It wasn’t always poetry in motion for Tennessee, but the Vols managed to take care of business, dispatch the Chattanooga Mocs and send the homecoming crowd of 93,097 home happy with a 45-10 victory.
Games like this are meant to help a team regain or build some confidence and while this game certainly allowed Tennessee to do that in some areas, certain weaknesses continue to be exposed. The offensive line continues to struggle, which leads to below-average play from the quarterbacks and running backs as well as limiting the productivity of the Vols’ talented receivers.
Defensively, the Vols continued their strong play – especially the starters – and held Chattanooga to 201 yards while forcing three turnovers that would lead to 21 points for Tennessee’s offense. Chattanooga had 105 rushing but could only manage 2.8 yards per rush and failed to reach triple digits in the passing game. The Mocs would finish 10-of-17 for 96 yards and an interception through the air.
Here are five key observations from tonight’s game:
Money Medley: Although he did barely miss a 42-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, Aaron Medley continues to prove himself as real weapon for this football team. The freshman kicker tallied seven touchbacks on the night and hit a 25-yard field goal in the 2nd quarter. Medley is now 9-of-12 on field goals for the season and appears to have settled into the kickoff role quite nicely after an up-and-down start to the season. Much was made in the preseason about the challenge that this team would face in trying to replace Michael Palardy’s production from a year ago, but after six games Aaron Medley and punter Matt Darr are handling things quite well.
Justin Worley: In another game where he spent most of his time running for his life, Justin Worley played the part of the warrior to help his team today. The senior from Rock Hill, South Carolina 19-of-24 passing for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns while also adding 2 rushing touchdowns of his own. Worley was sacked five times on the day but never lost his cool and maintained his composure with his young offensive line. Marquez North suffered a minor injury in the first half and would not return, so Worley leaned on Jason Croom (6 catches, 76 yards) and Johnathon Johnson (3 catches, 46 yards and 2 touchdowns) as his primary targets while often scrambling to escape pressure.
O-line woes: In a game where few expected them to struggle, the offensive line did just that. Vol quarterbacks were sacked five times and Tennessee could only manage 2.9 yards per carry against the Mocs today, and those numbers aren’t good enough for this team to win many games moving forward. Those numbers were certainly impacted by Marlin Lane’s absence and Jalen Hurd’s short day of action, but this was a game where the offensive line really needed to take a step forward and they didn’t. Things will get much more difficult over the next two weeks as the Vols will face arguably the most talented defensive lines remaining on the schedule in Ole Miss and Alabama.
Evan Berry: With his older brother Eric in attendance, Evan Berry tried to make the most of his first career kick-return this evening as he took the opening kickoff of the second half back 68 yards before finally being tracked down at the 19-yard line. Berry was on the field to replace an injured Devrin Young, who apparently suffered some broken ribs earlier in the game. Berry has flashed his return ability multiple times during practices this fall, but has also struggled to consistently field kicks cleanly. With Devrin likely to miss some time over the next few weeks, expect Berry to assume that role moving forward. His talent is unquestionable, and this may be the wake-up call that he needed to take his play to the next level.
Injuries: Tennessee took somewhat of a beating in today’s game. We already mentioned Devrin Young and Marquez North‘s injuries, but Ethan Wolf, Derek Barnett, Cam Sutton, Derrell Scott, Justin Worley, and Chris Weatherd all appeared to suffer minor injuries at some point during today’s game. Butch Jones said the training room would be working “overtime” tonight. Only Devrin’s appears to be serious at this time, but it may be worth monitoring some of the others this week during practice. Marlin Lane participated in warm-ups before the game, but did not record a snap after telling the coaches that he couldn’t play on his injured ankle. Jalen Hurd only took two carries. We’ll continue to monitor all of these next week in practice.