Outside of a series of mistakes for a few drives in the first half and one touchdown drive allowed by the defense in the second half, Tennessee Football had a complete performance in its season-opening win against the Virginia Cavaliers. Which units were most responsible for that victory? Here are our graes for the Vols.
Joe Milton III completed 21-of-30 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns while running for another 33 yards and two scores. He should’ve had a third TD and another 60 yards, but Ramel Keyton dropped a pass, so his day was really good. What kept it from being an A was one drive with three straight misfires and another with a questionable throw into double coverage.
Running back: A
You can’t say enough about this group. Dylan Sampson scored four touchdowns on the day. Jaylen Wright carried the ball 12 times for 115 yards. Jabari Small carried it 13 times for 67 yards and added three catches for 13 yards. The Vols always wanted to be able to go deep at this position, and they’re where they need to be now.
Offensive line: B
If not for some bad mistakes on the left side of the line, this would be an A+. Ollie Lane was superb filling in for Cooper Mays at center, Javontez Spraggins was his usual dominant self, and Jeremiah Crawford and Dayne Davis were solid. However, John Campbell Jr. had some major mental errors that hurt him and Andrej Karic at times, including a whiff on a 4th and 1 running play.
Wide receiver: C+
There just weren’t a lot of big plays by the receivers except for a 41-yard grab by Keyton. When you factor in the drop he had, it was just hard for us to give this unit that high of a grade. It’s still probably the best unit on the team, but we didn’t see the big plays we are typically used to seeing from the group, so they were a bit disappointing.
Tight end: A
McCallan Castles had a key 16-yard catch to spark a 90-yard touchdown drive for Tennessee Football when they were clinging to a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. Jacob Warren then had an 11-yard touchdown grab to put the game away. Both players were superb blocking in the run game too, so this unit gets an easy A.
Defensive tackles: A
Omari Thomas had one and a half tackles for a loss, Bryson Eason and Tyre West each assisted on a tackle for a loss, and Omarr Norman-Lott and Daevin Hobbs both got significant pushes up front. Kurrott Garland did his part too. Simply put, everybody stepped up. The only reason this isn’t an A+ is because of that one touchdown drive.
Edge rushers: A+
It’s hard to say anything negative about this group. James Pearce Jr. had a breakout game for Tennessee Football, coming away with two sacks. However, Tyler Baron was still the star, finishing with two sacks and two and a half tackles for a loss. Roman Harrison and Joshua Josephs each saw action as well but just never got the opportunity to make a big play.
Aaron Beasley lived up to his preseason hype, coming away with a tackle for a loss and two pass deflections. He showed why he was once a safety, as he looked much better in pass coverage playing weakside linebacker. Keenan Pili had four tackles, two solo, and Elijah herring had five tackles, two solo. Arion Carter also had four tackles, two solo. Kalib Perry even had two solo tackles.
Defensive backs: A
Let’s be honest. Tennessee Football didn’t have to do much in the secondary because of the front seven. However, they did hold UVA to barely over 100 yards and allowed no TDs through the air. Jaylen McCollough, Wesley Walker and Tamarion McDonald all made plays in the run game too, so by default, this unit gets an A.
Kicking game: D+
Charles Campbell didn’t miss any extra points, but Jackson Ross has a lot to work on when it comes to punting. He averaged barely over 35 yards a punt and didn’t pin one inside the 20. There were four Josh Turbyville kickoffs that spotted the Cavs the ball past the 20 yard line, two at the 35, so that was an issue as well.
Return game: C
We can’t ignore Dee Williams’ fumble on his first return. If that didn’t happen, Tennessee Football would get an A here. Williams had a 55-yard punt return and averaged 35 yards on three punt returns. He also had a 34-yard kickoff return. That’s an insanely great stat line, but in this aspect of the game, a fumble always outweighs the positives.