By Mike Griffith
Erik Ainge had a strong statistical night and made good reads and calls at the line. Ainge, however, failed to go downfield when the Vols needed key third down conversions late and was not at his best when Cal pressured him. Ainge was accurate throwing throughout the game and showed toughness after taking a hard shot in the back early.
RUNNING BACKS (B)
Arian Foster showed some strong pass receiving skills and ran the ball effectively. Foster’s one mistake was looking back on his 47-yard run and getting caught from behind. The Vols, consequently, didn’t score on that drive. Montario Hardesty ran hard North and South.
Consistent catching the ball, but failed to make much happen after the catch. Austin Rogers and Lucas Taylor proved most effective. Chris Brown brings the receiver grade up with a good game, but Luke Stocker had a drop and a motion penalty to bring it down. Until the freshmen contribute, this is an average group by SEC standards.
OFFENSIVE LINE (A-)
Showed a good push throughout most of the game and the pass protection was exceptional. No penalties from Greg Adkins’ group, which has clearly improved from a physical and technical standpoint. Eric Young was a powerful pile-driver.
DEFENSIVE LINE (D)
Appeared to get beat off the ball on too many occasions and did not get any pressure without the help of blitzes. The ends lost containment on key plays and didn’t give much help in backside pursuit. Demonte Bolden batted down a pass, but was not the disruptor the Vols needed.
Had more trouble tackling in space than past Tennessee linebacking units. Jerod Mayo made some nice plays, but also missed some tackles. Rico McCoy appeared to be a step late, and Ryan Karl was a non-factor on too many occasions.
Freshman Eric Berry showed skills and a large upside. All-American Jonathan Hefney had one of the worst tackling nights of his career, though Cal’s speedy receivers and shifty running back Justin Forsett had much to do with that. Hard to pin too much on this unit, as Vols had very little pressure.
SPECIAL TEAMS (C-)
Arian Foster shined with a 68-yard kick return and Daniel Lincoln showed poise and a strong leg with a 41-yeard field goal that brought UT within 38-31. Britton Colquitt did what was instructed in punting away from DeSean Jackson most of the night. The one time the Vols punted to Jackson, he returned the punt 77 yards for a TD and there were four missed tackles.
UT’s decision to turn the game into a track meet must be questioned. The Vols appeared to run effectively enough that it could have been more of a power football match up.
David Cutcliffe showed some creativity moving players around, but the Vols appeared to be too conservative on third downs late. The defense must improve its open-field tackling. Questionable clock management at end of first half gave Cal enough time to drive for a field goal.
Tennessee’s effort should not be questioned, but the Vols strategy can be debated. The Vols offense showed firepower that recruits will like in this nationally televised game, and UT showed heart rallying from 38-21 in the third quarter. The Vols desperately need to get Ainge more playmakers to work with.