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:
Before we get into this week's scorecard, I want to give a special shout out to Rocky Top Talk's newest contributor, Jason Bates, who - inspired by SB Nation's Bill Connelley - provided the 7MS with some new, advanced metrics to include; especially the new statistics for Maxim 7. Thanks, Jason!
The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. (3.8)
Playing disciplined football.
The analysis can pretty much stop right here. A team that loses the turnover battle 5 to 1 (which does not count a muffed punt for, effectively, a 6th turnover) is not winning the game. Tennessee also outperformed the Hokies on the penalty front, but the Vols are far from perfect. Team 120 is seeing a few too many flags; especially from the defense on 3rd downs and within the ranks of the offensive line.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (4.0)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
Absolutely. In addition to winning the turnover battle, Tennessee tripled the big plays of Virginia Tech. And when the breaks came the Vols way? Three TD's off turnovers and another one on Special Teams. A great day for the Vols and Maxim 2.
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.
After an embarrassing 1st quarter that saw the Vols trailing 14-0, the Vols seized momentum on the first of Virginia Tech's 5 turnovers and responded with 24-unanswered points in the 2nd quarter on their way to 31 unanswered points. Still, when something bad did happen to Tennessee in this game, the offense went 3-and-out every single time. Not exactly what we're looking for after an opponent's score or a turnover. But the reality is, after the 1st quarter, the Hokies' ball-handling woes meant that very few breaks actually went against the Vols. Still, that didn't prevent Tennessee from "putting on more steam."
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (3.0)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
Kickers: check. Lead: check. Ball game: check. Now, let's talk about protecting the quarterback. The offensive line was terrible in the 1st quarter in pass protection. The personnel adjustments made going into the 2nd quarter helped tremendously, but they are still not great at pass protection. Between now and the Florida game this must be the top priority for the Offense.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (2.5)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.
Aside from the parade of Hokie turnovers, the catalyst for the 2nd quarter turnaround offensively was a shakeup to the offensive line personnel. Dylan Wiesman slid down to center and Jack Jones came in at guard. Suddenly, the line play went from "confoundingly terrible" to "relatively competent" in pass-protection and "SEC caliber" on runs. The Ohio game will provide another week to tinker and get this unit right, but until Jason Hall returns, this appears to be the team's best combination. After a pretty terrible 1st quarter themselves, the defense - and in particular, the defensive front four, started to get after the Hokies, to great effect. Shy Tuttle was especially disruptive in his first game back from injury.
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.
A workmanlike performance from the special teams units. Virginia Tech wasn't going to let Berry or Sutton beat them. But one of the weird punts the Hokies did to keep it away from Sutton resulted in an 11 yard kick that bounced off a Tennessee up man. And Virginia Tech's allergy to holding on to the ball on offense carried over to one muffed punt. Now, if Aaron Medley can get a Catholic priest to perform and exorcism on the 30 yard line - the spot where 40 yard field goals are placed - this unit will be firing on all cylinders.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (2.6)
Coaching staff's gameplan... and the players' execution of it.
Two games in and this team still hasn't played 60 minutes of good football. But the in-game adjustments - schematically, emotionally - were there in this game. Tennessee lost the yard-per-play metric but this was more than offset by the turnover margin. The average starting field position was a function of those turnovers and superior special teams. And perhaps most encouragingly, when presented with Red Zone opportunities, the team went for - and got - touchdowns, rather than field goals.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 3.1
For three quarters Tennessee looked like the team we all believed them to be. They responded to early adversity and looked good on defense and special teams. The offense continues to be a work-in-progress but the final 3 quarters are a performance they can build on.