Nothing groundbreaking here, but what a great start to the 2014 season and a great night for Tennessee football. The atmosphere was electric despite some early rain and the crowd really gave this young team some juice to start the game. The Vols had a ton of recruits visiting for this game and even more watching at home as the University of Tennessee really stole the college football spotlight on Sunday. There is no doubt that such a huge win in the primetime slot on a day with few other options for football fans drew a ton of national attention that the Vols will certainly welcome.
Tennessee didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but were still able to beat a quality opponent by 31 points – pretty solid night when that happens. I think the biggest thing that jumped out to me for this team tonight was just the overall team speed upgrade from a year ago. Every offensive skill position, every defensive position and every special teams unit is just much faster than they were at any point in 2013. The Vols will certainly find tons of things on film that they will need to improve before next week’s game, but they couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the season than what they got against Utah State.
Here are some things that stood out in the Vols’ 38-7 victory over Utah State.
Third Down for What: I thought I’d get tired of this, but the music really seemed to get the crowd fired up and the team dialed in when Utah Stata was faced with third down. This was made evident by the Aggies finishing the night with an uncharacteristic 3 of 14 conversion rate on third downs as they really never got any type of consistency on offense. The Vols only sacked Keeton once, but were able to pressure him enough to make him uncomfortable and it was clear that the star quarterback was somewhat rattled at times.
Weatherd Makes an Impact: Although he was only officially credited with one tackle, Chris Weatherd did an outstanding job of making Chuckie Keeton extremely nervous all night long. He drew a personal foul during the third quarter when he just blew by Utah State’s right guard who was left with no choice but to grab Weatherd by the facemask and pull him to the ground. I’d love to see how many pressures or hurries Weatherd is credited with after coaches go back and breakdown the film because he spent a lot of time in the backfield and consistently forced Keeton to move and throw when he didn’t want to.
Cam Sutton: I may catch some heat for this, and I don’t say it to disrespect anyone else, but Cam Sutton may be the best football player on this team. He appeared to play near flawless football for the Vols against the Aggies who made the mistake of trying to pick on the sophomore in the first half. Sutton absolutely blew up a screen play that they threw to his side early in the second quarter and had an interception when they tested him with a deep ball just before halftime that lead to a Tennessee field goal. He didn’t get the chance to return a punt, but made all of his fair catches with ease and looks to have a very steady hand at that position for the Vols moving forward.
A.J. and Curt: It was great to see these two back on the field together. A.J. Johnson finished with 10 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble and was extremely close to a second interception that he would have certainly taken to the house. The forced fumble on special teams really changed the complexion of the game, allowing the Vols to take over with a short field and hit Brendan Downs for a touchdown that put them up 14-0 early in the first quarter. Curt Maggitt played some at linebacker and some at defensive end, and even though he was only credited with two tackles (one for a loss) his energy and leadership clearly gives the defense a huge lift when he’s out there. He was on of the first players out on the field when Jacob Gilliam went down in the third quarter and you could just see that this defense has a completely different demeanor when #56 is on the field.
O-line struggles: It wasn’t all perfect for Tennessee on Sunday, however, as the Vols’ offensive line had a rather up-and-down night. Justin Worley was sacked twice in the first half while being hit many more times than that and Tennessee’s rushing attack only averaged 2.8 yards per carry for the game. The protection was much better in the second half after the Vols seemed to make some adjustments that allowed them to better handle the blitzes that Utah State was sending. The running game also looked a little better in the second half, but Tennessee will need to shore up some things in this department moving forward. The injury to Jacob Gilliam is also a concern for this unit as well, the Vols are already limited in terms of depth along the OL and any type of significant injury here would have a huge impact.