TN vs TN Tech

Alontae Taylor, #2, points at cheering attendees while approaching the end-zone in the football game against Tennessee Tech, held in the Neyland Stadium on September 18th.

Tennessee’s football’s week five victory was among the most dominant in the last 50 years for the Vols. Tennessee’s 62-point performance featured the Vols’ highest score since dropping 63 against Missouri in 2016 – all as 3-point underdogs.

Here’s how the Vols graded out in their 62-24 thrashing of the Tigers at Faurot Field.

Quarterback

The game was won on the ground Saturday, but starting quarterback Hendon Hooker got the most out of his role through the air. He completed 15-of-19 passes for 225 yards and 3 touchdowns.

He was a threat to the Tigers’ makeshift defensive line as well, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown.

His play was enough to earn him a Manning Award Star of the Week nomination, given to the most impressive quarterbacks of the week throughout the nation.

Hooker is starting to become a potent weapon for the Tennessee offense. His play on Saturday cemented him as the starting quarterback on the depth chart moving forward in week six against South Carolina.

Grade: A

Running Backs

Mizzou has the second worst run defense in the nation this year. The expectations for Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small were high heading into Saturday’s game.

Small left early in the game with an injury but it was hard to notice a dip in production. Evans was nothing short of perfect in Columbia rushing for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Len’Neth Whitehead performed well in absence of Small rushing for 78 yards of his own. Maryville College transfer walk-on Marcus Pierce Jr. even jumped in on the fun, scoring a final touchdown late in the fourth quarter after a few close calls earlier in the contest.

Tennessee’s 458 yards rushing is the second most in program history, behind a 513 yard rushing performance against Washington & Lee in 1951.

Grade: A+

Wide Receivers

Quarterback accuracy is only half the battle. Tennessee receivers had their share of struggles out of the gate, but they did not disappoint against Missouri.

JaVonta Payton, Cedric Tillman and Velus Jones Jr. all caught touchdown passes from Hooker on Saturday, each with varying degrees of difficulty.

Payton started the show, catching his team-high third touchdown of the year to put the Vols on the board. His 35-yard touchdown capped a 5-play drive that took less than two minutes off the clock.

Jones was the only one that had to work after the catch for his score. The senior Southern Cal transfer took a wide receiver screen the distance, breaking a couple tackles along the way with excellent blocking from fellow receivers and some offensive linemen.

Tillman was finally able to haul in a well-thrown long ball after being served the short end of the straw all season long. It seems that he has been overthrown more than any receiver on the team, but he finally struck paydirt on Saturday when Hooker delivered a bullet between the numbers for a 24-yard scoring play.

Grade: A

Offensive Line

It’s true the offensive line was up against an inferior unit talent-wise, but their execution was near perfect.

For one, as mentioned earlier, the Vols rushed for 458 yards. That seems like a pretty good day in the office for Cade Mays, Ollie Lane and Jerome Carvin. Mays was named the SEC offensive linemen of the week for his outing.

For another, the Vols allowed just 1 sack in 60 minutes of football – more than serviceable in a 38-point victory.

This one’s pretty easy.

Grade: A

Front Seven

The defensive line has been stout all season. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks has done an excellent job with Matthew Butler and Byron Young specifically – both had two tackles, and Young had a tackle for loss on Saturday.

Along with the linebackers, the defensive line held the Tigers and dynamic running back Tyler Badie to just 74 yards rushing, their lowest all season.

Jeremy Banks and Aaron Beasley had excellent performances at linebacker. Beasley led the team with 8 tackles, and Jeremy Banks had an interception that set the Vols up at the 1-yard line, eventually ending with Evans standing in the end zone and the Vols up 28-3.

There are a lot of A’s on the board, and the these groups would have earned one as well if they had forced any turnovers or sacks apart from Banks, the one downside of the day defensively. Notably however, the line’s presence encouraged Tiger head coach Eli Drinkwitz to effectively stop rushing the ball altogether by the third quarter.

Defensive Line Grade: B+

Linebacker Grade: A

Secondary

The secondary played well Saturday but was, perhaps, the weakest unit on defense.

Pass protection struggled slightly at the end of the first quarter. Connor Bazelak and the capable Tigers offense drove the field for a 12-play scoring drive, most of which was through the air.

Theo Jackson, Tamarion McDonald and Alontae Taylor stiffened up after that but still allowed 322 passing yards.

The secondary’s biggest impact in Columbia was preventing runs of more than 10 yards. Rush defense was phenomenal at all three levels of the defense.

Kenneth George, McDonald and Jackson led the secondary with 5 tackles each, and Doneiko Slaughter filled in nicely for inactive Trevon Flowers at safety. Slaughter had a couple tackles for loss or short on a crucial possession in the first quarter.

Grade: B-

Special Teams

It wasn’t an excellent outing for the special teams unit but also not a failure.

Let’s start with the positives. Chase McGrath hit both of his field goal’s and all of his extra points on the day, accounting for 14 points total.

Return defense struggled throughout the afternoon. Tennessee allowed a 100-yard kick return by Kris Abrams-Draine early in the third quarter.

Punter Paxton Brooks had an uneventful day, which is a good thing for Tennessee. The offense never brought the punt unit onto the field, the first time the Vols haven’t needed to punt since 2009 against Western Kentucky.

No matter the field goals and absence of punting, return coverage left much to be desired Saturday

Grade: C+

Coaching

Josh Heupel and defensive coordinator Tim Banks called a clinic of a game Saturday, there’s little debate.

Heupel knew the weaknesses of the Missouri defense coming in and exploited them. More importantly, he didn’t get fancy or try too much – he coached to win at all times, even going for it on fourth and short with an already commanding lead.

Banks has the defense playing at a high level, something surprising given the sheer amount of turnover from the unit in the offseason. Mizzou’s offense came into week five’s matchup averaging nearly 38 points a game – the Vols held the Tigers to 17

Grade: A+

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