Two weeks are in the books, and the Tennessee Vols are 2-0, after cruising to a 34-19 win over Arkansas State this weekend. So how are the Vols looking heading into a road trip that will represent a serious step up in class? It's time to look at the week two trending report.
- Taking care of business. It might've been bumpy at times, but the game wasn't really in doubt at any point past the early goings. The Vols played two Sun Belt opponents last year (both worse than Arkansas State). In one, they rode a ridiculous string of turnovers to an easy victory in a game where Tennessee looked shaky early. In the other, they needed a stop late in the fourth quarter to hold on to a one-score victory. While this may not have been pure dominance, it was still pretty comfortable, and in the noon time slot sandwiched between a highly-hyped non-BCS opponent and a road trip to face a top three opponent, that's really not a bad step.
- Cameron Sutton. Okay, okay, so I really mean open-field tackling in general. The defense has taken some major steps forward in the first two weeks of the 2014 season. But Cam Sutton has just been especially impressive. This was good in week one against Utah State, but Arkansas State has some slipperier players than the Aggies, and they didn't look so slippery this weekend. Tennessee had problems with this last season, and the improvement has been one of the most unambiguously positive stories of the first two weeks this season. Utah State and Arkansas State combined to go just 7 of 31 on third downs (22.6%). Oh, and while we're mentioning specific players, Jalen Reeves-Maybin has been excellent as well in his first two games as a starter.
- The good feelings from week one. Not totally because the game was closer. It was closer, and there were problems that may spell doom against superior opponents. But you don't look your sharpest every week, and Tennessee fans shouldn't panic about minor variations from week to week, especially with a young team. It's just that Utah State was supposed to be good, and they didn't really look that way against their first non-UT opponent. Heisman hopeful Chuckie Keeton had just 3.9 yards per attempt, and the Aggies allowed Idaho State to roll up over 400 yards of offense. Yes, the Utah State run game was dominant, and the game was 33-6 midway through the third quarter, but Idaho State is BAD. They went 3-9 last season, with two of those three wins coming against Division II programs. If Utah State couldn't pass or defend the pass against the Bengals, they probably aren't a good measuring stick for the Vols.
- The offensive line. Yes, the run game was bad last week. Yes, the numbers looked better this week. But Arkansas State allowed 5.0 yards per carry last season. In the Sun Belt. They held Tennessee to 3.7. There were stretches where the Vols were able to move the ball on the ground. But against the Red Wolves, those stretches should've been the whole game. And there were large stretches where Tennessee's line looked completely incapable of generating push against a much smaller defensive front. Oklahoma is frightening.
- Consistency in the passing game. For about an hour, Justin Worley looked great. He wasn't Peyton, or really any quarterback with a lot of natural athletic ability. He's never going to be. But he was making throws with the kind of accuracy we have not seen from him in his career, and it looked like he was moving farther from Matt Simms and Rick Clausen and closer to post-injury Erik Ainge (who had trouble going deep but still commanded a relatively high-powered offense). And then he wasn't. Tennessee's offense doesn't have many strengths. There is little to no run game. There is no vertical passing game. The Vols' only hope against good defenses is to get the ball into the hands of their myriad playmakers and hope they make plays. Most of those playmakers are wide receivers, which means that--assuming the line issues and Worley's arm strength aren't going to change overnight--Justin Worley needs to attain a level of consistency that we have not yet seen from him. Also, Von Pearson, who went down with what looked like a high ankle sprain, needs to come back sooner rather than later. And Josh Malone needs to grow up fast.