got nothing from their reserve wideouts which is a growing concern going into next season.

RUNNING BACKS (86) What Meachem did for UT's receiving corps, LaMarcus Coker did for the running game. The redshirt freshman netted 90 yards in 22 attempts and scored the game-winning touchdown with a leap over a stacked goal-line defense. He also caught four passes for 51 yards, giving him nearly six yards per touch. If size and strength translate to durability the Antioch native, with another productive offseason, fits the bill as Tennessee's feature back in 2007. Montario Hardesty gained 27 yards in seven carries for an average of 3.9 yards per run. He appears to be reaching a comfort level in which his game flows instinctively. He certainly has the raw talent to become a consistent contributor in the backfield rotation. What a difference a year has made to Arian Foster who finished with minus-2 yards in one carry. He has battled injuries, inconsistency and served a half-game suspension. He has ground to make up next season.

QUARTERBACK (81) This wasn't Ainge's best outing in what has otherwise been a very respectable rebound season. However he didn't get great protection and the running attack still lacks the type of punch to take over a contest even against a weak defense. Despite a less than stellar performance for the game, Ainge was outstanding directing Tennessee's 15-play, 80-yard, go-ahead scoring drive, as he connected on 6 of 8 passes for 60 yards.

OFFENSIVE LINE (70) Tennessee gained a total of 96 yards in 34 carries for an unimpressive 2.8 yards per run against a defense that was giving up nearly 200 yards a game this season, ranking last in the SEC and 106th in the nation. Ainge was sacked three times although one appeared to be a coverage sack. UT's 336 yards in total offense was 130 yards below the Wildcats 465 yard per game average this season. This one doesn't make it into the time capsule.

OVERALL (82) This score is arguably high given the opponent, but Kentucky played with great emotion and that can compensate for defensive shortcomings. The concern coming in was that UT's defense wouldn't hold up against a highly productive Kentucky attack. As it turned out defense carried the day for the Vols until the offense found some late rhythm and put Tennessee on top. Defending streaks this long is problematical since it's often difficult for the favorite to match the opponent's level of energy. Randy Sanders' knowledge of UT's offense was probably a contributing factor to the Vols struggles.

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