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. (0.0)
Playing disciplined football.
Tennessee lost the turnover battle miraculously only 1-0. Team 120 continues to play Russian Roulette with fumbles but it hasn't killed them (yet). Almost as disturbing, for the first time in the Butch Jones era, Tennessee appears to have a discipline problem regarding penalties. Not just the number, but the type and the timing. On this day the usually-excellent Punt Return unit was the epitome of both issues; fumbling twice and suffering a de facto turnover on personal foul that gave the ball back to Ohio.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (1.5)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
Tennessee created no turnovers and (for the first time in memory) got legitimately out-played on Special Teams. The lone bright spot: Big Plays. The Vol offense continues to put up a significant number of them, and the defense is doing a good job of keeping them to a minimum.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (3.0)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.
For a game where Tennessee never trailed, the Vols still had a pretty good day for Maxim 3. The de facto turnover that brought Ohio's offense back out on the field after Tennessee's "D" had gotten a stop ended in a field goal. It's not like the Bobcats were anywhere close to scoring position when this happened, but it's hard to kill the defense for allowing a field goal after the sudden change of possession. The offense followed with a couple of first downs and an ill-advised 55 yard field goal miss by Medley. Things got better after that. Dobbs' INT in the red zone was met with a hold by the "D." The offense drove for a TD on their next opportunity. The offense also followed Ohio's lone TD with one of their own and the defense forced a punt the next time they got on the field.
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (2.0)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
Tennessee allowed Joshua Dobbs to be sacked three times, ran fewer plays, and (barely) lost the time of possession. The two minute defense did well in both halves and the offense held the ball for the final 2:04 to seal the victory. But can we talk about the fumbles? Tennessee put the ball on the ground a staggering five times and recovered the ball all five times. In three games so far this season Tennessee has put the ball on the ground 11 times and lost only one. This is a chicken that will come home to roost unless it gets resolved rightnow!
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.
An uninspired day from the offensive line but at least the offense got Kamara involved. The defense did a nice job of executing a bend-but-don't break strategy. The difference of the day was Tennessee scored touchdowns, Ohio scored field goals. Will this carryover when the Vols move up in weight class on Saturday? Only time will tell.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (2.2)
Special teams held a special place in the General's heart.
For the first time in a long time Tennessee got outplayed in special teams. Not by a lot, but it was still shocking to witness. The Punt Return unit had a legitimately bad day, with two fumbles and a de facto turnover. The decision to have Medley attempt a 55-yard field goal after all of his troubles from distance reflects more on Butch Jones than it does the kicker himself, so minimal deductions for the lone miss.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (2.8)
Coaching staff's gameplan... and the players' execution of it.
Tennessee had a strong performance from a yard per play standpoint. The standout statistic of the day is touchdown percentage in the red zone. Team 120 is pushing the ball across the line rather than settling for field goals.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 2.0
The Seven Maxims Scorecard does not grade on a curve. A team can only play the opponent in front of them and Tennessee was better than Ohio. But heading into conference play, it is hard to ignore the considerable red flags we've witnessed against inferior competition: penalties, fumbles that have not (yet) translated into turnovers, sketchy line play, a disturbing lack of improvement game-over-game. At this point, we're basically down to hoping that Tennessee is a team that plays to the level of its competition and continues to have statistically-unlikely amounts of luck because, three weeks in and Team 120 appears to have taken more steps backward than forward.