The Vols looked good this Saturday, as Tennessee beat Kentucky 50-16 in Knoxville, bringing their overall record back to .500 and putting themselves within one game of bowl eligibility. What areas of their play took a step forward, and which still need to improve? We take a look in this week's Trending Report.
- Playing with expectations. Before this week, Tennessee had been an underdog in four SEC games (covering the spread in three of them) and had lost their only contest as a favorite. After the comeback win over South Carolina, the Vols put aside the underdog mantle for the rest of the regular season, and they showed no trouble transitioning into the favorite role against Kentucky. Tennessee started fast and kept the pedal to the floor for three quarters on their way to a blowout victory. The Vols will have to continue playing well in the favorite role if they want to clinch bowl eligibility this weekend.
- Treating a backup like a backup. Tennessee has had some rough times against backup quarterbacks over the years, but Saturday, when Kentucky's Patrick Towles went down, the Vols made the Wildcats pay. They did not allow backup Reese Phillips to complete any of his four pass attempts, and Brian Randolph intercepted Phillips once and took it to the house. Towles left with a 3-0 lead and returned facing a 20-3 deficit. That's what you're supposed to do when the other team is missing their starter.
- Lil Jon. After playing very well on third down for the first half of the season, the defense took a major step backwards against Alabama and South Carolina. Saturday was a return to form, as the Vols allowed Kentucky to convert just 3 of their 14 third down attempts, effectively choking the life out of the Wildcats' offense.
- Quality of competition. Josh Dobbs and his offense has had a pair of excellent games against mediocre defenses. It gets a lot tougher this week. Missouri's defense might not be at Alabama levels, but unlike Alabama, they know what to prepare for, and their pass rush against Tennessee's weak offensive line is a severe mismatch. With three key suspensions on the defensive side of the ball, the offense is going to have to keep up the good work against a much tougher opponent than they saw against South Carolina or Kentucky.
- Discipline. It's hard to be upset with much in a 50-16 win over an SEC opponent, but one of the least penalized teams in the country struggled from a discipline standpoint. Just three penalties were marked off against the Vols, but Tennessee committed four personal foul penalties (two of which were offset by Kentucky penalties) and had one player ejected and suspended for the first half of the Missouri game. And that's just on the field. While it's too early to make judgments about guilt or innocence, two Vols found themselves suspended and facing serious criminal charges for their alleged actions Saturday night after the game.
- The Dobbs offense. Which we are not combining into one word because you remember what happened last time we did that. 500 yards of offense. 6.4 yards per play. 43 points in three quarters. After a masterful performance against South Carolina, it's hard to say that the offense improved this week, but they certainly maintained their high level of play. And every time they play this well, it looks more and more like this is a glimpse of their potential and less and less like this is a flash in the pan.
- Letting one receiver have a career day. It wasn't as bad as it was against Cooper and Cooper, but Tennessee still let Javiss Blue rack up 131 receiving yards. Most of that damage was done in the first half, where the Vols' secondary allowed Patrick Towles 10.4 yards per pass attempt. The defense tightened up in the second half, but 10.4 YPA is the sort of pass defense that will lose you games if the rest of the team isn't firing on all cylinders. It was a problem against Alabama, it was a problem against South Carolina, and it was a problem for half the game against Kentucky. The problem needs to go away against Missouri if the Vols want to secure a bowl bid.