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.
Tennessee won the turnover battle 4-0. In just about any football game played at any level you can usually stop the analysis right here. This game was no different. The penalties were disappointing and sloppy. Even accounting for two completely understandable excessive celebration penalties in the second half five personal fouls in one game is too many. Special teams miscues by both teams can be summed up as "adventures in placekicking."
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (3.4)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
Placekicking issues aside there weren't a lot of breaks to be had in special teams as kickoffs were high and deep and punts were short and angled away from the Vols potent return teams. This could not have made SEC Special Teams Player of the Year Evan Berry happy, but he would still provide the exclamation point for the game by delivering the final 7 points of the day. Kudos to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald for the 4th down conversion in Northwestern territory midway through the second quarter. One could definitely sense the game was slipping away from the Wildcats and his gamble led to Northwestern's only score, temporarily keeping the game competitive.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (4.0)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.
Aside from the penalties, not a lot of breaks went against Tennessee this day which is even better than having a positive reaction to bad breaks. The Vols followed Northwestern's only score with a touchdown of their own and the defense forced a punt on the following possession.
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (3.8)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
Tennessee ran more plays and won the time of possession. The two minute defense at the end of the first half was more important the one that ended the game but the one in the 4th quarter was a lot more fun. Tennessee QB's were sacked three times but one was Joshua Dobbs holding the ball, trying to make a play at the very end of the first half, and a second was on Quinten Dormady in garbage time.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (3.1)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.
Beyond the turnovers, the story of the game is told in the rushing yards and 3rd down conversions. WINNING EDGE. Amazingly, neither team was credited with a QB hurry but the naked eye could see that Northwestern's QB was rarely comfortable in the pocket. The biggest deduction comes on pass break-ups. Four isn't an overly-large number but a couple of the early ones could have easily been intercepted which might have made for a very different type of game on another day.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (3.4)
Special teams held a special place in the General's heart.
Tennessee Punter Trevor Daniel had a great day but he was about 2 feet away from a truly spectacular performance, landing multiple punts inside the 5 yard line but with only one being downed. Meanwhile, Northwestern's punt team was clearly terrified of Tennessee's potent return unit. The Wildcats' punter executed a series of really funky, modified rugby-style punts that were somehow kicked end-over-end with backspin. The result was predictably short punts that ensured no big plays on special teams at the expense of favorable field position the entire game. Both placekickers were hit-and-miss (or in Northwestern's case, just "miss") on field goals but also excellent on kickoffs, minimizing opportunity for returns on both sides. This clearly did not sit well with Evan Berry, who would exact his revenge on defense in the game's closing seconds.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (3.2)
Coaching staff's gameplan... and the players' execution of it.
It's hard to really get too upset with anything in a blowout win over a highly-ranked opponent but there were some head-scratching moments. Northwestern's defense was already showing signs of losing interest in stopping the running game when the second half opened, but Tennessee provided respite with a series of incomplete passes, in an apparent attempt to put the game away. The ill-fated drive was punctuated with a poorly-executed 4th down conversion that took too long to get snapped, losing the element of surprise. Still fans can't kill Butch Jones early in the year for being too conservative and then complain too much when he goes for the throat in the 3rd quarter and comes up short. Besides, the lesson appeared to have been learned by the next possession which concluded with eight straight rushes; seven by MVP Jalen Hurd including the back-breaking touchdown.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 3.5
This time last year, Team 118 turned a blowout victory over a Big 10 team in a Florida bowl game into hope-restoring belief in the possibility of an even bigger, brighter future. Yesterday, Team 119 accomplished the same thing but with the added levity of too many early-season setbacks and "what might have been." If Butch Jones can continue to recruit to the possibilities, but build an off-season program rooted in "what might have been" Team 120 will be competing for championships and Tennessee's football program will finally be all the way back.