It wasn’t always pretty and it certainly wasn’t perfect, but Tennessee made enough big plays on offense early and timely plays on defense late to hold off Arkansas State in front of the 99 538 in attendance at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Justin Worley continues to take huge strides at quarterback and really had a nice first half of football before struggling under duress in the second half. It’s safe to say that the offensive line had difficulties at times when Arkansas State went with their pressure package. The Vols ran the football a little better against the Red Wolves as Jalen Hurd got the bulk of the carries after Marlin Lane got the start at tailback, but still failed to really dominate the point of attack at the line of scrimmage to create running lanes.
Defensively, Tennessee faced a much more talented team today than they did in week one and they handled themselves fairly well. ASU quarterback Fredi Knighten was able to make a few plays from time to time but Tennessee did a nice job of limiting big plays and pressuring Knighten from start to finish. There will certainly be a lot to correct after this team watches tape and critiques their play, but a win is a win and 2-0 looks much better than 1-1.
Here are some things that stood out in the Vols’ 34-19 victory over Arkansas State:
Worley off to strong start: There was a lot of debate when Justin Worley was announced as Tennessee’s starting quarterback in mid-August, but through two games the senior has shown why he was the best choice for this team. Worley finished the day 22-of-38 passing with three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and his first interception of the season. The interception was a poor decision and certainly one that he would like to have back, but it was possibly the only poor decision he has made through two games. On the season, Worley is now 49-of-76 on the season for 520 yards, six total touchdowns and the lone interception.
Third down for what…again: Tennessee’s defensive success on third down continued today as the Vol defens was able to hold Arkansas State to 4-of-17 on third downs including 2-of-9 in the second half. Tennessee’s defense has now held their first two opponents to 7-of-31 on third downs on the young season and appear to really play with an edge on the “moneymaker” down as the players call it.
Injuries mounting on offense: It was another tough afternoon on the injury front for Tennessee against Arkansas State. Junior receiver Von Pearson went down with what looked like a left ankle injury in the first half and freshman tight end Ethan Wolf left the game in the third quarter after a shot to his right knee. Butch Jones didn’t have any information about the extent of either injury after the game, but did say that he hoped to hear something either late tonight or early tomorrow morning. After losing left tackle Jacob Gilliam for the season last week against Utah State the Vol offense has now had three starters hit with serious injuries on the year.
Marqatron: Marquez North needs more targets. The sophomore had four catches today for 68 yards – two of which were touchdowns on tough catches in the end zone. Through two games, North has eight catches for 106 yards and the two touchdowns he added today. With the injuries to Wolf and Pearson and Marquez’s ability to make tough catches down the field in traffic, Tennessee will likely give him more opportunities to showcase his unique skill set moving forward. It could be a case of the Vols trying to manage their star receiver in an attempt to keep him healthy and fresh, but his relatively low number of targets through two games has been somewhat of a surprise.
Disciplined team: Through two games, Tennessee has only been penalized eight times for a total of 54 yards. After being whistled for six penalties against Utah State, the Vols responded with only two against Arkansas State for 14 yards. On the season, Vol opponents have been penalized 14 times for a total of 117 yards, giving Tennessee a 63-yard advantage in penalty yardage. Coaches often talk about the impact “hidden yardage” can have on wins and losses through the course of the season and through two games Tennessee is holding a solid advantage in that department as far as penalty yardage is concerned.