A Job Half Done

Since the primary objective of the game is to outscore your opponent it might seem petty to rip Tennessee's offense for its performance against South Carolina or to quibble over style points, but for a team aspiring to win the SEC title it's an unavoidable exercise in analysis.

In many respects it's even more necessary after a win than after a loss because problems have a way of being sanitized in the afterglow of victory. For a team to maintain an even keel it needs both genuine praise and constructive criticism regardless of the outcome.

For the second straight game the Vols failed to score a second half touchdown. They have scored only 82 second half points this season compared to 165 in the first half. In the fourth quarter, opponents are doubling UT on the scoreboard 69-34 this fall.

The failure to finish strong could be the result of adept adjustments by opponents, or a lack of depth, or the absence of an effective strategic counter punch. It could be from a loss of focus by the players that results from either holding sizable leads or facing significant deficits. Those conditions were present against Cal (down 31-21), Florida (down 28-13), Georgia (up 28-7) and South Carolina (up 21-0).

What's more striking is that with all the various ups and downs this season, the 5-2 Vols are remarkably even with their opponents statistically. Tennessee has scored 250 total points and have given up 250 total points for an average of 31.2 per game. UT has scored 29 TDs and given up 30. Tennessee has 165 first downs with 62 rushing and 91 passing and its opponents have 170 first downs with 63 rushing and 94 passing. UT has gained 3232 yards in total offense while its opponents have 3348. The Vols have run 568 plays to their opponents' 571. They average 5.7 yards per play and their foes' average 5.9 yards per play.

The Vols average 404.5 yards per game compared to surrendering 418.5 yards per play. Tennessee has incurred 49 penalties for 404 yards vs. 51 penalties for 387 yards. UT has intercepted seven passes and have been intercepted seven times. Opponents hold a slight edge in time of possession 30:52 to 29:08. Third down conversions are nearly identical with the Vols making 47 of 118 vs. 47 of 119. Red zone scoring is as close to even as you can get with the Vols scoring on 32 of 35 for 91 percent compared to 25 of 28 by their opponents for 89 percent.

Punting is nearly the same with UT averaging 42.6 (35.9 net) to 41.7 (37.1 net). Field goal kicking is a near match with the Vols hitting 15 of 17 and opponents connecting on 13 of 16. Points after touchdowns is 29 to 29.

With things this even it's surprising that the closest game UT had played before South Carolina was a 33-21 win over Mississippi State. Fortunately for the Big Orange Lady Luck was on their side against South Carolina or the Vols would be 4-4.

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

RECEIVERS (82) Yes this was Tennessee's lowest statistical passing game of the year with 216 yards and one touchdown, but 10 different players caught passes including eight receivers led by the trio of Lucas Taylor (4 for 57 yards), Josh Briscoe (4 for 48 yards and a TD) and Austin Rogers (3 for 38 yards). Gerald Jones caught a 20 yard pass and looks to possess big-play potential while Quinton Hancock had 2 catches for 19 yards including a key second half first down. Tight ends Chris Brown, Jeff Cottam and Luke Stocker combined for 7 catches and only 8 yards. Most importantly the receivers handled most of the catchable passes going up against the SEC's top rated pass defense.

OFFENSIVE LINE (79) This wasn't a dominating effort by any stretch of the imagination but generally speaking the protection was good (one sack allowed) and the Vols were able to carve out 110 yards on 28 carries. The biggest play of the night was Jacques McClendon's fumble recovery to set up Daniel Lincoln's game-tying field goal with five seconds remaining. The real problem was time of possession in the second half in which the Gamecocks held a 19:55 to 10:05 advantage.

QUARTERBACK (78) Probably Eric Ainge's worst overall game of the season although his first half was quite good. He rushed some throws and forced some passes under pressure. He didn't have his usual accuracy and failed to pick up underneath coverage on his interception. He's certainly allowed an off night but when he has one it has a huge impact on the efficiency of the offense. Again it underscores his value to the team.

RUNNING BACK (75) There wasn't as much running room as has been available in the last four games, still the backs were too often trying to make something out of nothing. Arian Foster led the way with 75 yards in 19 carries including the Vols first touchdown. However his fourth quarter fumble could have ended UT's chances. Montario Hardesty ran the ball hard in picking up 18 yards in just two carries including a 3-yard TD run. LaMarcus Coker (18 yards in six carries) continues ot mystify on offense although he had a big return on special teams to launch the Vols final scoring drive of regulation.

OVERALL (77) A good first half was neutralized by an almost disastrous second half. It's an inconsistency that's difficult to fully fathom. The most important point is UT's offense had only one turnover compared to three for the Gamecocks. In the end that was the difference in the gamne.

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