Unit bell curve: Tennessee Volunteers v. Kentucky Wildcats

At the top of the curve

Running backs. Arian Foster gained 116 yards on 27 carries for a 4.4 per carry average and caught nine balls for 98 yards and a touchdown. Montario Hardesty added 26 yards before twisting his ankle. Foster got much of his rushing yardage himself, consistently making the first one or two defenders miss. Dock him a bit for the frustration personal foul penalty after the end of the third overtime, which actually opened the field more and made the touchdown in the fourth overtime easier, and for dropping a pass that would have extended a key fourth quarter drive.

Quarterback. Erik Ainge went 28 of 45 for 397 yards and seven touchdowns, but threw three interceptions. He's also responsible for the sack, as he could have avoided it by throwing the ball away past the line of scrimmage. Still, Ainge in Orange showed an ability to shake off mistakes and great leadership in the first half and overtime.

Coaching. The offensive game plan was stellar and bogged down in the second half primarily due to several key drops by receivers and running backs. Excellent use of misdirection and multiple wide receiver sets, especially in overtime. The defensive game plan also was mostly very good, but stunk to high heavens late in the fourth quarter as the team continued to beat the dead Mustang package and nearly gave up a game-winning touchdown instead of forcing the field  goal. They did hold when it mattered, though. First year players contributed on both sides of the ball when we needed playmakers most.

Linebackers. Jerod Mayo had 19 tackles, one for a loss and a huge, interception-inducing hit on Kentucky's Jacob Tamme over the middle. He also broke up a pass and was visible verbally leading the defense pre-snap. Ryan Karl recorded ten tackles, and Rico McCoy had nine and a pass break up.

In the middle of the curve

Special teams. This would probably be at the bottom of the curve if not for Dan Williams' blocked field goal to save the game and send it to another overtime. Muffed punts, missed field goals, out of bounds kickoffs -- it was all there. But that blocked punt, whoa.

Receivers. Lucas Taylor had six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Quintin Hancock had two for 55 and two touchdowns. Austin Rogers had only two for 17, but one was a key overtime touchdown and another was the game-winning two-point conversion. Josh Briscoe caught two balls for 25 yards. Put tight end Brad Cottam here, as his 59-yard catch and run was key to the victory. The receivers got the drops in the second half when simply securing the ball could have sealed the game. Gerald Jones' touchdown catch was a thing of beauty, as was his he'll-never-convert-that third down conversion, when he caught the ball short and had to fight through and off three defenders to make it past the first down line.

Defensive line. Xavier Mitchell had a really nice interception and return that led to seven points, a 24-7 lead just before halftime, and what should have been momentum in the second half. Robert Ayers and Antonio Reynolds each had four tackles, and Reynolds had a sack and Ayers a TFL. Demonte Bolden registered a sack and a forced fumble, which Wes Brown recovered.

At the bottom of the curve

Offensive line. Pass protection was again great, especially when it mattered most, but run-blocking, not so much.

Defensive backs. Hmm. Not great. Eric Berry did record 14 tackles, but he got out-wrestled on a potential interception and just missed one or two others. Brent Vinson was fine, but he, too, dropped a potential game-sealing interception. DeAngelo Willingham got beat again and again. Jonathan Hefney got nine tackles. Ricardo Kemp had two sacks and an interception that he returned for nine yards. Also, Kentucky quarterback had no one to throw to on the failed two-point conversion that won the game for the Vols, so that's good.


 Overall, the Vols squandered several opportunities to put this thing away in the second half, but got it done in overtime, so it's hard to complain about that. Team effort, in both the good and the bad.

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