KNOXVILLE – It was a win for Tennessee, but not one the Vols will be too boastful about in the future.
Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC) pulled out a 55-48 shootout victory over Troy (4-5) on Saturday in a game where multiple records on both sides of the ball fell. As the grades will reflect, it was a dominant day offensively for Tennessee, while the defense played one of the worst games in program history.
Here’s a full report card from the Vols’ performance Saturday:
It’s an automatic ‘A’ when you break the school passing record and finish with the second-best SEC passing performance of all-time. That’s exactly what Tyler Bray did with his 530-yard performance on Saturday. He completed 29 of his 47 attempts (61.7 percent) and added five touchdowns. There’s not much more he could’ve done.
Running backs: A
The pass game was clicking so well that anything the Vols got from the run game was a bonus. Still, Marlin Lane, who made his third straight start in relief of Rajion Neal (ankle), had a big game with 19 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Neal played a limited number of snaps, but was still able to take seven carries for 32 yards to go along with a nice 23-yard touchdown reception.
Wide receivers/tight ends: B+
Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter combined for 18 catches, 400 yards and four touchdowns. That was the most receiving yards by a UT tandem in one game ever. Patterson was especially dangerous. Troy looked lost trying to tackle the 6-3, 210-pound freak of an athlete every time he caught a pass. Hunter had another bad drop in the first quarter, an alarming habit he needs to break. He made up for it later with three touchdown grabs. That drop, in addition to a drop on a sure touchdown by Vincent Dallas, were the reasons this unit didn’t grade higher.
Offensive line: A-
It was another solid outing for one of the most consistent units on the team. Bray was not sacked and he was rarely even hurried. It paved enough room to help Lane have a big day on the ground. The return of right guard Zach Fulton (ankle), who is one of the best run blockers on the team, was a nice boost.
Defensive line: D
Daniel McCullers, Maurice Couch and Darrington Sentimore were relatively quiet on Saturday. None of the three starting defensive linemen were credited with a sack, a tackle for loss or a pass deflection. This unit didn’t do a lot to disrupt the Troy attack. The most embarrassing moment came when Troy faced a third-and-nine situation in the red zone and the defensive line for Tennessee jumped into the neutral zone on consecutive plays, giving the Trojans a free first down that led to a score.
As usual, A.J. Johnson led the way in tackles with 13. He, along with Curt Maggitt, Willie Bohannon and Jacques Smith, were all credited with at least a partial tackle for loss. Overall, this group struggled to get off of blocks and make plays. Troy found a lot of success running the ball right through the middle of the field. Maggitt called the defense’s performance “embarrassing.”
Could this be the worst Tennessee secondary ever? Perhaps. It had no answers in stopping short or long passes, and the missed tackles continue to pile up. Freshman Daniel Gray got his first career start at cornerback, but he had a rocky debut. He gave up two deep passes and had a pass interference call against him. Six of the top seven tacklers on the day were cornerbacks or safeties, but that’s more an indication of how many big plays the Vols gave up rather than a credit to the secondary for making stops.
Special teams: C
There were no disasters, but there was nothing really special, either. Kicker Michael Palardy hit all seven of his extra points and made two of his three field-goal attempts. Troy pooch kicked to avoid Patterson on kickoffs for much of the game, but that helped Tennessee get good field position on multiple occasions. Justin Hunter had to fill in for Devrin Young (concussion) on punt returns and the junior did a nice job fielding the ball.
Overall coaching: C (Offensive: A; Defensive: F)
Yes, it’s one staff, but it’s becoming a tale of two sides of the ball this season. The offense, overall, is getting the job done. The defense is a complete mess. That was never more true than in this week’s game. The offense was crisp, effective and overcame the few errors it made. The defense was sloppy, confused and looked lost and unprepared. It all goes back to the head coach, Derek Dooley. He should get credit for the offense and blame for the struggles on defense. It was a needed win, but it didn’t erase many of the concerns about the long-term direction of the program under Dooley.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.