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Tennessee-Florida: Unit analysis

Some quick thoughts on how the various Tennessee units fared against the Gators this past weekend.  Since this was a loss, we'll go from worst to first:

  • Offensive line.  Ugh.  Don't take my word for it, take David Ligon's:
    I think I can speak for all the offensive linemen. We lost the game tonight.  Our receivers and quarterbacks, our defense fought their butts off.  But as an O-line, we didn't do our job.
     Or take coach Fulmer's:
    I think it's more about the people up front.  Hardesty's a good back himself, and there's probably a reason Arian is the starter or was the starter or is the starter. We didn't give the running backs much chance to do anything.  Give credit to Florida to some degree, but our business wasn't taken care of. We got to get our pads down, get a better push and in pass [protection] we've got to do a much better job.
    Run blocking was nonexistent, and on the play of the game, the center, I believe, blocked air and gave a blitzing middle linebacker a direct route to Ainge for a sack/intentional grounding penalty.  Before that play, we were headed toward field position and a game-winning field goal attempt.
  • Running backs.  To be fair, who could really tell?  The running backs had absolutely nowhere to go.  There were no fumbles or other costly mistakes, and LaMarcus Coker participated in the Vol's offensive play of the game, but there's really no way to judge the backs in light of the offensive line's inability to run block.
  • Coaching.  Simply could not solve the running game, and continued to attempt to run the ball with the game on the line when it was obviously not working.  Defense could not stop Tim Tebow's short yardage plays, although they were probably wary of simply assuming he would run every time.
  • Quarterback.  Ainge played fairly well, I thought, going 17 of 32 for 183 yards.  He did have two interceptions.  The last one was on a desperation play to keep the game alive, so doesn't matter much, but it appears in hindsight that if he had thrown it over the top instead of on a line, Meachem may have had a better shot at it.  The first, on the first play from scrimmage, was a bit of a tone-setter, and had it been successful could have encouraged the Gators to focus more on the run.  Ainge showed some resiliency, bouncing back from mistakes, but still showed a discouraging tendency to throw while being sacked, once in his own end zone and once when the team was within five to eight yards of having position for a game-winning field goal attempt.  He got lucky on the first, as a player was in the vicinity and the second caused no harm because had he simply taken the sack and not the penalty, he would have been down at about the same spot.  Still, you'd think that after LSU last year, he would never, never, never throw the ball while in the process of being thrown to the ground.  Overall, though, a pretty solid performance by Ainge.
  • Defensive line.  Justin Harrell was heroic, but his injured left arm was exploited a time or two.  Constant pressure and three sacks, including one by Turk McBride to knock the Gators out of field goal territory.  Costly roughing the passer penalty on mild-mannered J.T. Mapu -- a questionable call, if you ask me -- cost the Vols seven points, as it erased linebacker Marvin Mitchell's interception return for a touchdown.
  • Secondary.  Jonathan Wade changed the game momentum with a key interception in the first half.  There were no deep pass plays against this unit, but Florida's receivers were able to get open at key points during the game.  Demetrice Morley had a nice pass breakup but also got caught on a switch for a touchdown.
  • Special teams.  James Wilhoit had a solid performance, hitting field goals of 36 and 51 yards and kicking the ball into the end zone on kickoffs three times.  He also sent one out of bounds, though.  Britton Colquitt had four punts for 193 yards and a touchdown-saving tackle on a punt return.  Austin Rogers fair caught a punt at the six yard line, and Florida's Brandon James had one 35 yard punt return and another for a touchdown that was called back due to a questionable block in the back penalty.
  • Linebackers.  Marvin Mitchell had a game-high 15 tackles and would have had an interception return for a touchdown if not for a roughing the passer penalty on the play.  Jerod Mayo added 10 tackles.  Depth showed a bit, as with the game on the line, they could not deny Florida a first down to force a punt with the clock winding down.
  • Wide receivers.  This unit did well.  Jayson Swain led the pack with six receptions for 77 yards, and Robert Meachem added four catches for 47 yards.  Lucas Taylor threw the only touchdown pass of the game on a trick play.  There was a 15 yard personal foul against Bret Smith, and the long ball was mostly absent throughout the game, although I'm not sure whether this was on the receivers, the quarterback, or the play-calling.