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Seven Maxims Scorecard: Vanderbilt

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Rating the Vols' performance against Vanderbilt according to General Neyland's timeless Seven Maxims of Football.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Since the 1930’s the University of Tennessee has been measuring themselves against seven keys to winning football as first summarized by General Robert Neyland. The Seven Maxim’s Scorecard is a quantitative and qualitative analysis of how, relative to that week’s opponent, the Vols performed against each of the seven directives. Grading is on a 4.0 scale, with a 4.0 being perfect, which is rare. In this analysis, it’s possible for Tennessee to have won without excelling on all fronts, but it is impossible to have performed well in all seven areas in a loss. Here goes:

  1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. (3.8)
    Playing disciplined football.


Another (incredibly) clean day for Dobbs (more on this later). One ball put on the ground on the 4th and goal. Hurd recovered, but it didn’t look like he was getting in anyway. Vandy did a good job avoiding the "mistake" of kicking to Evan Berry… but kicking to Cam Sutton proved to be a "mistake," as well.

2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (3.2)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.



Tennessee created one turnover to kill a Vandy scoring opportunity – and their spirit, as well – at the end of the first half. No markdowns for failing to score there. Sutton housed a punt and looked poised to break a couple of others. Kudos for "playing for the breaks" by going for it on 4th and goal; markdowns for the execution of the play though.

3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (3.3)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.

A good day, all things considered, for Tennessee in this Maxim. The Vol offense answered Vandy’s first touchdown with one of their own. Tennessee’s defense didn’t fare as well initially against what was a surprisingly frisky Commodore offense, giving up another touchdown on the ensuing possession. However, that would be the last points Tennessee’s first team defense would surrender and the Vol offense answered again with another scoring drive; a booming Medley FG from 47 yards out.

The last real "break" Vandy got was a defensive stand on the opening possession of the second half. While the offense failed to convert, the defense did not. Two plays after turning the ball over on downs, Tennessee had a safety and the ball at midfield following a free kick. The Vol offense turned that field position into (yet) another TD. If Vanderbilt’s spirit was broken by the first-half interception, their backs were broken during this turn of events. The game was over. Because of this there are no markdowns (or markups) for Tennessee’s backups in the aftermath of Vanderbilt’s two garbage-time TDs.

4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (3.4)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.

Tennessee ran more plays and won the time of possession. The defense’s lone turnover was a redzone INT in the first half’s final 2 minutes; a palpable momentum killer for Vandy. Tennessee’s backup offense couldn’t run the clock out, leading to an extra Vanderbilt TD that meant nothing more than LSU and aTm fans missing their game’s opening kickoff. The real story of this maxim is the offensive line’s protection of Josh Dobbs: zero sacks, zero hurries, zero passes broken up. Protect our QB, indeed.

5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (3.3)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.


See above. It’s important to remember how good Vanderbilt’s defense is. To give up 331 rushing yards and not get a single sack, hurry, or defended pass in the entire game is a pretty incredible display of futility and indicative of next-level execution by Tennessee’s offensive line. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s defense was highly active with 4 sacks, 5 hurries, 4 tackles for loss, 5 passes broken up and, of course, a safety.

6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (3.6)
Special teams held a special place in the General’s heart.

Fans will (correctly) be talking about Sutton’s punt return. They’re also probably somewhere between relieved and elated by Medley’s perfect night. But we need to be talking about Evan Berry. He’s living rent-free in the heads of the opposing team’s kicker every week. Vanderbilt’s first kickoff was high and short and Berry still made one of the great 13 yard returns anyone will ever see, carrying multiple Commodores the final 10 yards or so. The rest of Vandy’s kicks were even higher and shorter, giving Tennessee an average starting field position at the 33 yard line. Kudos to the Unit’s upbacks for fielding a variety of funky kicks cleanly. Comparatively speaking the kick coverage team didn’t have the best night. No major gaffes but only 3 of 10 touchbacks and a number of pretty good returns by the Commodores.

Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (3.8)
Coaching staff’s gameplan… and the players’ execution of it.

At the end of the 3rd quarter’s opening drive, Butch Jones sensed an opportunity to land the knockout blow and made the decision to go for a touchdown on 4th and goal from the VU 1; the call fans have been waiting for him to make since the first quarter of the Oklahoma game. It didn’t work: Hurd fumbled as he was trying to get airborne, but in all honesty, it looked like Vanderbilt’s defense had it stopped no matter what.

And yet, it did work. The defense rewarded Jones’ trust in them with a safety two plays later. The special teams took the free kick to midfield. The offense scored a touchdown 6 plays after that. The game was over. Jones got the backups in and gave them the chance to run the full playbook; experience that will hopefully pay dividends in a future game.

Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 3.5

A surprisingly spry Vanderbilt offense made things interesting early. Adjustments were made. A timely turnover broke the opposing team’s spirit. A safety and touchdown to open the second half broke their back. Vanderbilt is definitely back to being Vanderbilt. Tennessee is tantalizingly close to getting back to being Tennessee (but it won’t happen this season).