Derek Dooley and his staff had dozens of questions they hoped to have answered during Tennessee’s Saturday afternoon game against Cincinnati in Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee All-SEC senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson harasses Cincinnati's Zach Collaros into an incomplete pass.
GVX247 has trimmed that list to five of UT’s most crucial questions before Saturday’s visit by the Bearcats, and here’s how the Volunteers answered them during a convincing, easier-than-expected, 45-23 win.
DID UT CORRAL COLLAROS?
The Vols most certainly contained Collaros. Cincinnati’s All-Big East senior quarterback gained just 18 yards on the ground and lost 17 for a total of 1 net yard. Collaros eluded the pocket to complete some of his passes, finishing a respectable 21-of-34 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was sacked twice and harassed all game. UT also stuffed Collaros several times on third-and-short and fourth-and-short situations, which helped the Vols build and lead in the second quarter and expand it in the second half.
DID UT’S RUNNING GAME IMPROVE?
Yes. The Vols still have a long way to go on the ground, but their performance against Cincinnati was definitely a step up from the dismal debut against Montana. UT senior Tauren Poole wasn’t dominant any means, but he finished with a solid 101 yards on 21 carries — a decent, 4.8-yard average. His backups were bad, though. True freshman Marlin Lane had a 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but he finished with just 16 yards on eight carries and lost a fumble. Sophomore Rajion Neal also lost a fumble — albeit when the game was basically over — and finished with 10 yards on three carries. But overall, UT averaged 3.6 yards per carry after only averaging 2.8 against Montana, so they technically were better.
DID UT’S PASSING GAME TRIO STAY PROLIFIC?
Uh, yes. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray finished a silly 34-of-41 for 405 yards and four touchdowns, and sophomore receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers caught 10 passes each. Hunter had 156 yards and a touchdown, and Rogers had 100 yards and two scores. It’s easy to get overly excited about this trio for a reason. They’re very, very talented. If they have big games next week at SEC East rival Florida, the nation will take notice, too.
DID ANYONE ELSE ON UT’S OFFENSE EMERGE?
Yes. Starting tight end Mychal Rivera had a great game. The junior from California had six catches for 54 yards, and backup Brendan Downs — a true freshman from Bristol, Tenn. — added 32 yards on two grabs. Junior receiver Zach Rogers had two catches 25 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown from Bray late in the third quarter. The backup tailbacks were a big disappointment, but new faces stepped up in the passing game. Junior fullback Ben Bartholomew, whose start in place of healthy sophomore Channing Fugate was a major surprise to everyone outside the football complex, played pretty well in the running game and caught an 8-yard pass.
DID UT’S SPECIAL TEAMS TAKE ANOTHER STEP?
Yes. Definitely. Sophomore Michael Palardy missed a 43-yard field goal, but that was the only big downer on his day. He booted three kickoffs into the end zone — two were touchbacks — and he recovered his own onside kick to spark a UT touchdown drive early in the first quarter. The Vols punted just once, and talented redshirt freshman Matt Darr’s 35-yard effort wasn’t great but wasn’t terrible. It was fair caught, and a 35-yard net isn’t the worst thing in the world. Coverage units were again solid, kickoff returns were again decent but a nice punt return from Lane was nullified on a holding penalty. UT’s special teams are still a work in progress in many ways, but the Vols are no longer embarrassing themselves in this area.
Read GVX247 throughout the day for more coverage of UT’s big win — including some recruiting reaction from the weekend.
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