In such an ugly win for Tennessee Football against the Texas A&M Aggies, it’s clear which units carried the Vols to victory. It’s also clear which units specifically played poorly enough to hold them back and almost cost them this game. Here is a look at the UT report card in their 20-13 victory at home Saturday.
Joe Milton III avoided an F by rushing for 34 yards and with one touchdown pass. However, his accuracy issues continued to show, and his decision-making was awful. On the first drive, he stepped out of bounds right before the first down marker. Then he threw an interception into double coverage in the red zone late. Simply put, he was bad.
Running back: B+
If not for a Dylan Sampson fumble that he did recover to his credit and the lack of success on clear short-yardage plays, this would be an A. Jaylen Wright alone rushing 19 times for 136 yards was what allowed this grade to be so high. However, the Vols weren’t perfect, and Jabari Small only averaged three and a half yards while Sampson averaged under three.
Wide receiver: D+
Chas Nimrod kept this unit from being an F. Tennessee Football replaced Bru McCoy and still had issues. That’s ironic. Ramel Keyton dropped an easy touchdown pass, his second of the year, and a slant bounced right off of Dont’e Thornton’s chest on another play. Milton was the main problem, but when it had its chances, this unit struggled.
Tight end: A
While the receivers struggled, the tight ends bailed them out. McCallan Castles, who had two catches for 24 yards, actually caught the ball that bounced off Thornton’s chest, so he legitimately bailed out the receivers. Then Jacob Warren caught a key touchdown pass, the only one the offense scored. Add in the blocking, and this group gets an A.
Offensive line: B
Cooper Mays gets an A+. The right side of the line as a whole gets an A. However, Ollie Lane was horrendous at left guard, single-handedly killing a drive, and John Campbell Jr. made a couple of mistakes. Add in a Javontez Spraggins facemask at right guard that killed a touchdown drive, and this unit can only be a B.
Defensive line: A+
They only had two sacks and four tackles for a loss, but Tennessee Football brought the pressure up front all game. That’s why Texas A&M was held to 54 yards rushing on 28 carries. Omari Thomas, Bryson Eason and Kurrott Garland were super effective in the middle, and James Pearce Jr. and Tyler Baron took advantage to make big plays on the outside.
The first drive, one that saw Max Johnson convert a big run, is why this unit doesn’t get an A+. Aaron Beasley was more focused on being in position in this game, so he didn’t make his usual big plays, but he still had five tackles, three of which were solo. Elijah Herring did the same, so they did what they needed to do for the Vols.
Gabe Jeudy-Lally had two pass breakups and an interception. Kamal Hadden was a shutdown corner all game who came away with a pick to seal it. Wesley Walker remains a great open-field tackler. Tamarion McDonald and Jaylen McCollough had a couple bad plays, which is why this unit is not an A+, but overall this group was fine.
Charles Campbell missing a field goal should drop this down, but it was a 51-yarder. He still made two others plus his two extra points, and Jackson Ross was a superb punter. On his three punts, two pinned A&M inside the 20, and one pinned them on the half-yard line, which set up the next part of special teams.
Return game: A+
It’s no secret Tennessee Football won this with the return game. Dee Williams fielded a punt and ran it into the end zone in the third quarter to give the Vols a 14-10 lead, which would end up being all the points they needed. It was a 39-yard return and Williams’ only on the game, so how can you not give this an A+?