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.
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. (1.2)
Playing disciplined football.
Tennessee, and - I'm sad to say - Joshua Dobbs in particular, continues to be a turnover machine. The penalties are maddening. Lesser Butch Jones' teams (which is to say "all of them") played a month's worth of games with fewer penalties than Team 120 commits on a weekly basis.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (1.4)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
Tennessee had one more big play than South Carolina; Evan Berry's kickoff return for Touchdown. That one play swung all the special teams-related stats in Tennessee's favor. South Carolina owned all the turnover-related stats. More on this below, but when Tennessee's offense plays for the breaks, they're much more likely to commit a penalty, or turn the ball over, or miss the receive, or simply drop the pass than they are to SCORE.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (1.3)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.
Despite the "we got healthy during the bye week" spin coming out of Knoxville, the defensive tackles and, in particular, the secondary still looked banged up. They didn't react well to the sudden-change turnovers caused by the offense and didn't create any turnovers of their own. The offensive struggles were less about "after bad breaks" and more of a constant. The early season calm that was displayed when the team got down game-after-game has seemingly given way to complacency. The offense appears to now assume that they're going to comeback, so there's no need for urgency.*
*Jauan Jennings excluded. He plays with an effort and intensity that Team 120 sorely lacks.
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (1.2)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
Tennessee lost the plays run and time of possession stats. They got good pressure on the Freshman Quarterback but not enough to keep him from having a "star is born" game. Still, this maxim is not where the game was lost.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (1.7)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.
It was in Maxim 5. Even though Tennessee won the Sacks and Hurries stats by a wide margin, the numbers are completely misleading. South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp, a defensive-minded coach, figured out long ago that the longer one forces Joshua Dobbs to do quarterbacking things, the better off the opposing team is. Four years in, Coach Kryptonite sees Dobbs for what he is: an elite athlete, a master improviser, and a mediocre quarterback. So drop into coverage, stay in your rushing lanes, keep a linebacker-spy on Dobbs, and wait for him to make a mistake. The Vols were behind on down-and-distance all night and eventually punts turned into turnovers.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (2.9)
Special teams held a special place in the General's heart.
Trevor Daniel had a great day and was robbed of one of the great punts of all time. And Evan Berry reminded us all of why he was a consensus All-American last year. The Punt Return unit, on the other hand, is a penalty machine that cost Tennessee much-needed field position throughout the game. Aaron Medley's missed kick is on the Head Coach, not the placekicker. Apparently Butch Jones is the only person in Tennessee who does not know that Medley's limit is 40 yards; nothing more, nothing less.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (2.2)
Coaching staff's gameplan... and the players' execution of it.
The TD% in the Red Zone stat is significantly diminished by the fact that the team only got to the red zone twice in an entire game. It was South Carolina who dictated the pace and the narrative of this game; an Ali-esque rope-a-dope that waited for an inaccurate, error-prone quarterback and a blitz-dependent defense to make the mistakes that would inevitably come.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 1.7
Eight games in, these two teams (and Florida and Georgia and maybe, gulp, Kentucky and Vanderbilt) appear to be equivalently-matched, mediocre teams with outcomes completely dependent on who has the better day from a turnover and big play perspective. The last few games ot the SEC East race are shaping up to be an exercise in who can lose just enough games to avoid getting embarrassed by Bama in the SECCG while still winning as many games as possible.