It’s always hard to grade Tennessee Football against lesser teams, but the Vanderbilt Commodores are an SEC foe, and this was a welcome complete performance in what has been a difficult season. Here is our report card for the Vols, breaking down how each unit performed, in their resounding Senior Day victory Sunday.
Joe Milton III largely speaks for the whole unit with over 380 yards and six total touchdowns. However, Nico Iamaleava was 9-of-11 when he came in, so the unit as a whole threw for 447 yards, averaged over nine and a half yards through the air and ran for another 26 total yards. Simply put, it was a dominant performance in general for this group.
Running back: A
Jabari Small, Dylan Sampson and Jaylen Wright combined to rush for 142 yards on 25 carries, so the Tennessee Football backs averaged nearly six yards a carry. Small led the way with 11 carries for 75 yards, and he also had a nine-yard catch. No touchdowns kept this group from being an A+, but they pretty much did everything else.
Wide receiver: A-
Squirrel White had two bad drops, and that’s what kept this grade from being an A+. However, White was one of two receivers to go for over 100 yards, as he had 10 catches for 110 yards, and Ramel Keyton had four catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Chas Nimrod added four catches for 36 yards, and Kaleb Webb had three catches for 22 yards.
Tight end: A
If Jacob Warren hadn’t dropped a touchdown pass, this would have been an A+ and then some. Warren was still elite, with three catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. McCallan Castles added three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown, and Hunter Salmon even came in with two catches for 21 yards, so this was an incredibly productive day for the tight ends.
Offensive line: C-
Ollie Lane deserves a ton of credit for moving back over to center and anchoring such a banged up unit. At this point, it’s a makeshift offensive line, so you can’t blame this group for struggling, but Tennessee Football did allow two sacks, and this was against a bad Vanderbilt team. Lane had little help anywhere else, and even he racked up a holding penalty at one point.
Defensive tackle: B-
Omari Thomas had the lowest PFF grade of this group but did have two quarterback hurries and did his part to keep the Vols in control. As a whole, though, this unit had major issues getting the push necessary at times, which is why Vanderbilt was able to move the ball early and end up with 24 points on the day.
Defensive end: A
James Pearce Jr. was absolutely dominant in this game, coming away with half a sack, one and a half tackles for a loss and two hurries. Tyler Baron, meanwhile, added a sack, and Roman Harrison had the third highest PFF grade on the defense, with Pearce being one of the two ahead of him. Simply put, this unit met expectations.
Jeremiah Telander was the best defender on the day, and UT may have finally found a middle linebacker in him. Aaron Beasley had a solid senior day. The issue is that Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry saw more snaps at linebacker than Telander, and both of them struggled, so that was enough to bring this grade down to a B.
Defensive back: C+
Doneiko Slaughter was okay among the starters, but Gabe Jeudy-Lally, Warren Burrell and Andre Turrentine all had rough days. This was the biggest reason Vandy’s early misdirection plays worked out so well, and it was a huge part of them being able to move the ball for much of the game. The secondary just wasn’t up to snuff.
Kicking game: C-
Jackson Ross had an epic punt inside the 20-yard line, but he only averaged 39.7 yards per punt with just one of three inside the 20. Charles Campbell, meanwhile, made two field goals and all extra points, but his longest was 27 yards, and he missed one from 41 yards out. As a result, this was a perfectly average to nearly below average performance.
Return game: B
Dee Williams had a 33-yard kickoff return and averaged 10 yards a punt return on four returns. That was nothing spectacular, but it’s what you ask for out of the return game, so Tennessee Football earned an above average grade here. Of course, the Vols tried Williams on one offensive play and lost a yard, but he was still solid in the return game.