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Seven Maxims Scorecard: Season in Review

Tennessee’s best (and worst) performance of the year against each of General Neyland’s Seven Maxims of Football

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Tennessee vs Nebraska Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

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 Maxims Season In Review is a game-by-game look at Tennessee’s performance against each individual Maxim. Grading is on a 4.0 scale, with a 4.0 being perfect, which is rare. Here goes:

Maxim 1: The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. (1.91)
Playing disciplined football.

Game of the Year: Virginia Tech (3.8) Other nominees: Mizzou, Tennessee Tech
When the opponent commits 5 turnovers and gives up a score on special teams, it’s not really that hard to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes.

Game of the Beer: Texas A&M (0.0) Other nominees: Ohio, Vandy, South Carolina
The obvious corollary to Maxim 1 would be that the team that makes the most mistakes will lose. Tennessee spent the first third of the season magically recovering every fumble (both theirs and the other team’s). In a game that somehow still went into double OT, this would be the hangover game as seven (7!) turnovers ultimately did the Vols in.

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 6th
Team 120 did not value the football. Only 2 teams (Utah and triple-option based Army) had more fumbles in the FBS division. They also averaged almost two more penalties per game than Butch Jones’ previous Tennessee teams.

Maxim 2: Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way - SCORE. (1.90)
Being aggressive and opportunistic.

Game of the Year: Virginia Tech (4.0) Other nominees: Tennessee Tech
As kind as the Hokies were to give Tennessee 5 turnovers, it was the 21 points off those turnovers, plus another 7 off a muffed punt, and a 9-3 edge in Big Plays that were the difference in the score.

Game of the Fear: Appalachian State (0.0) Other nominees: Georgia
Forgotten in the aftermath of the Florida euphoria and the insanity of Georgia; the drudgery of October and a surreal November, was just how close Tennessee came to losing to the Mountaineers from the mighty Sun Belt Conference in the opening game of the season.

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 7th
Following a 2015 season where Butch Jones was harshly-criticized for overly-conservative play calling, the Head Coach repeatedly showed faith in his upperclassmen-laden offense to convert on 4th-and-short situations. Unfortunately, Team 120 did not reward his faith as Tennessee’s offense was statistically one of the worst (#125 of 128 FBS teams) in all of college football at 4th down conversions.

Maxim 3: If at first the game - or the breaks - go against you, don't let up... put on more steam. (2.18)
Positive responses to bad circumstances, regardless of the situation.

Game of the Year: Florida (2.8) Other nominees: Ohio, Nebraska
Down 21-0 midway through the 2nd quarter, with 11 years’ worth of monkeys on everyone’s back, Team 120 “put on more steam” in a way that was more reminiscent of Steve Spurrier’s Fun-n-Gun Gators, than any team wearing (the appropriate shade of) orange.

Game of the Tear: Vanderbilt (0.7) Other nominees: South Carolina
A beaten up, worn down, undermanned Tennessee defense allowed a Vanderbilt QB who had never thrown for 300 yards in a game to throw for over 400 yards, losing by double digits to one of the most anemic offenses in college football. They simply ran out of steam.

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 3rd (tie)
Really a tale of two seasons here… Early in the year, Tennessee’s defense was repeatedly bailing out the offense following a turnover, keeping the Vols in games until the “O” could get warmed up (typically midway through the 3rd quarter). But by the end of the year, the Vols were reduced to fighting fire with fire, having to answer score for (repeated) score against such offensive stalwarts as the ‘84 Dolphins Kentucky, ’99 Rams Missouri, and the 2007 Patriots Vanderbilt.

Maxim 4: Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game. (1.92)
Minimizing opponent opportunity to strike quickly or make a comeback.

Game of the Year: Nebraska (3.6) Other nominees: Florida, Virginia Tech
Tennessee ran more plays and had more time of possession than the Cornhuskers; a rarity int he Butch Jones era. They drained the clock on offense and got two consecutive 4th down stops on defense to end the game.

Game of the Rear: Alabama (0.3) Other nominees: Georgia, Vandy, App State
As in, “we got our (rears) kicked” Nobody is safe from the Skynet-sent Terminator that is Nick Saban, not even his own offensive coordinator (Side note: LOL!)

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 5th
Not really a surprise that a team which featured an offense that didn’t show up until halftime during the first part of the season, and a defense that couldn’t stop anyone during the second part of the season didn’t fare too well in protecting leads.

Maxim 5: Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE. (2.18)
All about fundamentals; the little things. Many of them, not stat-friendly.

Game of the Year: Tennessee Tech (3.9) Other nominees: Florida, Nebraska
Following three consecutive losses and one of the most confounding player transfer announcements in the history of college football, Tennessee came out and played almost flawlessly against (an admittedly outmatched) Tennessee Tech. Still, posting a game where the opposing team gets zero turnovers, sacks, hurries, tackles for loss, and passes defended is pretty impressive.

Game of the Smear: Alabama (0.1) Other nominees: None
For better or worse, Tennessee had a chance to win every game it played this year… except one.

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 3rd (tie)
In a year of come-from-behind wins and narrow margins, more often than not Joshua Dobbs and company found the Winning Edge.

Maxim 6: Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made. (2.59)
Special teams held a special place in the General’s heart.

Game of the Year: Florida (3.3) Other nominees: Tennessee Tech, Virginia Tech
From the original post-game analysis:

When everything else was going wrong, Tennessee’s special teams were winning the field position. Berry and Kamara made Florida pay for kicking to them, Medley limited the Gators’ opportunities to return the favor, and Daniel’s punts evidently hypnotized Antonio Galloway into thinking he was always catching the ball on the 10 yard line. There weren’t many awe-inspiring plays – no blocked kicks, no returns for touchdown… but the turnaround was enabled, in part, by the tremendous field position provided by every phase of special teams.

Game of the Near: Texas A&M (1.4) Other nominees: Alabama
In a game that went into double overtime, Tennessee’s special teams muffed a punt (which didn’t count as one of the Vols’ seven turnovers) and fumbled once (that did), leading to an A&M touchdown. The coverage units also lost the field position battle against the Aggies; another real rarity for Butch Jones teams.

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 1st
Team 120’s special teams were not elite like Team 119’s, ostensibly due to injuries to first Cam Sutton, then Evan Berry, then everyone being forced into action on defense. But Tennessee still consistently does Special Teams better than it does anything else. Particular kudos to Trevor Daniel who had the finest season for a Tennessee punter not named “Colquitt” in recent memory.

Maxim 7: Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes. (2.57)
Coaching staff’s gameplan… and the players’ execution of it.

Game of the Year: Georgia (4.0) Other nominees: Nebraska
Emphasis here on 60 minutes. Because at 59 and ½ minutes, things were looking grim.

Game of the Jeer: Appalachian State (1.0) Other nominees: Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
In the first game of the season, about midway through the first quarter, Tennessee had an apparent touchdown reversed upon replay review. They spent the rest of the first half feeling sorry for themselves and it took a 4th quarter rally and overtime to finally beat the Mountaineers.

Seven Maxims Scorecard Ranking: 2nd
From that inauspicious beginning, the 7th Maxim marked an area of real growth for Team 120 and – more hopefully – Butch Jones. Tennessee was extremely efficient in the Red Zone this season; scoring touchdowns, not field goals. More often than not this season, those extra points were the difference between winning and losing.

Bottom Line Seven Maxims Year-in-Review Result: 2.14
Considering 2.0 on the 7MS grading scale tends to be the line of demarcation between winning and losing, how does one sum up Team 120? Tennessee had a real chance to win every single game except Bama; and yet, at 9-4, they were also dangerously close to another two – maybe three – additional losses (minimally App State and Georgia). Early on, they were a defense that kept the Vols in games until the offense could get cranked up some point after halftime; later on, they were an offense carrying a defense that could not stop anything. They beat Florida for the first time in over a decade; they lost to Vanderbilt for the second time in four years under Butch Jones. They failed to win the SEC East with a senior-laden team in the most wide-open (read: mediocre) field in memory; they closed with another dominant bowl win. Meanwhile, an impressive list of highly-rated, high-profile, recruits continue to commit to Butch Jones, even as the rate of players – both passed-over and highly-successful – hastily leaving the program increases. Media and opposing teams’ fans chide Butch Jones for speaking in only platitudes, yet Tennessee fans can only shake their heads when he deviates from standard talking points (e.g. Champions of Life). At the end of the day, Team 120 probably got the record they deserved, if not the one any us really wanted.

Team 121, you’re on the clock…

So... what do you think? What games stand out, and for what reasons? Are you surprised by - or in strong disagreement with - any of the above? Let us know what you think in the comments, below!