In a tale of two halves, it becomes hard to give people final grades. Tennessee Football would have had lots of aces at the midterm of Saturday’s performance at the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the way the game ended changes everything. Here is our report card for the Vols at every position after the way they played in the loss.
Joe Milton III finally used his legs, and in the process, he opened up his passing attack like never before. His play honestly could have warranted an A, but he had help on some bad throws with great catches, he missed on some red zone throws, and he also held the ball too long on the strip-sack fumble that Alabama scored on late.
Running backs: C
It’s hard to really blame this unit, as they never had any holes to gash. However, at the end of the day, Dylan Sampson, Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small combined to have 23 carries for 74 yards, a severe drop-off from what they have been doing all year. As a result, their performance is average, and even that may be a stretch.
Wide receivers: A-
Squirrel White’s two great catches on the opening drive alone were huge for Tennessee Football, and by and large, this unit was nearly perfect. However, White stopped running on one play, misjudging a ball, and Ramel Keyton had to bobble a catch at one point, which kept him from getting a first down and brought up a 4th and 1 that UT didn’t convert.
Tight ends: B-
Jacob Warrren picked up a key holding penalty that killed a drive and also misread a pass into the end zone. However, he blocked well for most of the game, as did McCallan Castles, and Castles caught the touchdown pass at the end of the first half on an all-out blitz by Alabama, so this unit was still solid.
Offensive line: C-
A week after manhandling the Texas A&M defensive line, the Vols were absolutely manhandled on the offensive line by Alabama. They could never get the running game going, and they allowed a strip-sack on Milton in the second half. To be fair, their were openings to run on the outside around them, explaining Milton’s success, and that kept this unit average.
Defensive tackles: C+
In the first half, Tennessee Football defensive tackles were superb. However, after that Jalen Milroe touchdown pass to open the second half, everything changed. To be fair, that pass was due to a holding Alabama got away with, and the unit got tired by too many offensive drives stalling, but it was still bad enough to knock this grade to the average range.
Edge rushers: B+
James Pearce Jr. had a strip-sack, and Joshua Josephs had a sack and a pass deflection. Tyler Baron would’ve had a sack were it not for a missed holding that we just referenced. The edge rushers largely struggled in the second half because of the lack of a push up the middle, but they were still above average, and significantly so.
Just as the defensive tackles went away, so did the linebackers. They just weren’t able to contain the rushing attack of Milroe and Jase McClellan in the second half, and that was a huge reason Alabama was able to control the game. Elijah Herring and Aaron Beasley still played hard, but they were just average in actual production.
Doneiko Slaughter tipped a pass that Jaylen McCollough intercepted. That alone gives this an above average grade. Sure, the Milroe touchdown pass was a busted coverage, but Kamal Hadden got hurt, and the unit got little help up front in the second half. We can’t ignore that. Overall, this group still played well enough.
Kicking game: A
Charles Campbell hit both field goals and every extra point. They were all easy, but he still did his job. Jackson Ross, though, was the star of this unit. Ross averaged over 53 yards a punt on five punts, pinning two inside the 20-yard line. He had help from poor decision-making from Alabama, but the numbers are the numbers.
Return game: D-
Refs or not, the waved off return that was returned and resulted in Tennessee Football getting the ball at the four-yard line on its first drive of the second half was a game changer. That alone is enough to say that this grade gets a D-, and you can make a case for an F. Return game miscues like that can kill the grade here.