The Tennessee Volunteer football team did essentially what it was expected to do, but little more, against Montana in a rain-delayed 42-16 victory tonight in Neyland Stadium. Tyler Bray started 2-2 with two touchdowns and finished 17-24 (71%) for 293 yards, three TDs, and zero interceptions (that counted). Both Justin Hunter (146) and Da'Rick Rogers (100) hit three digits, and running back Tauren Poole, although struggling along with the offensive line a bit, fell only two yards shy of the century mark as well. It was just about everything you want as a fan out of a season opener: enough positives to provide hope for the season and enough negatives to keep the team focused and motivated to improve.
A few random notes on the game:
First, with all due respect to Montana, it was Montana.
Who are The Guys? As mentioned above, Bray, Hunter, and Da'Rick Rogers are, in fact, the playmakers on this team, of that there is no doubt. There were some other glimmers of greatness, but those are the horses to which we're hitching the plow in 2011.
The running game. The rushing game needs to improve. It doesn't seem to be any one problem, because too often the offensive line simply isn't getting the push it needs and too often the backs simply aren't making great reads or cuts. It all seemed to improve at times as the game went on, but getting stuffed at the goal line on 4th down with a touchdown on the line doesn't instill optimism. Yeah, it was the second team, but based on the rest of the game, the same thing could very well have happened to the first team.
Fumbles. Also a concern. The team was very fortunate that most balls bounced our way, but despite the fact that Fate owes us, that's not always going to happen, and when the margin is three points instead of thirty, it's going to matter. A lot.
Marlin Lane. Woo for this guy. Despite the aforementioned problems with the runnning game, Lane looks like a real talent. He's shifty, and he's got moves, power, and speed. And despite his one muffed punt, he looks to be the answer at returner, at least short term until we can get a look at Devrin Young. Looking forward to seeing more of Lane.
The book on Bray. For at least one play, Bray left his mouthpiece attached to his helment instead of in his mouth. It was a running play. Does he only do that when he knows he's not going to get hit? Laugh if you want, but it's something to watch, as I remember some of this happening last season as well.
Shotgun snaps. Stone seemed to be fine snapping the ball to Bray for the most part, but at least a couple of shotgun snaps were a bit wild and caused Bray to have to put his eyes on the ball rather than his reads. Also something to keep an eye on.
Sticky tackling. So far anyway, the missile launch tackle appears to be dead. Tacklers were, as a rule, more like fly paper, and when they got close to someone, they stuck them and stuck with them until they went down. This is a Very Good Thing. Assuming it continues.
Forcing the read. Jacques Smith (or Chavez, if you're Jeff Francis) has either been taught well or has excellent instincts, because on a couple of occasions, he seemed to know that he was being read on the option, chose for the offense, and then switched just as the offense committed to the decision he forced them to make. Or maybe he's just quick.
The pants. I really hope that those pants recruited Dooley and not the other way around, because those things are walk ons. I like my orange and all, but yikes, choosing to wear them in public is a disconcerting decision.
And finally, with all due respect to Montana, it was Montana. It was really good to see some efficiency and big plays on offense paired with a fairly stout defense, but the jury's obviously still out on how the team will fare against elite competition. This was a promising start, however.
What do y'all think?