After a season of inconsistency on offense, the Vols broke through on Saturday, averaging more than ten yards per play on the way to a 49-36 win over the Kentucky Wildcats at Neyland. As you might imagine, the offense is trending up. The defense? To the trends!
- Explosiveness. 10.15 yards per play. That pretty much says it all. Josh Dobbs had 12.4 yards per attempt through the air and 10.5 per rushing attempt. Alvin Kamara added 128 yards on just 10 carries, and Tennessee's least efficient runner, John Kelly, added a healthy 5.9 yards per carry, with over 30% of his carries going for 10+ yards.
- Finishing drives. Tennessee crossed the Kentucky 40-yard line seven times (excluding the final drive, in which they took a knee). They scored seven touchdowns. The Wildcats, on the other hand? Eight times inside the Tennessee 20 resulted in just four touchdowns, as Tennessee's defense forced a fumble and three field goals. Finishing drives has been a bugaboo three straight years against Florida, so maybe there's some sort of mental thing going up against a team that has your number, as the Vols surely have Kentucky's. But whatever the cause, that kind of red zone performance is how you give up over 600 yards and still win by two scores.
- Run defense. The combination of an offense playing out of their minds and a defense that stiffened in the red zone made Saturday a good day for the Vols, but giving up 443 yards on the ground can't be overlooked. Kentucky ran for 75 yards on their first play from scrimmage, and they never looked back, as the Vols defense gave up 8.1 yards per carry and 7.6 yards per play. That gets you beaten if your offense doesn't play their best game of the season, and if Tennessee is going to make it to Atlanta, let alone have a prayer of putting a scare into Alabama, it absolutely must improve. Injuries have hit the defense defense hard enough that expecting an elite unit is too much, but the Vols must at least have competence.
- Not Evan Berry. Tyler Byrd may be an immense talent, but between he and Marquill Osborne, the Vols managed three kick returns that didn't even reach their own 20-yard line. With the Vols getting scores from three different punt returners in the last two seasons, one may've thought that the special teams units were so good that any skilled ball-carrier would be a threat to score on every kick return. But after this week, it's time for a whole new appreciation of Evan Berry.
- Jauan Jennings. How many players catch two Hail Marys in a season, one on offense and one on defense? The man is flat out impressive in a jump ball scenario.
- Pass rush. Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen just doing their thing, combining for three sacks (plus one from LaTroy Lewis) and 4.5 tackles for loss.