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. (1.3)
Playing disciplined football.
The team that made the fewest mistakes did NOT win. Tennessee lost the turnover battle, with both Sutton's fumble and Dobbs' INT legitimate game-changers that fueled Appalachian State's fire. Beyond those, Tennessee fumbled another three times without losing the ball and had multiple "what the heck is Dobbs thinking?!?!" throws that mercifully fell incomplete. Penalties were not plentiful, but they were costly. Everyone will point to the loss of Jalen Reeves-Maybin to the (correctly interpreted but still stupid) targeting call early in the game. But Brett Kenderick's holding call, negating a FG opportunity or a potential 4th down conversion and a defensive offside's on a 3rd and 4 were far more troubling from an execution standpoint.
2. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (0.8)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.
Tennessee lost the turnover battle, got played to a stalemate on the kickoff and punt units, and seemed very content to try and wear down an under-sized and under-staffed Appalachian State team. It eventually worked. But just barely.
3. If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (1.5)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.
New to the Scorecard this year is a holistic modifier that accounts for the team's response to bad breaks over time, rather than just the immediate possession that follows. And it certainly is needed for this game's scorecard. Consider: Laura Rutledge, ESPN's sideline reporter for the game, offered America the following tidbit:
Tennessee's offense can't stop talking about earlier in the game when they had what they thought was a touchdown called back. They continue to dwell on it; plenty of conversations about it and they're saying ‘it just hasn't been the same since then.'
That report came with 2:43 left in the second quarter. The dropped pass/bad call happened at the 6:19 mark of the first quarter! A few moments later, during the obligatory halftime interview, Coach Butch Jones tells the same the reporter on-camera "it's been kind of a rough night." Nobody cares. There is not a sport in the world who does not complain about the quality of its officiating. Boo-hoo! Tennessee's response to the parade of early-game bad-breaks is the antithesis of what Maxim 3 is all about.
4. Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (0.8)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.
Tennessee gave up more sacks, more hurries, more turnovers, and lost the time of possession. With 1:27 to go in the first half, on a 3rd and 3, already in FG range, Josh Dobbs chose to throw a jump-pass across his body and off his back foot toward a well-defended receiver; an INT that probably took points off the board. At the end of regulation, the defense’s stop felt more like a series of tiny mistakes by an App State team who knew they couldn’t trust their kicker than something Tennessee executed.
5. Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (1.0)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.
The offensive and defensive lines did not have a good game. Chance Hall and Shy Tuttle were surely missed. And perhaps the defense that was missing its primary play-caller can be forgiven for being out of position a time or two. But it was Appalachian State, not Tennessee, who played with the WINNING EDGE for most of the game.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (2.0)
Special teams held a special place in the General’s heart.
Aaron Medley is a much better placekicker than Appalachian State’s true freshman placekicker. Aside from this obvious statement, the Mountaineers played Tennessee’s special teams to a stalemate. Cam Sutton’s first-possession fumble was the spark to App State’s flame that wasn’t snuffed out until overtime. When Tennessee appeared to finally have momentum back in their favor, the Mountaineers stoked the fire with a huge punt return. Kudos to Evan Berry for making the most out of his lone opportunity as a kick returner. But the final score of this game came down to the fact that Tennessee had Aaron Medley, and Appalachian State did not.
7. Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (1.0)
Coaching staff’s gameplan… and the players’ execution of it.
Nope. Aside from the previously-discussed problem of the team taking an entire quarter off while it felt sorry for itself, it is plainly evident that this staff would still rather play "not to lose." Against a team with a questionable kicking game who was also giving up over 50 lbs. per player along the defensive line the "war of attrition" game plan ultimately worked. Barely. But a whole lot of SEC fans are resting just a bit easier tonight: "Same ‘ol Tennessee" until proven otherwise.
Bottom Line Seven Maxims Scorecard Result: 1.2
Appalachian State would have been deserving winners. Tennessee got the victory they needed to keep the wheels from coming off but they’ve got A LOT of work to do in the coming days.