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Seven Maxims Scorecard: Season in Review

Tennessee's best (and worst) performance of the year against each of General Neyland's Seven Maxims of Football.

Jim Brown-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 Maxims Season In Review is a game-by-game look at Tennessee’s performance against each individual Maxim. Grading is on a 4.0 scale, with a 4.0 being perfect, which is rare. Here goes:

1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. (2.23)
Playing disciplined football.

Game of the Year: Vandy (3.8) Other nominees: Western Carolina
The scorecard tracks turnovers, penalties, and special teams miscues for this maxim. Against Vanderbilt, the Vols played a turnover-free game; 1 of only 4 on the year. They also enjoyed a perfect night from PK Aaron Medley, and foisted a special teams error onto Vandy with Cameron Sutton’s electric 85 yard punt return for a touchdown.

Game of the Beer: North Texas (1.1) Other nominees: Georgia
So, in case you didn’t notice, Tennessee won both the games where they had their poorest performance in Maxim 1. North Texas gets the dubious distinction because the Vols played this Noon kickoff vs. a vastly inferior opponent like they were hung over – or possibly still drunk – from the night before. North Texas was one of the worst teams in the FBS this season and Tennessee made them look like a mid-major.

Seven Maxims Scorecard ranking: 6th
At an average of 2.23, Maxim 1 had the second lowest total for the entire season. Turnovers – both INTs and fumbles – and Medley’s early-season kicking woes were the main culprit. On the positive side, with the notable exception of the Oklahoma game, Tennessee remained a team that doesn’t beat themselves with penalties; a hallmark of Butch Jones’ coached teams.

2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (2.43)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.

Game of the Year: Western Carolina (3.9)
A special teams touchdown from both Evan Berry (kick) and Alvin Kamara (punt) and twenty-one points scored off three Western Carolina turnovers. What else is there to say?

Game of the Fear: South Carolina (1.0)
A Gamecock squad who was slogging their way through a lost season with an interim coach was allowed to hang around because they turned Tennessee over 3 times and eventually turned one into a touchdown. Up 17-0 midway through the 2nd quarter, the game went into the 4th quarter tied and the outcome very uncertain. Tennessee was fortunate to hang on to the win in this one.

Seven Maxims Scorecard ranking: 5th
To a large extent, Tennessee’s four losses this season come down to the Second Maxim. Much of it is attributable to the early-season struggles by PK Aaron Medley. But a number of the missed FGs shouldn’t have even been attempted; the offense should’ve been on the field trying to convert the 4th and short or punch in the touchdown. Similarly, on defense, leads that were created by rushing 4, 5, or 6 players were lost "dropping 8" late in the game and allowing a lifetime’s worth of 4th down conversions in one single season. Fortunately for the Vols, these fatal flaws were largely non-existent during the second half of the season.

3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (1.95)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.

Game of the Year: Kentucky (3.5) Other nominees: Western Carolina, North Texas
Tennessee had responses for an offensively talented Kentucky team, answering each Wildcat touchdowns with one of their own. On the other side of the ball, the Vol defense never really let Kentucky get into a groove. Special note on Western Carolina and North Texas… Tennessee never really experienced any bad "breaks" in these games which, in a lot of ways, is the best result of all.

Game of the Tear: Florida (0.6)
Eleventh verse, same as the first. Any game where a double digit lead is blown in the 4th quarter, its probably safe to say that the team "let up" and/or "did not put on more steam" when the breaks started going against them. This one hurt more than the others though; both because it was a conference rival that 5th grade Vol fans have never seen beaten, and also because the Gators were teetering on the brink of mediocrity and self-doubt under an unproven coach. One 4th quarter debacle later, Florida had the SEC East Champs, the Conference Coach of the Year, most of their swagger back, and all kinds of momentum on the recruiting trail.

Seven Maxims Scorecard ranking: 7th
So… probably not too surprising that a team whose season was largely defined by blown 4th quarter leads didn’t fare particularly well in this maxim. The team showed improvement here during the latter part of the season. But as has been the case since the SEC split into divisions in 1992 – and, honestly, before that too – Tennessee’s path to championships are made or broken in September and October.

4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (2.58)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.

Game of the Year: Mizzou (3.9)
On a cold, miserable night at the end of what had been a crazy, miserable couple of weeks in Columbia, Tennessee took on an emotionally-charged Mizzou team with a nationally-ranked defense and a Pop Warner offense. The only way Tennessee was going to lose was if they beat themselves, so the Fourth Maxim was going to be key. The Vols responded with no breakdowns on special teams, 0 sacks, and only 2 hurries conceded. Tennessee held the ball for 50% more of the clock and ran 60% more plays. As commenter Admiral82 said at that time, Tennessee’s performance "was like watching a baby boa constrictor."

Game of the Rear: Oklahoma (0.7)
I can’t believe this team is one game away from playing for a national championship! I’ll let the immortal Denny Green sum this one up: The Sooners
are who we thoght they were! Now if you want to crown them, then crown their a**! But they are who we thought they were! …and we let ‘em off the hook!

Seven Maxims Scorecard ranking: 4th
This ranking was a bit surprising. Unfortunately for them, Team 119 is most likely to be remembered for blown leads and what might’ve been. They were, as SEC teams go, historically bad at protecting "our lead and our ballgame." So, relative to the other maxims, how did this one manage to finish middle of the pack? Future Scorecards are likely to have a "Blown 4th Quarter Lead?" category with something like a 50% weighting as a modifier because the 2015 Oklahoma and Florida games (Arkansas and Bama, not so much) have let a pretty permanent scar.

5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (2.63)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.

Game of the Year: Bowling Green (3.5) Other Nominees: Kentucky
For a Maxim that is not necessarily stat friendly, Tennessee opened its season with a stat-stuffer game. Almost 400 yards of rushing on offense. Three sacks, four hurries, eight tackles for loss, eight passes defended (and a partridge in a pear tree!).

Game of the Smear: Arkansas (1.4)
This game was technically another blown lead but nobody who follows Tennessee is confusing this one with Florida or Oklahoma. The second half of this game had all the mystery of a "rock" vs. "scissors" contest. Arkansas was physically dominant. Tennessee couldn’t move the ball on offense or get the Hogs off the field on defense.

Seven Maxims Scorecard
ranking: 3rd
The essence of the Fifth Maxim is two things: blocking and tackling. Defensively this season, Tennessee’s shortcomings were primarily a function of scheme. Led by the superlative Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the Vols have been an excellent tackling team all season long. On the offensive side of the ball, fans saw an evolution in line play: last year and early this season, Joshua Dobbs’ mobility was used to overcome shortcomings on the line; by the second half of this season it was simply a weapon to be deployed at the staff’s choosing rather than one of necessity. Opponents still register far too many tackles for loss (TFLs) but, again, this appears to be more of a schematic "cost of doing business" than a function of an overwhelmed offensive line.

6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (2.94)
Special teams held a special place in the General’s heart.

Game of the Year: Kentucky (4.0)
Punt return for TD… check, kick return for TD… check, placekicker perfect on the day… check, net punt return for opponent, -1 yard… check, opponent’s average starting field position from kickoffs, 23 yard line… check. Too bad the FG block team couldn’t stop one of the three extra points for which they were on the field… Slackers!

Game of the Near:
Bama (1.6)
In a game where every point mattered, Aaron Medley went 0-for-3 from three long, but makeable field goals. That’s it. Every other aspect of special teams did their job well (but so did Bama’s). On the road, against (yet) a(nother) team who is one game from playing for a national championship, a rival that Tennessee hasn’t beaten since 2006, Tennessee nearly had a signature win of a magnitude that South Carolina or a Mark Richt-led Georgia team can never be. Horseshoes and hand grenades…

Seven Maxims Scorecard ranking: 1st
Medley’s early-season struggles notwithstanding, it has been a genuine pleasure watching Tennessee play special teams this season. Butch Jones’ staff caught a lot of heat for gameplan and play-calling acumen this year but the time, attention to detail, and emphasis this staff pays to the Third Phase is both evident and appreciated.

7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (2.74)
Coaching staff’s gameplan… and the players’ execution of it.

Game of the Year: Kentucky (3.9)
Following a season on the brink saved by a comeback for the ages against Georgia, and going toe-to-toe on the road verses Alabama, Butch Jones and company did not panic after an opening-possession fumble resulted in a Wildcat TD. Steeled be the parade of early-season setbacks, or perhaps out of healthy respect for Kentucky's formidable offense, Tennessee called and executed an aggressive game plan for four full quarters.

Game of the Jeer: Oklahoma (0.5)

In the first meeting between undefeated, ranked opponents in Neyland Stadium in too many years to count, Tennessee's fans were plenty oiled up, smelling blood, and more than ready to do their part; ready to wash away a decade of mediocrity and futility. Then, with Oklahoma reeling from an early interception and plainly on their heals, Butch Jones elected to take 3 points from well inside the 1-yard line on a 4th-and-goal. He didn't trust the offense to get 6 inches. He didn't trust the defense to keep OU pinned down. Message received. Still, Tennessee managed to take a 17-3 lead into halftime. In the second half, it was clear from the opening kickoff that Tennessee was simply trying to bleed the clock. Even though they didn't score in the 3rd quarter, everyone could see Oklahoma figuring out Tennessee's defense while the rhythmic run-run-run-kick cadence of Tennessee's offense left little guesswork for the Sooner "D" and little time for Vol defenders to catch their breath. It was a heartbreaking loss that the players and fans did not deserve...

Seven Maxims Scorecard ranking: 2nd
...and it would not be the last, as another slow-motion trainwreck was a mere two weeks away in Gainesville. Which makes the fact that the Second Maxim ended up with the second highest rating all the more shocking. I think its fair to say that Butch Jones learned - and applied - some lessons as this season progressed. But Jones and company cannot afford to re-learn these lessons again next year. Alabama, Florida, and the SEC Championship game are circled on next season's calendar. Whatever other wins and losses may come, Butch Jones will need to bring an end to at least one 10+ year-long drought next year if he wants to get the full 7 seasons he has alleged it takes to build a title-contender.

So... what do you think? What games stand out, and for what reasons? Are you surprised by - or in strong disagreement with - any of the above? Let us know what you think in the comments, below! Now, onto Tampa and Northwestern! Go Vols!