The Tennessee Volunteers ripped off a convincing 38-7 win against a formidable Utah State team that went 9-5 and beat Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl last year. A big win like that can reinvigorate a program that has been down for the past several years. With Arkansas State up next, Tennessee has one more game to fine tune their engine, before next week's showdown at number four Oklahoma.
The passing game looked very good with Justin Worley back at the helm. Worley finished with 273 yards passing and 3 touchdowns. He evenly distributed the ball by hitting 12 different receivers with Pearson, Downs and Hurd all reaching pay dirt. That is a good sign since they will need to put points up fast and often later down the road. Though no receiver had over 48 yards, evenly spreading the ball around should prove to help in the maturation of the air attack in Knoxville.
The running game never really got going. Only 110 yards rushing in a game that Tennessee led throughout is very worrisome against a much smaller line than what they will face in the SEC. Marlon Lane had 41 yards (3.7 ypc) and a touchdown to lead the way. Freshman phenom Jalen Hurd (2.6 ypc) also contributed with 29 yards of his own. In all, the team averaged less than 3 yards per carry, and that will not get it done against the big boys that are waiting for Tennessee later in the year.
The domination of the Vols over Utah State was led by the defense. Three turnovers really kick started the offense with great field position. There was only one sack by LaTroy Lewis, but the secondary played very well. UT also put decent pressure on USU all night, even though there was just the one sack. Six tackles for loss set the tone and put the Aggies in an uphill battle all game. That is the type of defense they will have to show in the coming weeks.
Now on to the Arkansas State game this Saturday.
Arkansas State comes knocking on Saturday at high noon in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Redwolves hail from Jonesboro, Arkansas and play in the Sun Belt conference. Week one found them routing an FCS Montana State team, 37-10. That game makes it hard to judge what the Vols will see.
Tennessee will undoubtedly work on the running game in week two against a team they should beat easily. This will be crucial with Oklahoma's high flying offense on the horizon. The best way to shut an offense down like that is to keep them off the field. Running the ball makes it a lot more manageable to burn the clock and rest the defense.
When you look this game (Saturday 12 PM Eastern Time on the SEC Network) look for the way the offensive line gels and gets Marlon Lane and Jalen Hurd out in the open. Running down hill in this one will prove that they are improving. Another poor running performance will have Volunteer Nation in a full panic mode.
Though the Vols won the first game in a landslide, there are bigger hills to climb. If this is going to be a bowl season campaign for head coach Butch Jones, a dominating performance on the ground this weekend will be huge. That could set the stage for a Goliath-type upset next week in Norman, Oklahoma and have all the Volunteer state singing Rocky Top loud once again.