Last season the Vols averaged only 90.1 yards per game, bringing many critiques from the Tennessee coaching staff and fans.
After an off season to work on improvement, fans can breathe a little easier following the DISH Orange and White Game Saturday April 21.
Sophomore running back Marlin Lane led the Orange team to a 17-14 victory over the White with nine rushes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
“Well I was real pleased with just the competitive match-up and the competitive part of the game,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “I thought our players played with a lot of toughness, good energy, good effort. They were into the game, and it showed. Obviously some of the things that we said we were improving on in the spring continued to show up. We ran the ball a lot better. “
Lane, who has battled all spring for the right to be the starter this fall, also tallied three receptions for 32 yards and three kick off returns for 93 yards.
“I just wanted to come out this morning, execute every play and play hard for my team and my side and dominate the run game,” Lane said.
“I think we have three guys who all have different qualities that can help us move the football, and you saw a little spurt of all of it today, so they’re all three good backs,” Dooley said. “I mean Marlin’s, probably, experience back there showed up today and hopefully those three will continue to develop and we have a young freshman coming in the fall too.”
I just wanted to come out this morning, execute every play and play hard for my team. running back Marlin LaneLane started off strong with a 43-yard kickoff return to open the game, and just six plays later rushed for 19 yards for a touchdown to put the Orange up 7-0.
Starting quarterback Tyler Bray then took the field for the White team, leading a five-play drive that would culminate in a two yard touchdown run by Neal and cover 75 yards, including a 51-yard completion to sophomore Da’Rick Rogers.
Bray led all quarterbacks with 14-of-26 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown.
"He makes better decisions and he makes quick releases,” sophomore defensive back Brian Randolph said on Bray’s improvement from last season. “He doesn't lead off to who he is passing to with his eyes."
Despite a headline filled spring, Rogers picked up where he left off last season with 5 catches for 74 yards to lead all receivers in the game. Freshman Cody Blanc and red shirt sophomore Jacob Carter continued to stand out among the talented receiving corps, tallying three catches for 38 yards and six catches for 42 yards respectively.
“They have been it all spring. Jacob has just been a good steady hand,” Dooley said. “I talked about his consistency a few days ago. Cody is a bigger guy. He’s big and fast, he really is. His big deal is that he just didn’t play much. He’s new, a mid-year guy in high school. He is going to be a good football player, so it’s good to have him out there. We’re thin at wideout and we needed those two guys.”
Only a few glaring breakdowns marred an otherwise good outing for new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s squad. Perhaps the biggest happened with the clock winding down in the second quarter, Lane broke through the line for a 39-yard touchdown to put the Orange up 14-7 at the half.
Early in the third quarter an 11-play, 70-yard drive put the White in position for a one-yard touchdown pass from Bray to senior tight end Mychal Rivera to tie the game.
Kicker Derrick Brodus booted a 37-yard field goal in to put the Orange up 17-14 for good with 9:04 left in the game. Brodus missed a 27 yarder with 2:05 left in the game to go along with White team’s kicker Michael Palardy’s 32 yard miss.
In addition to continued kicking woes, Dooley says there are “critical mistakes in critical situations" that need improvement.
“I think (the White team) had a turnover in the red zone, they had a missed field goal, a third-and-two, fumbled a snap in the fourth quarter, a hold and a slip on the last drive,” Dooley said. “So those five plays right there were the difference in the game and that is a great learning experience that you have to be able to perform in the critical situations of the game to win the game.”
The Vols will spend the next few months in individual workouts and seven-on-seven drills in preparation for fall camp. Tennessee’s first game will take place in the Georgia Dome on August 31 against North Carolina State.