UT's O Good Enough

In an era of spread offenses, extreme passing schemes, and customized personnel packages, more games are decided by the fluid factors of field position and turnovers than anything hatched in the myriad minds of genus O.C.s.

Tennessee's victory over Arkansas underscored the importance of a plus turnover ratio and positive field position. Thanks to a Tennessee offense that played keep away with the football, the Vols ended up with a plus-3 turnover advantage and started three of its five scoring drives on the Razorbacks' side of the field. The end result was a 34-13 victory on a day when the offense had its lowest yardage total — 279.

Remarkably the Vols managed to turn those 279 yards into 18 first downs thanks to five Arkansas penalties that provided a new series of downs. By comparison Tennessee didn't turn the ball over at all. Neither did the Vols give up any first downs by way of penalty.

Moreover, Tennessee added another 274 return yards compared to the Razorbacks 119 return yards. It might sound a little boring but avoiding mistakes and playing great special teams is a tired and true formula to football success.

General Neyland knew these things well as he laid down in words in his now famous maxims. First: (The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins), Second: (Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way — SCORE). Sixth (Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.)

True, the game, the players, the coaches, the rules and the strategy of football all change. However the secrets to success remain timeless.

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

RUNNING BACKS (87) The Vols gained a respectable 151 yards with Arian Foster (83 yards in 13 carries) and Montario Hardesty (65 yards in 20 carries) shouldering the load. Foster's 59-yard touchdown gallop was the biggest gain of the game from the line of scrimmage. Foster also added an 11-yard catch. With the exception of Foster's run these were hard earned yards that helped to soften the defense and move the sticks. The fact they were able to achieve this without any type of fumble is another factor in their favor.

QUARTERBACK (84) Far from Erik Ainge's best game statistically (12 of 25, 128 yards and 2 TDs), but he displayed patience by not forcing passes, good game management skills by milking the clock and good pre-snap reads. The most significant statistic for a quarterback is his win/loss record. If you pass personal stat padding for the good of the team you're leading by example. Ainge did that against Arkansas and deserves more credit than criticism.

OFFENSIVE LINE (80) Once again UT's O-line didn't allow a sack and the Vols controlled the ball 20:55 en route to a 20-3 first half advantage. Outside of Foster's long run on the Vols' first possession of the third quarter the offense didn't get a lot accomplished in the second half. Given the situation this was a time the offensive line should have been able dominate the defense. The fact it didn't raises questions as to focus, stamina and hunger. That's been a common theme this season and could be the difference in a closer game on another occasion.

RECEIVERS (74) Only three wide receivers caught passes in this game led by Austin Rogers (6 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD). Josh Briscoe and Lucas Taylor combined for 5 catches and 55 yards. The biggest problem from the wideouts was their inability to get separation. Several passes were completed under heavy coverage and other passes were thrown away rather than risking an interception. Compounding this problem was the fact the Vols got no receptions from their tight ends and only one from a running back. There were several clutch catches made including two touchdowns, but overall this wasn't the best day for a group of wideouts that has, for the most part, defied low expectations this season.

OVERALL (81) All season long we've preached balance of the running game and the passing game. The Vols had that against Arkansas but more importantly there was balance between UT's offense and defense. The 279 total yards with balance and no mistakes is worth 500 passing yards and a pair of interceptions anytime. The bottom line: Tennessee doesn't have to be spectacular on offense just solid. It's up to the defense and special teams to do their part.


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