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Twelve Thoughts: Tennessee Beats Arkansas State

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Unpacking yesterday's Vols win over the Red Wolves.

Get better soon, Von.
Get better soon, Von.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

1. First half Justin Worley (7.9 YPA) had great touch. That touch fell apart some in the second half, but he was able to get the ball in the right spots past 12 yards, which was something he had struggled with against Utah State. Worley's second half: not great, but there's enough in First Half Worley to be a plus. Now how do you turn First Half Worley into All Game Worley? First Half Worley can keep Tennessee in games they have no business being in. Second Half Worley looked like last year's dead duck games down the stretch.

2. With that being said, Tennessee's receivers are good, and the group might be deeper than we thought. Marquez North looked like he was playing a different game yesterday (get used to this), Ethan Wolf played well, and even Josh Smith(!) has looked strong in limited action. This doesn't even include Josh Malone, Jason Croom, Pig Howard, and Von Pearson. Worley has so many weapons and provided his touch doesn't desert him, he can put up pinball numbers throwing to this group given the opportunity.

3. Seriously, Pearson had 4 catches for 78 yards in a quarter. Get healthy like now, dude. If Pearson's out for a while, there's enough depth throughout the rest of the team to help keep the dropoff reasonable. Malone, Smith, and Croom stand to gain the most snaps, but in the more immediate future Pig's probably only leaving the field to get a breather. I don't know what this means, honestly; he's not very explosive, but:

4. Pig seems to enjoy (and be decent at) downfield blocking. Not sure that's enough in the medium-long term, especially in this offense where playmakers are at a premium given the holes in the offensive line, but it's worth noting. Also worth noting: this team is more dependent on WR screens and short-swing passes than I remember; while I feel pretty confident Josh Malone is more talented than Pig, it could be that Pig's a far better blocker. That does have value in this offense, although I don't know how much I like replacing Pearson with "more blocking".

5. Jalen Hurd will flat lay some lumber given half a chance. While he's still adjusting to the speed of the college game and trying to figure out how he can be effective, he's stacking firewood at the expense of failed blitzes left and right. (He also had a great/hilarious clear out block on that Von Pearson run about 40 yards downfield right at the end of the play. Credit for sticking it out, but I think he just wanted to hit someone.)

6. Hurd's TD run-where he beat three defenders to the edge and then trucked the fourth-was a nice sign. He belongs, or as belongs as you can for a guy fresh off a year lost from injury jumping a level. His aggregate YPC numbers aren't great, but there's a high end here we haven't seen in a long time. (Also, that big-boy 12-yard pinball run to get Tennessee out from a bad spot in the third quarter? That's a great sign for a true freshman.)

7. Of course, those were about the only highlights of the running game. To those of you looking for a rush offense: I've got bad news for you. The aggregate YPC numbers for the team-3.7 YPC-are flat-out not good, and it's once again a question of what the offensive line is capable of against an actually strong defensive line. Arkansas State's DL was ....okay. Oklahoma and Georgia's DL will be a couple of steps ahead of that to be charitable, and I almost wonder if it makes sense to go full Chaney-on-the-OL style where they run just enough to keep the pass rush at bay and only work on pass blocking. I'm not sure I like that, but this is about to become a huge, obvious problem.

8. Another idea: run plays that don't require the OL to hold their blocks for 3-4 seconds at a time, because they are just going to get obliterated. Your opinions welcome here.

9. I want to include more on the defense, but WatchESPN was utterly uncooperative on replay, skipping drives and randomly bouncing around to various parts of the game when I was trying to skip commercials. The upshot: I kept on missing the three and outs, but in aggregate Arkansas State didn't have a whole lot of wasted yardage; if they got a first down or two, they were probably scoring. I'm okay with this, since it resulted in 14 drives for Tennessee. 3.5 drives per quarter is good enough to get one scoring drive (at least), but it also gets the team up near the 80-play threshold, which is what they'll need to be successful. If the offense isn't explosive on a consistent basis (which it won't be: the offensive line will see to that), then it needs to be efficient, and efficiency requires a bunch of plays to be successful.

10. Don't underestimate the benefit of staying on schedule. Mike Bajakian will need all the help he can get, and the more standard downs the better for everyone involved.

11. Of course, we need to talk about special teams. The punt blocking/return games were largely lacking (save one Jacob Carter return). This is not a good sign given how this team will struggle for yardage once it hits the meat of their schedule. Punt coverage/returns are a way to pick up/prevent yardage; the return game is the big opportunity here. Fifteen opponent punts to one return isn't a great ratio; maybe Carter's the answer here? Or an answer? Wonder if this is something Darrell Scott could do if he's not redshirting. (Stay tuned next week for when I add kick returns to the list.) Darr had a decent day, but his 40.5 yards-per-punt average puts him behind the SEC average. Even losing 10-15 yards per round of punts can only happen once or twice before the opponent gets a free FG opportunity.

12. Games I feel pretty good about: UT-Chattanooga, Vanderbilt, Kentucky. Games I feel okay about: Florida, Missouri, South Carolina. Games I feel pretty terrible about: Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss. Not a whole lot of change since the beginning of the season, and most of the movement has come away from Knoxville, but this job appears to be take care of business and get one out of seven to get bowl eligibility at the moment. Butch Jones seems to be good at out-talenting opponents (although not on the level of North Carolina this year, who are writing the script on that), but the chips are about to get stacked against Tennessee.