Published September 5, 2011 - 8:50am
NEW: Discuss this topic in the Google+ community for SEC fans.
The Tennessee offense started out with a bang, putting up 42 points on the board against a bad Montana team.
It was a good sight to see Tyler Bray start out where he left off last year, connecting on 17 of 24 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter shined for the Vols, and Rogers caught five passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Hunter caught six passes for 146 yards and a touchdown, including an 81-yard scoring reception.
All looks good, right?
I’m not so sure. This offensive line unit particularly struggled all day, making this offense one-dimensional and even more reliant on that fickle thing called the big play. Now, Tennessee can rely on the big play this week against Cincinnati; however, once the Vols get into conference play, SEC defenses will take away the big play and this offense could be in trouble. Teams will force Tennessee to dink and dunk and mix in the running game.
Running back Tauren Poole was a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago, but the Vols finished dead last in rushing in the SEC. Yes, I know this had more to do with the youth and inexperience along the offensive line than it did with the talent on campus; however, with a year under their belts, this offensive line group doesn’t look much improved.
Saturday, Tennessee had a total of 128 yards rushing on the day with two rushing touchdowns. No one rusher reached 100 yards on the day, and it reinforced the fact that this offense desperately relies on the big play from quarterback Tyler Bray.
Moving forward, here’s how I would like this Tennessee team to respond:
1. Gain a sense of balance on offense. We know Tyler Bray is good, and he will chuck the ball all over the field every Saturday. I am talking about a running game that is legit by Tennessee standards. This team will not win with only Tauren Poole or Marlin Lane being marginal in the running game. This team needs a breakout player at the position. Lane could be that guy, because he showed some flashes; a homerun hitter is what is needed, along with Poole’s ability to run between the tackles.
2. Limit the hidden turnovers. You will look on Tennessee’s stat sheet for this past Saturday and the turnover line will say ‘0’ in it. Tennessee fumbled six times and threw two interceptions, though. Tennessee players recovered all the fumbles and the interceptions were both called back for penalties. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a possible eight-turnover game finish at 0. This could be a bigger cause for concern than the lack of running game if Tennessee doesn’t this resolved.
3. Be more effective on special teams, particularly punting. Punters Matt Darr and Michael Palardy were average at best in the punting game. Darr had two punts that averaged 34 yards, and Palardy had two punts that averaged just over 40 yards. Tennessee long remembers the days of the Colquitt brothers booming punts in Neyland. This team desperately needs the punters to step up and flip field position moving forward.