More than anything that happened in Knoxville Saturday to create doubts was what happened in Provo, Utah, where the BYU Cougars crushed UCLA 59-0. After dropping the season opener to the Bruins in overtime it appeared that much of the Vols' problems were with a UCLA team that was athletic with a defense that was strong, although not very deep.
In retrospect the Bruins' defense is much less formidable than it appeared on Labor Day evening although looking at scores without examining particulars can create false impressions. That said, here was nothing misleading about this one-sided win. BYU dominated the contest with 521 yards, 30 first downs, seven touchdown passes and a 15:12 advantage in time of possession. The Cougars won this contest with a 35-point second quarter. That's 11 points more than Tennessee scored in four quarters and an overtime. Plus the Vols passing game was unable to score an air strike.
The larger problem is the ease BYU's defense had in shutting down a UCLA offense the Vols couldn't slow down in the fourth quarter. Playing in the wild Mountain West Conference BYU is the type of fastbreak oriented team that will give up a field goal just to get the ball back. And yet the Bruins not only failed to score they had a paltry nine yards in 16 carries and 239-yard total yards in 55 plays.
There were plenty of positives about UT's effort against UAB. Anytime you can achieve nearly perfect balance while piling up 548 yards and putting five touchdowns on the board it's a good day at the office for the offense.
But it's still very much a work in progress with personnel learning a new system under a new coordinator and staff. It would be unusual to make a change of this magnitude and not take a few games to get up to speed. Tennessee has yet to really find it's tempo.
One reason is ball distribution. Lucas Taylor had a big day with nine catches for 132 yards, but the rest of UT's tight ends, backs and wide receivers had a total of 11 catches for 150 yards.
The Vols did a good job of getting the tight end involved in the offense but it was a bad day for Luke Stocker, who dropped three passes including a likely touchdown.
The offensive line was able to control the line of scrimmage against the Blazers but is still having problems picking up stunts and blitzes.
The defense has throttled the run in the first two games and intercepted seven passes. On the negative side the Vols haven't been able to get consistent pressure on the pocket with their down four linemen. Like the offense it hasn't really been tested yet like it will in the SEC and that starts Saturday.
What follows is the top to bottom grades for each of UT's offensive and defensive units as well as special teams, and an overall grade.
RUNNING BACKS (9.3) Four tailbacks saw service and all excelled with the exception of Montario Hardesty, who wasn't as impressive as he was in the opener. Lennon Creer has star quality. Tauren Poole does have some Travis Henry like physique and similar running style. No fumbles.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (9.1) Secondary did a good job of keeping UAB's passing game in check. No big plays, no touchdowns, three interceptions. The most talented of UT's units on either side of the ball.
DEFENSIVE LINE: (8.7) The defensive line has been very effective against the run but haven't yet seen a potent ground game. Not enough pressure on passer.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8.6) Did a great job of opening holes for the run, but there are still too many missed assignments, penalties and leakage against the blitz.
QUARTERBACK (8.3) Jonathan Crompton seems to get more criticism than he deserves. Had two INTs but one was better than a punt. He will grow into the offense as everybody can gets on the same page.
RECEIVERS (7.9) There weren't enough receivers getting open for UT's offense to establish rhythm. Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe combined for one catch and 12 yards. Drops by tight end were costly and can't be tolerated.
LINEBACKERS (7.5) This unit has yet to gel and is missing the athleticism and instincts of Jerod Mayo in the middle. Top four LBs totaled 12 solo tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS (7.0) Unlike in the UCLA game the kicking game didn't hurt the Vols against UAB, but it didn't help either. The 34-yard punting average would be a problem against Florida.
OFFENSE (8.6) The talent is there for an explosive offensive attack and the balance to this point has been outstanding, but there miles to go before Dave Clawson can sleep soundly at nights.
DEFENSE (8.4) Can't argue with the results but the lack of dominance against a suspect opponent doesn't inspire confidence going into Saturday's showdown.
OVERALL (8.2) There weren't any glaring weaknesses however UAB didn't have any the strengths to test the Vols the way they needed to be tested to get ready for Florida.