The skies may have been ugly and grey above Neyland on Saturday, but Tennessee notching their first conference win of the season sure was a sight for sore eyes. Tennessee (2-4, 1-2) won a defensive battle on Saturday versus Mississippi Stat which featured a number of things we should all agree were good to see. For a more complete breakdown of the Vols’ victory over the Bulldogs, click here for fellow MoreImportantIssues contributor Dylan Scott’s article.
For me, there were three big things that stuck out to me on Saturday. First was The Vols’ pass rush, second was the rush defense, and third was our team’s overall energy in the game. I want to take a quick look at each of those facets of the game here!
Getting to the Quarterback
Tennessee had not shown the most impressive pass rush all season heading into Saturday’s contest. Until then, Tennessee had totaled 8 sacks on the year- 4 against BYU, and 2 against Georgia State and at Florida. Against Mississippi State, however, the Vols nearly doubled their season total by tallying 7 sacks. What’s more, those 7 sacks were recorded by 6 different Vols; the Big Orange got pressure from a variety of areas and levels of the defense (Yes, Trey Smith- there is just something about those Orange Britches).
Furthermore, I had listened all week to various pundits and sports-radio hosts about how much of a strength Mississippi State’s offensive line is/was. Either they are good and came out and completely laid an egg, OR our defense has really turned a corner. Against a duo of highly mobile quarterbacks dressed in maroon and white, I for one was highly surprised and pleased with the pass rush, and hope we continue to see similar outings during the next six games.
Shutting Down the Heart and Soul
Mississippi State’s starter at running back, and a player many have said is one of the best backs in the conference, Kylin Hill, came into the game averaging 119.2 yards per game which was tops in the SEC. I know he left Knoxville averaging significantly less (now 101.5), and was held to his lowest total of yards in a game (13) in nearly two calendar years (vs. Alabama in 2017- 7 yards).
Apart from the aforementioned sacks, the Vols also tallied 10 total tackles for loss for negative 40 yards. Every time Hill touched the ball, the Vols were swarming to him. They also set the edge extremely well all game, not allowing him to gain any ground on the outside.
The strong rush defense sighting was another good sign as our remaining features a few more very impressive runners (Running backs Najee Harris, Rico Dowdle, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and Larry Rountree III, as well as Lynn Bowden, UK’s best Wide Receiver turned run-first quarterback). A strong rush defense against all of these players is vital to keeping the Vols in the games against their respective teams. A new look/new attitude defensively could go a long way in taking the Vols back into the post-season.
Whether it be due to the Orange Britches, or because of the new level of energy and confidence that is shown by our new QB1, there is most definitely a new level of energy surrounding our entire team. I’m not superstitious (I am only a little -stitious), so I believe it is due to Brian Maurer. While I think Jarrett Guarantano most definitely had a fine “riding into the sunset” moment with his second-half performance, there is little doubt that the ball belongs in the hands of number 18 going forward. Sure, I have flirted with the idea about starting JG against Bama just to keep Maurer healthy after his scare against MSU, but I don’t believe our coaches have. Hey, he may have a decent showing against the Tide in Tuscaloosa- and if you can prove competent there, you can play in any environment.
All-in-all, I believe that the energy and charisma shown by the team before, during, and after the game will go a long way in telling how this season ends. Combine that with a defense that now may be clicking on more (not all, yet) cylinders, we may very well see a team that goes 4-2 or 5-1 in it’s last 6 games.
We’ll Be Seein’ Ya
So this is the end my friends. We have a lot to look forward to in these last 6 weeks of the regular-season (aside from the upcoming Third Saturday in October), so let’s get ready! Be sure to check out the content from the rest of the crew at MoreImportantIssues, and listen to the podcast if you get a chance! Until then, this is Dakota Robertson signing out, and GO VOLS!
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