Takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Kentucky

Assistant sports editor Nathan Odom gives his takeaways from Tennessee’s impressive 52-21 blowout of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Photo by Kevan Elkins

[title_box title=”Takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Kentucky”]

There was a lot for Vols fans to smile about after Tennessee rode quarterback Josh Dobbs to 482 total offensive yards and a dominant 52-21 win over host Kentucky on Halloween night.

Josh Dobbs is in full control of Tennessee’s offense. There were miniature Batmans, Supermans and wizards alike running around Lexington, but the Volunteer offense was the scariest sight for the men in blue. Dobbs threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing attempts and was pinpoint accurate for much of the game.

Early on, Dobbs was mobile in the pocket and stepped up to make crucial late down passes and get Tennessee’s offense moving. He hit Josh Malone out of the break on third-and-six and then fit a ball through a tight space to Ethan Wolf to convert a fourth-and-eight.  Dobbs later hit Malone on a 75-yard touchdown bomb, the Vols’ longest pass play since 2011. Butch Jones and Mike DeBord have loosened the reigns on Josh Dobbs’ arm, and he has responded in kind with some impressive throws.

When Dobbs was not beating the Wildcats with his arm, he was doing it with his legs. He rushed for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns and kept Kentucky’s defense off-balance all night. His first touchdown, a 28-yard, multiple tackle-breaking run, was as impressive as any other explosive play Tennessee had all night. If Dobbs continues to manage the offense like he has the past three weeks, Tennessee will be unbeatable as the Vols close out the regular season.

Tennessee’s defense has not worn down any, yet. Some national and local analysts were worried that the Vols’ defense would be tired or gassed after playing Alabama last week.

Not so much.

Tennessee’s defense was a prime example of “bend, but don’t break” against Kentucky.  The Wildcats only managed two offensive touchdowns. Towles and the rest of Kentucky’s offense looked out of sorts all night. Whether it was rhythm issues or pocket pressure, the Wildcats could never get any momentum on offense.

Speaking of pocket pressure, Tennessee’s defensive line finally looks to be playing up to some of the hype that it got in the offseason. The re-emergence of Corey Vereen has freed up Derek Barnett, who sacked Towles twice, to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.  Tennessee’s defense will be continue to give offensive coordinators nightmares as long as Vereen and Barnett keep up their high level of play.

Evan Berry and Cam Sutton are the best returning duo in the country. After last night’s 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, Berry is now averaging 42.6 yards per kickoff return. That is insanity. If Berry catches the kickoff and decides to take it out, he has a good chance of getting nearly half of the field behind him before he goes down. His three kickoff return touchdowns are the most of anyone in the nation, and another one would give him the most single-season kickoff return touchdowns in the history of Tennessee’s program.

Not to be outdone, Cam Sutton’s 84-yard punt return touchdown raised his average to 20.2 yards per punt return, good for third in the nation. It was only his second career punt return touchdown, but it shows why teams have gone out of their way to kick away from Sutton when it is time to punt. Teams should consider kicking out of bounds on kickoffs and punts to avoid giving away any special teams touchdowns.

Butch Jones and Mike DeBord have heard the criticism. Not only have they heard it, they got a small taste of what Knoxville would be like if the Vols kept losing. After the Arkansas loss, talk shows were littered with fans calling for Jones’ head. Fans were impatient, furious and knew that the coaching staff had cost the Vols some wins. After Tennessee went down 24-3 late in the first half against Georgia, Jones and DeBord have been coaching to win.

Whether it has been going for more fourth down conversions, calling less conservative drives or letting Josh Dobbs do more in the passing game, the team has responded well to the change. It has been clear that the Volunteer players have expected to win the past three games. Dobbs is clicking with Malone, Wolf, Von Pearson and Ethan Wolf, and the offense has only benefited from the mentality change. Jones loves to use “Vol Nation,” the Tennessee fanbase, as a focal point for the program’s growth, and it looks like he is right back in the fans’ good graces after trouncing the rivals from the north.

Featured image by Kevan Elkins

Edited by Cody McClure