April 17, 2024

Position group grades for the Vols’ 45-24 win over Virginia Tech

After a poor showing in week one, the Vols looked much better against Virginia Tech in the Battle at Bristol despite a rocky first quarter. What grade did each position group earn with their play?

Tennessee coach Butch Jones celebrates the team's victory in the Battle at Bristol alongside several players. No changes made.


The Vols created five turnovers (all fumbles) and used a 45-3 run to race away from Virginia Tech in front of a record 156,990 people on Saturday.

Quarterback

Josh Dobbs was electric with the ball on the ground. He threw two good passes in the second quarter for Tennessee’s first two touchdowns. His five total touchdowns were his most in a game since he scored five against Georgia last season. But, Virginia Tech did drop an interception on a well-underthrown ball. Not only that, but Dobbs ended with just 91 passing yards. 38 of those came on the touchdown pass to Malone. Much of the passing woes fall on the lack of time Dobbs had in the pocket to throw, but he still missed receivers. He looked like what Tennessee fans should expect of Dobbs.

Grade: B+

Running backs

When Jalen Hurd had room to run inside the tackles, he was impressive. Hurd drug defenders along for rides all night, finishing with 99 yards on 22 carries. If Tennessee’s offensive line had been more consistent for four quarters, Hurd’s stats would have been even more impressive. Alvin Kamara only rushed three times for 9 yards, something that needs to change to keep defenses off-balance going forward. Kamara’s touchdown reception was a sample of what he can do in space — Mike DeBord needs to find ways to get him the ball more.

Grade: A

Wide receivers and tight ends

Josh Malone’s 38-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was his second long scoring reception in as many weeks. His ability to beat defenders one-on-one on deep passes takes a large load off of the Vols’ running game. Jauan Jennings’s six-yard touchdown reception on a fade route was just as impressive, something that set up Dobbs’ touchdown on a draw play late in the first half. Josh Smith missed more than one block and dropped a third-down pass with no one around him — similarly, Ethan Wolf had some trouble blocking at times and Jason Croom was the only tight end with a catch (just one for nine yards). The Vols only had 91 passing yards, in large part due to the pressure Dobbs was under most of the night.

Grade: B

Offensive line

Vol fans didn’t imagine things could get much worse after the offensive line’s performance against Appalachian State in week one, but they looked like they were heading that direction after a quarter of play. Coleman Thomas and Drew Richmond were consistently beaten throughout the night, forcing Dobbs out of the pocket on seemingly every pass play through the first 20 minutes. A second quarter switch brought Coleman off the field completely, putting Jack Jones at right guard and Wiesman at center. That move seemed to give Dobbs more time in the pocket and open up running lanes. Coleman went back in at center late in the second quarter but didn’t seem to show much improvement in the second half. Dobbs’ escapability saved this group from holding Tennessee’s offense back when it needed to get going.

Grade: D

Defensive line

It seemed as though every defensive linemen was chasing Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans at some point during the game Saturday night. Danny O’Brien, Derek Barnett and Shy Tuttle were especially impressive. Kendal Vickers forced a fumble late in the third quarter as the Hokies were driving, leading to the touchdown drive that essentially sealed the game for the Vols. The defensive line got off to a slow start, but the second-quarter fumble by Virginia Tech sparked the group, and they were dominant going forward.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

The loss of Darrin Kirkland Jr. is a big one for the Vols. His backup, Colton Jumper, missed tackles and was beaten in pass coverage multiple times on the night. Jalen Reeves-Maybin flew all over the field, but he might need to be in two places at once if Kirkland is out for an extended period of time. Although the group as a whole provided a spark in the box against run defense, missed tackles gave Virginia Tech a few long third-down conversions.

Grade: B+

Secondary

Cam Sutton was, well, Cam Sutton, but the corners opposite him struggled with balls thrown their way. Even on the one play Sutton was beat on — a nice double-move from Hokie receiver Isaiah Ford — he recovered to break up the pass. Justin Martin was called for a handful of pass-interference penalties, and he and Emmanuel Moseley both allowed multiple inside routes to get by them. Todd Kelly Jr. was beaten on the edge during the Hokies’ long touchdown run in the first quarter, but he and Rashaan Gaulden were otherwise solid on the night. Micah Abernathy’s three fumble recoveries were a Tennessee single-game record.

Grade: B

Special teams

Aaron Medley hit one field goal from 34 yards, but missed off the upright from 47 yards out. Trevor Daniel was a bit inconsistent, but averaged 42.5 yards a punt on the night, a solid performance overall. Cam Sutton fielded all of his punts cleanly, including breaking an impressive 14-yard return in which Sutton probably ran for about 25 yards laterally. The Vols’ kick coverage on kickoffs was excellent. Multiple Tennessee tacklers pinned the Hokies inside their own 20 yard line on a few separate kickoff occasions, something that helped set up better field position for the offense as the game went on.

Grade: B+

Edited by Adam Milliken

Featured image by Sumner Gilliam

 

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Nathan is a junior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He spends most of his free time eating meaningless foods and watching sports. If you wish to contact Nathan, you can email him at wodom3@vols.utk.edu or find him on Twitter, @NathanOdom11.