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. (1.6)
Playing disciplined football.
The statistically-improbable fumble streak is starting to turn. The Hurd fumble was especially devastating and silly. Not the same as the kids who try to drop the ball juuussssttt as the ball touches the goal-line, but not a good look for the Vol workhorse. After a sloppy start to the season, Team 120 has apparently gotten the penalty situation under control. I would not want to be one of the Georgia players who got the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the game. Those dudes are gonna be running gassers all day on Monday.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (0.9)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
At the beginning of the season we learned that, statistically, a team who wins the turnover margin, and the "big play" metric in the same game has a 97% chance of winning, no matter what else happens. This Tennessee team -- despite the lethargic starts, the general contempt for holding on to the ball, and a disdain for having the lead - has consistently won with big plays. Dobbs just took it to a new level against Georgia.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (2.7)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.
Dear Team 120,
The 3rd Maxim begins with the word "if." As in, IF at first the breaks go against you... It's not a compulsory maneuver or a condition required for "more steam." You can choose to put on steam before the breaks go against you. Try it sometime. You might like it.
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (0.6)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
The good news: everything worked out in the end. The bad news: just about everything else. Georgia dominated the ball in both snaps and time of possession. Tennessee's offense couldn't run out the clock with the ball and the lead. The defense gave up what - 99 times out of 100 - would have been the game-winning 81 yard touchdown drive in less than one minute. The Vols won in spite of the 4th maxim, not because of it.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (2.3)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.
The last drive notwithstanding, the defense was again quite disruptive to Georgia's passing game with no play bigger than Derek Barnett's strip-sack fumble recovered for touchdown in the 4th quarter. Tennessee's linebackers got exposed by the Bulldog running game. This has to be a point of emphasis during the coming week... Texas A&M runs between the tackles even better than the Bulldogs.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (3.2)
Special teams held a special place in the General's heart.
Another solid performance from Special Teams. Trevor Daniel didn't have a great day of punting but put it on the 5 yard line with the game on the line. Alvin Kamara took every yard the Georgia punt unit gave him (and a few more for good measure). Kick coverage let one get away from them but the other kicks were all touchbacks or better. Evan Berry and Micah Abernathy were aggressive in their returns, with the former putting Joshua Dobbs in position to work a miracle.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (4.0)
Coaching staff's gameplan... and the players' execution of it.
Tennessee fans continue to wait for Team 120 to play a full 60 minutes. Let's just leave that first sentence the same every week until we see something different. But one has to admire the resilience of this Vol football team. They won the yards per play; they won field position, and - after a disappointing redzone performance against Florida - got back to scoring touchdowns when the opportunities presented themselves.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 2.2
Almost none of the conventional metrics suggest Tennessee was going to win this game. Special Teams. Big Plays. Never-say-die attitude. It was just enough. Just. After a 2015 filled with fourth quarter collapses and heartache, the 2016 Vols owe apologies to no one. On to College Station.