This thing's going to be top-heavy today. Overall, the coaches had the team ready to play. John Chavis called a great game and employed a fantastic bend-but-don't-break game plan that the players executed to perfection except that they sometimes didn't even bend. David Cutcliffe also had a good day, sticking with the running game and calling the right passing plays to convert in key situations. Props to coach Fulmer for a stellar Saturday.
In the lovely, big fat top o' the curve.
Linebackers. Jerod Mayo had nine tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown to seal the game. Ryan Karl added seven tackles, including four solos and one for a loss of two yards. Rico McCoy had six tackles, including one early tone-setting blow on McFadden. As a unit, they did what they needed to do -- limit the McDamage. Of course, it helped that they were able to count on the secondary to do its job, which brings us to . . .
Secondary. Volorado may be the chairperson of the Eric Berry Man Crush Club, but he's not the only proud member. Berry had six tackles (four solos), two interceptions and, get this, 98 yards in interception returns on his way to being named SEC Freshman of the Week. Jonathan Hefney played like Jonathan Hefney, breaking up one pass and making eight tackles (four solos). The rest of the guys were all in the right spots bending but staying in one piece for most of the game. Of course, the linebackers and the secondary don't do what they do without the line doing its job, which brings us to . . .
Defensive line. Woo for these guys. Dan Williams was the pusher, not pushee, and he racked up five tackles and a sack for a 15 yard loss. Credit he and J.T. Mapu for stopping Arkansas on a critical fourth and one play. Xavier Mitchell also had a sack, and as a unit, these guys did more than just limit damage, they caused it. Of course, the defense's job was made all the easier by the fact that the offense held the ball and controlled the clock, which brings us to . . .
Offensive line. Once again, no sacks. The unit controlled the line of the scrimmage, pushing defenders around and making holes for the running backs. On key short yardage situations, they basically just picked up the line of scrimmage and moved three yards downfield. Anthony Parker and Jacques McClendon had the foresight to commit false start penalties, backing up the team but extending a key touchdown drive. But . . . moving defenders and making holes does no good unless somebody uses them . . .
Running backs. Foster and Hardesty outshined Mr. McHeisman and SuperHero Sidekick Felix Jones. They combined for 148 yards, including Foster's brilliant 59-yard touchdown run during which all of the defenders, and one unfortunate official, misjudged his speed. Lots o' yards on first down runs, getting the team into prime play-calling option territory. Contributed to first-half drives of 4:45, 7:15 (!), and 5:32. Offense often had the advantage of a short field, courtesy of . . .
In the uncharacteristically small middle o' the curve.
Special Teams. Who's starting the Dennis Rogan Man Crush Club? The man stole the thunder created by Felix Jones' kickoff return to midfield by running one back 78 yards and also had a 15-yard punt return. Antonio Wardlow blocked another punt. Daniel Lincoln made field goals of 25 and 28 yards, but missed one from 41.
Receivers. Austin Rogers had an excellent game, catching six balls for 62 yards and one touchdown. Lucas Taylor had four for 41, including a really nice 29-yarder. Josh Briscoe had one catch for 14 yards, but it went for a touchdown. The unit came through on key third down conversions, and I don't recall any of the receivers dropping any passes.
In the little, itty bitty, bottom o' the curve.
Quarterback. He may be at the bottom of the curve (somebody has to be here), but I'm giving everybody As, including Ainge in Orange, who went 12 of 25 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers aren't great, but this game was more about managing momentum than stockpiling passing stats, and he excelled from that perspective. Got the team into good plays and out of bad ones. Absolutely no complaints here.