KNOXVILLE – Welcome to a special edition of the Tennessee film room. The Vols’ offense had its way with Troy’s defense, but the talk since the game has been mostly about the Vols’ struggles on defense.
Tennessee allowed a school-record 721 total yards to the Trojans in a 55-48 win. Normally we examine plays on both sides of the ball, but because of the immense struggles on defense, we’re going to focus specifically on what went wrong on that side of the ball during the historically bad performance:
(First quarter, 4:45): Troy running back Shawn Southward runs for a 7-yard touchdown
UT Formation:Nickel (4-2-5)
Analysis:Tennessee ends up with eight men in the box here (4 DL, 2 LB, one blitzing CB, S walks up) so it’s not a numerical issue. In fact, Troy has only six men to block the eight in the box, so Tennessee should’ve had an easy stop here. Linebacker A.J. Johnson is the one mostly at fault. Even though the Troy offensive line blocks to the right, Johnson moves to his right as opposed to reading the linemen and letting them take him to the ball. He steps to his right, and by the time Southward takes the handoff, it’s too late for Johnson to recover. He lunges for Southward, but he was out of position and couldn’t make the play.
(Second quarter, 10:21): Troy quarterback Corey Robinson throws a 37-yard pass to receiver Chandler Worthy
UT Formation:Dime (4-1-6)
Analysis:The call looks simple enough here. It appears to be a basic cover-two zone with two deep safeties and the linebacker, the two outside cornerbacks, the nickel and the dime backs playing an intermediate coverage. It’s third and 12, so all the defense has to do is keep the receivers in front of it. It does its job. Troy completes a five-yard pass, and Tennessee should’ve made the tackle and forced the punt. It’s never that easy with this bunch, though. Cornerback Eric Gordon takes a poor angle running at Worthy and the Troy receiver slips around him to the outside. A freshman Sun Belt receiver like Worthy has no business running around a veteran SEC corner like Gordon, but that’s essentially what happened. Gordon then gives up on the play and safety Byron Moore has to run Worthy out of bounds, but not before a first down and another big play.
(Second quarter, 4:46) Troy quarterback Deon Anthony throws a 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chip Reeves
UT Formation: Nickel (4-2-5)
Analysis:Anthony is better known as the running quarterback for Troy, so that’s probably what Tennessee is thinking here. Anthony fakes a handoff and then acts as though he’s going to run. Mississippi State did something similar three weeks ago, so it’s likely Troy saw that on film. Anthony then steps back and looks deep to Reeves, who is being covered in man-to-man defense by true freshman cornerback Daniel Gray, who was making his first start. It’s a bad matchup for the Vols. Gray has no help and Anthony throws a perfect pass to Reeves, who is the best receiver on Troy’s team. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri probably had the Vols in man-to-man defense because he was anticipating run with Anthony at quarterback, but that’s a tough situation to put Gray in. It cost the Vols six points.
(Second quarter, 1:21): Anthony runs for a 28-yard score on a quarterback draw
UT Formation: Dime (4-1-6)
Analysis:This was just too easy. Tennessee plays man-to-man defense, A.J. Johnson is the only linebacker and he chases the Troy running back out into the flat. That leaves four defensive linemen against five offensive linemen. Anthony waits until the defensive linemen run past him on their pass rush and then takes off, and there is no one in the middle of the field. It’s so open there’s a Troy offensive lineman leading the way that can’t even find anybody to block. Thomas isn’t touched until the 2-yard line, and at that point he’s got so much steam built up the has no problem running over freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil and falling into the end zone for the score.
(Fourth quarter, 3:24): Robinson throws a 67-yard touchdown pass to receiver Eric Thomas
UT Formation: Dime (4-1-6)
Analysis:So far we’ve seen bad schemes and bad execution, but sometimes you just have to tip your hat to an opponent for a great play. That’s the case here on Troy’s biggest play of the game. The Vols bring six on a blitz and force Robinson to throw quickly and off his back foot. The throw is slightly in front of Thomas, but he makes a fantastic leaping, one-handed grab. Cornerback Justin Coleman had fairly good coverage on him, but he appears to give up for just a second, perhaps thinking the ball would be uncatchable. The same is true for safety Byron Moore. He takes a bad angle to the ball and Thomas is able to accelerate right by him and Coleman for the long score. Credit Thomas for a fantastic catch, but it’s another example of the secondary not making a tackle to prevent a huge play.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.