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. (1.9)
Playing disciplined football.
Credit to Nebraska; this is a disciplined team that was not going to beat themselves. Credit to Tennessee; there were precious few signs of the team that did not cherish the football and repeatedly showed a lack of discipline on penalties. Three weeks to heal, three weeks to practice made all the difference.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (1.9)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
Another evenly-matched metric. Tyler Byrd's fumble and the Nebraska touchdown that immediately followed, kept the Cornhuskers in the game until the end. But Tennessee won the "Big Play" metric and, as we've learned, that tends to make all the difference.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (2.9)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.
An offense that spent the month of November having to be perfect was ruthless in its execution against Maxim 3. Every time Nebraska scored (and the kick return team gave them the ball), Joshua Dobbs and company responded with a score of their own. Defensively, the unit could not rise to the occasion following the sudden-change turnover by the return team, but otherwise performed solidly.
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (3.6)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
The other unit to really benefit from three weeks of healing and three weeks of practice was the offensive line. They kept Dobbs' jersey clean, provided nice passing lanes, and consistently opened up holes for both Alvin Kamara and John Kelly. This allowed Tennessee to execute a gameplan to keep the Vol defense off the field early, and go over the top of tired Blackshirt defenders late. Tennessee ran more plays and won the time of possession; an exacta rarely seen in the Butch Jones era.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (3.4)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.
In the third quarter, Nebraska RB Devine Ozigbo carried the ball for a 42 yard gain. For the rest of the game Nebraska managed to gain a net total of 19 yards on the ground. That's a stat that would make Tom Osborne roll over in Bob Devaney's grave. Led by the Front Four, Tennessee had 4 sacks, 7 hurries, and 7 tackles for loss... and that's with Nebraska's QB doing an excellent job of getting rid of the ball quickly, checking down, and throwing the ball away. Congratulations to Derek Barnett who got the sack he richly deserved to become Tennessee's all-time leader. Since I can't say it any better, let's leave further comment to a professional writer, ESPN's Chris Low:
1) Amen; 2) Swoon at the idea of that Front 4 plus a spine of Wilson/Berry/Carter being on the field together.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (2.6)
Special teams held a special place in the General's heart.
Trevor Daniel's first and last punt were a couple of perfect 9-irons inside the 5 yard line. The other four were pretty forgettable but did prevent Nebraska from putting on any returns. The same can be said for Tennessee's return unit as Cam Sutton played it safe and focused on getting the ball in Joshua Dobb's hands. The kickoff units both suffered major errors; a kick out of bounds gave the Huskers field position early in the second quarter, and Tyler Byrd's fumble kept the game interesting longer than any Vol fan would have hoped. The special teams highlight of the day may have been Aaron Medley's field goal; at 46 yards it was a make well beyond his historical 40 yard comfort zone.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (3.7)
Coaching staff's gameplan... and the players' execution of it.
Tennessee won the yards per play metric handily, kept an under-manned Husker offense pinned back, and scored more touchdowns in the red zone than Nebraska had opportunities. Add in a turnover-free offense, a gameplan that kept the defense off the field, and limited penalties as well. A great day for Maxim 7.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 2.9
This was not your father's Nebraska that Tennessee defeated, but victory over the Cornhuskers is not something to be taken lightly (considering the Vols had never done it). Still, it was an important win for Butch Jones. While the program did not take the step forward everyone expected, it did not take a step backwards either. He can use this win to sustain momentum on the recruiting trail and (hopefully) reflect on (and implement) the changes needed to get this program to the top of a still-shaky SEC East. Team 121 is on the clock...