Offense Hits High Note

If you've ever watched a gymnast turning a series of back flips on a four-inch wide beam you know balance is a beautiful thing to behold. The same principle applies to Tennessee's offense.

When the Vols are one dimensional they are ineffective even though they may score plenty of points. However when they are able to blend the run and pass they are better equipped to defeat a quality team even if they score they are less productive point wise.

If that sounds like a contradiction bear with me. The job of the offense is not to merely put points on the board but to keep its defense off the field along with the opponent's offense. The mission of an offense is to control the ball, the clock and field position while in the process of scoring.

Ultimately victory on the gridiron is as much about imposing your will over your opponent as it is scoring more points. The reason? There are a lot of variables that can alter a team's ability to score points i.e. weather, match-ups, injuries to key personnel, defensive schemes and field conditions.

Those factors are less significant when it comes to imposing a team's will, which can perhaps best be described as knocking people off the ball to establish the ground game, forcing them to commit more defenders to stopping the run. That's when you go to the pass. It's a matter of running when you need to and passing when you want to.

Establishing the run isn't just strategic. It's physical because it takes more energy to play defense than offense. If a defense can't stop the run it won't be able to pressure the passer or switch to an attack mindset.

In turn your defense stays fresh which is an especially critical factor for a team built on speed. There's also a cumulative effect or residual impact from one week to the next. That's why it's not surprising that championship teams generally have strong running games, balanced offenses and strong run defenses.

For instance: Tennessee's 1998 undefeated national title team and last SEC championship team allowed under 100 yards per game on the ground and only five rushing TDs all season. The offense that year compiled 2,536 yards rushing and 2,250 passing. It had 27 TDs on the ground and 27 TDs through the air.

Restoring that type of balance is the key to UT's return to top 10 status. That's why the performance against Southern Miss was so encouraging. The Vols had 193 yards with two TDs rushing and 276 yards and two TDs passing. Is it just a coincidence that Tennessee's defense held the Golden Eagles to 93 total yards with no touchdowns?

Balance is a beautiful thing to behold.

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Southern Miss 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.

OFFENSIVE LINE (90) Every unit on offense performed well but the key was a first team O-line that didn't allow any sacks and paved the way for UT's running backs to average 4.9 yards per carry. Josh McNeil is becoming a stalwart in his second year at center and Eric Young has been more than serviceable in replacing Aaron Sears. Anthony Parker has all conference potential and the some solid depth is developing behind the first team. Southern Miss had a good defensive front but lacked depth and it showed as the game unfolded. This unit appears to be coming together and it holds the key to Tennessee's chances Saturday in The Swamp.

QUARTERBACKS (86) Erik Ainge played like a seasoned veteran and kept Tennessee close until the defense could get on track. He's throwing the ball accurately and on time, and he's doing it without a go-to receiver. Displayed excellent arm strength on some deep out routes. He still shows a tendency to throw short of the first-down marker in third-down situations. Jonathan Crompton played a couple of series and suffered UT's only sack and first turnover of the game on the same play. He didn't get protection on what was his only called pass, but he should have secured the ball better.

RUNNING BACKS (85) Arian Foster had his second big game of the season, gaining 125 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 23 carries. His longest run was 21 yards and questions remain about his breakaway ability. However he appears much stronger and better conditioned than he was in 2006, and he has proven he is capable of carrying the load as a feature back. His running style is reminiscent of Shaun Alexander. Freshman Lennon Creer saw his first significant action and demonstrated the change-of-pace capability to complement Foster. He finished with 53 yards in six carries including a 38-yard gallop. LaMarcus Coker (four carries for 11 yards) returned from a suspension giving UT another explosive ball carrier with big-play talent. The lack of a true blocking fullback limits Tennessee's power game.

RECEIVERS (82) The development of Austin Rogers (seven catches for 112 yards and a touchdown) and Lucas Taylor (five catches for 118 yards) has been the biggest surprise of the season to this point. Trooper Taylor seems to get the best out of any group he coaches. Unfortunately, no other receivers have stepped up and that could become a problem. Neither Rogers or Taylor are particularly big and an opponent with strong cover corners could shut them down. Still this is much more than most expected from UT's receivers and there is talent behind the starters.

OVERALL (86) This was a sound performance without any glaring weaknesses. However the Vols will play much stronger defenses this season and it remains to be seen if they can repeat it against SEC competition.


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