Halfway home (UT offense)

Tennessee's 12-game regular season reached the halfway point Saturday against Georgia, so it's time for a midseason progress report. The ratings are based on the usual 1-10 scale.

Here's a look at the offense, which is rallying after some early struggles:

QUARTERBACK

Jonathan Crompton was excellent in Game 1 vs. Western Kentucky (21 of 28, 233 yards and 5 touchdowns) and excellent in Game 6 vs. Georgia (20 of 27, 310 yards and 4 touchdowns). In between, he was pretty good vs. Ohio (17 of 34, 222 yards, 2 touchdowns), pretty bad vs. UCLA (13 of 26, 93 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions), pretty inconsistent vs. Auburn (20 of 43, 259 yards thanks to a big finish) and pretty much a non-factor vs. Florida (11 of 19, 93 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions). He's had moments when he looked poised and composed but he's also had moments when he appeared flustered and lost. Going back to the fourth quarter of the Auburn game, he has completed 33 of his last 48 passes for 491 yards. Does that mean he has turned the corner? No, but it's an encouraging sign at the very least. Crompton has thrown nine interceptions to date but several of those were the fault of his receivers. A healthy Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore should help the senior QB considerably going forward. Rating: 6.5

RUNNING BACK

Montario Hardesty has been (A) a godsend, (B) a model of consistency, (C) a workhorse or (D) all of the above. If you answered D, move to the head of the class. Hardesty has gained between 89 and 160 yards in each of Tennessee's first six games. Since rushing just 18 times in the Game 1 blowout of Western Kentucky, he has carried between 20 and 26 times in each game. Hardesty is averaging 112.0 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. He has scored six touchdowns. Backup Bryce Brown has 250 yards on a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Brown also averages a hefty 13.1 yards on eight catches out of the backfield. Tauren Poole is averaging 10 yards on his seven carries and David Oku 4.5 on 11 carries. Here's a good sign: Each of the backs has broken a run of at least 30 yards. Brown and Poole have a 34-yarder each, Oku a 41-yard burst and Hardesty a 43-yarder. Fullback Kevin Cooper has blocked like a bull and averaged 9.0 yards on nine catches out of the backfield. RATING: 9.0

WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END

What a difference a game makes ... The return to health of Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore made a huge impact in Game 6 as Jones caught 5 passes for a career-high 105 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Moore added 4 catches for 73 yards and 1 TD. Prior to that outing, wideout was a wasteland for the Vols as sloppy routes, miscommunications and dropped passes were showing up with alarming frequency. Despite missing one game with a broken jaw, Quintin Hancock leads the Vols with 17 catches. Jones is second in catches (15) and first in yards (209). Moore is third in catches (12) and yards (168). Incredibly, tight end Luke Stocker leads the Vols in yards per catch (14.7). He also has the second-longest reception of the year, a 40-yarder. Freshman Marsalis Teague has just 8 catches but has parlayed them into 100 yards and two touchdowns. Jones, Moore and Stocker also have two receiving TDs each. The biggest disappointments to date: Electrifying freshman Nu'keese Richardson has five catches for a mere 48 yards (9.6 per catch) and senior tight end Jeff Cottam has just one catch for 4 yards. RATING: 6.0 but with a bullet

OFFENSIVE LINE

For a group that lost three-year starting center Josh McNeil to a preseason knee injury and was without starting guard Vlad Richard for three more games, this group has done surprisingly well. Except for Game 2 vs. UCLA (3 sacks and a bunch of hurries), the pass protection has been exceptional. The run blocking, meanwhile, has been terrific ... as Hardesty's rushing numbers clearly reflect. Redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas assumed the first-team job at right tackle in Game 4 and appears to be a budding star. RATING: 8.0


Inside Tennessee Top Stories