Here’s a few thoughts on Tennessee’s 38-7 season opening win over Utah State:
What it means: Tennessee avoided a potential upset by a nationally respected team from a small conference. Though its hardly an SEC win, the Vols left an impression and may save sent a message that their rebuilding process is moving faster than some expected. Many speculated that Tennessee would be a doormat in an open SEC East entering the season. After Sunday’s game, many perspectives may have changed. Tennessee may not be BCS bound, but they definitely made a statement.
What I liked: The Vols did just about everything as well as you could ask. Justin Worley finally looked like a quarterback who was once the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. The freshmen starters showed promise and will likely see a major growth this season. The offensive line was solid and cut down on penalties in the second half. And, perhaps most impressive, the defense shut down dual-threat option Chuckie Keaton, holding him to just 144 passing yards and forcing two interceptions. Side note, the fan support was incredible from the sellout crowd at Neyland Stadium.
What I didn’t like: To knit-pick, the biggest flaw was early penalties by the offensive line, which seemed to be adjusted at halftime. Freshman kicker Aaron Medley missed a 41-yard field goal, which was not so much that he missed, but that he was so far wide right that it looked comical. Medley did, however, connect on a 36-yarder later in the game.
Key Play: Tennessee’s key play came on the ensuing kickoff of their first touchdown. A.J. Johnson forced a fumble that was recovered by freshman Todd Kelly Jr. on the 12-yard line. This set up a touchdown reception by Brendan Downs from the same distance that gave the Vols a 14-0 lead. Tennessee continued to hold its momentum throughout the contest, adding 24 more points.
What’s next: Tennessee will host Arkansas State at Neyland Stadium in week two. The Red Wolves are coming off a 37-10 win over Montana State and were 8-5 (5-2) in 2013.