I'm back from the Orange and White game (sort of - I'm actually in the library typing this). Here's a quick rundown of some of the things we saw at the practice/scrimmage/game/thing.
The Vol Walk was pretty cool. Joel was in terrific shape to get a lot of great pictures, so I'm sure you'll see them at some point.
During the warmups, the team was run similar to practice conditions, including the horn to signal the end of a drill and the running between drills. The progression made a lot of sense, starting with gentle warmup and stretching routines, then finishing with 11-on-11 drills.
The presentation of the Neyland award went very well. Fulmer was actually given two standing ovations - once when the crowd first saw him and once when the award was actually presented. Other than a couple of very close-in snarky comments, I heard no boos or any other negative vibes from the crowd. In other words, the presentation was not a fiasco, and the media-driven fears turned out to be much ado about nothing. We can move on.
The Orange and White Game
The game itself was a lot of fun to watch. As any spring game goes, it wasn't exciting from a pure football perspective, but it was a great opportunity to connect the practice reports to the play on the field and get a perspect on the team. The oddest thing was watching Lane Kiffin: he spent the entire game on the field, first huddling with the offense then watching from behind the quarterback and running backs. The view was great, I'm sure, but it took a bit to get used to seeing.
Here are a few of the things I took from the game.
We'll start with the big question first. When you look at the stats, you'll notice that Crompton threw the only interception. That is not to say that Crompton was the only one who deserved to be intercepted; all three quarterbacks threw a few ill-advised passes and had inconsistent days. If I were to quantify the problems though, I'd fault Crompton for holding the ball too long, Stephens for floating passes, and Coleman for being inaccurate.
Because of the Kiffin-in-the-huddle routine, you really couldn't get any perception on the on-field leadership abilities of the three quarterbacks. One of the most common compliments in Crompton's favor has been his command presence, but that could not be differentiated between the three today. C'est la vie.
The quarterbacks played better in the first half than the second half. If you watch the replay on Sunday, you'll see that reflected in the scoreboard as the defense nearly brought the game back to a tie.
I love the zone blocking. The grain of salt is this: they have more work to do to be truly proficient at it. That said, the linemen really explode off the snap well and opened up some terrific holes for the running backs. The cutback lanes were available, just as they were drawn up. They did well with zone blocking for short yardage plays as well, and the one goal-line play that really got blown apart by the defense didn't appear to be a zone scheme in the most proper sense of the term.
On the replays, though, you could see the offensive linemen carry defenders laterally past the play when the defender over-committed, and you could see them seal off a defender who took too aggressive of an angle. They are really taking to the system, and I think they can go a long way with it. As I said before, there's work to be done, but there was enough there to see where things are headed, and I like it.
The other beauty of the zone blocking was that it was hard to tell if the line was blocking for a run or blocking for play action passing. Not having linemen head downfield with their first step helped mask the play. This also I like.
The first-string line is indeed much better against the first string O-line than the second strin line is against the seconds string O-line. Linemen were in the offensive backfield all day long, especially on pass plays. The line was hampered, however, by an early injury to the right leg of Ben Martin. He was helped to the sideline in the first quarter, where he was treated for a while before being taken to the locker room, never to return. Montori Hughes appeared to tweak something at one point, though he continued playing.
The biggest D-line weakness was their tendency to bite on play action. Perhaps it was a sign of respect for the running game, but the linemen tended to chase the runner on a play action fake far more frequently than they chose to chase the quarterback. This made for a lot of space in front of the quarterback for decision-making, which was a very good thing.
I think the guy had more receptions (and certainly more touchdowns) in the Orange and White game than he had all season last year. His two touchdowns were pretty and he made some very difficult catches. He's a handful as a wide receiver and, if he keeps on progressing through the offseason, he'll be a terrific addition.
Eddie Gran has to be the most pleased position coach
You are going to love the running game in the fall. The running backs run hard, make decisive cuts, and almost always fall forward when they get tackled. If you remember how Gran's Auburn running backs used to run over people (Williams, Brown, etc.), that's the kind of thing you can look forward to seeing. I'm not saying that our guys are going to be as talked-about as the Auburn guys were, but they're going to make life very unpleasant for defenders. Toney Williams had an absolutely terrific day; the kid has really picked up the system and plays with a lot of intensity and effort. Hardesty and Poole had really nice days as well, but Toney deserves a little publicity as he's so often left out of the discussion because of the hype around David Oku and Bryce Brown.
I think having 5 high-end running backs will work well for the program. They can run hard and lay licks on tacklers without worrying about being overextended throughout a season. A healthy rotation will give all five ample opportunity to shine while giving defenses a lot to be concerned about.
BOOTLEGGING: Back in Tennessee
Kiffin ran the bootleg on play action. A lot. No, a lot. I don't know if the defensive tendency to bite on the play action was more a fault of the defensive read or if it was due to a good job on the fake by the offense, but it worked very well. Lane went away from the bootleg play action plays somewhat in the second haf, but the first half is absolutely packed with them.
Odds and Ends
- Ed Orgeron really is that loud. We were halfway up the lower bowl, and we could really hear him out there. We couldn't understand a word of it, but it was still impressive.
- Very few penalty flags. I can only remember two: one that was declined on the interception play, and one that nullified a touchdown. The defense had zero penalties throughout the day.
- NFL advertising for the program. Well, technically not advertising for or from the NFL, but they do use it in the JumboTron spots. One in particular noted Kiffin's time at USC and with the Oakland Raiders. (By the way, it's really weird to see a UT promo begin with highlights of the Trojans.)
- Gang tackling. People were really flying to the ball. I think you'll love watching the defense against Western Kentucky in the fall.
- 51,488. That was the announced attendance, though I have no clue how they counted it. I walked through by showing my student ID, and Joel didn't even have to show his ticket. But that qualifies for second-highest ever at Neyland, second only to the 1986 attempt at the Guinness Book of World Records.