published Monday, September 24th, 2012

Tennessee Vols get a shot at redemption

UT's Cordarrelle Patterson carries against Akron Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
UT's Cordarrelle Patterson carries against Akron Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CHECK THE STATS

With a third of the season in the books, it's time to take a look at where Tennessee ranks nationally and within the Southeastern Conference in 10 statistical categories.

Category // Stat // NCAA // SEC

Scoring offense // // 38.2 ppg // 23rd // 5th

Total offense // 513.8 ypg // 17th // 2nd

Rushing offense // // 172.5 ypg // 57th // 8th

Passing offense // // 341.2 ypg // 8th // 1st

Scoring defense // // 24.2 ppg // 61st // 10th

Total defense // // 392.2 ypg // 68th // 11th

Rushing defense // // 164.2 ypg // 74th // 11th

Passing yardage defense // 228.0 ypg // 66th // 11th

*Passing efficiency defense // 99.03 // 17th // 4th

Turnover margin // // plus-2 // t-39th // 6th

*Rating is the calculation of a formula that measures yards, touchdowns and completion percentage allowed and factors in interceptions.

KNOXVILLE — Life in the Southeastern Conference all depends on the perspective.

Tennessee's upcoming schedule is proof of exactly that.

The Volunteers feel they let a big win slip away against Florida last weekend, but after Saturday night's home win against pesky Akron, Tennessee has plenty of chances ahead to redeem itself.

"That's really the beauty of this league," senior cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "Playing in the SEC, it's arguably second to none. We know we're about to have a long SEC stretch, but that's why you came to Tennessee.

"That's why you want to play in the SEC, to have games like this."

That's the positive view of what's next for the Vols. Tennessee's next four opponents currently are 20-0 combined. No. 1 Alabama's visit is the lone home game in a stretch that includes trips to fifth-ranked Georgia, 21st-ranked Mississippi State and sixth-ranked South Carolina and a bye week.

Third-year coach Derek Dooley called it "a heck of a stretch," and it begins at Georgia.

"Those fans are always pumped for the Tennessee game," Waggner said. "As a team, we're going to be pumped up about going on the road for the first time this season. I think we'll respond pretty well."

After the disappointing second-half collapse against the Gators, Dooley liked how his team controlled the second half on Saturday night against the heavy underdog Zips. Tennessee fell behind 7-0 after an interception return for a touchdown on the game's third play before calmly making the plays to wear down Akron in the second half. Dooley certainly wanted to see that after the last 20 minutes of the Florida game.

"The first half, no," said quarterback Tyler Bray, who continues to take medicine to cure his week-long illness. "But we finished the game, which we didn't do last week. That was good."

Bray's response to his awful early pick was as well. Including the interception, Bray completed just eight of his first 17 passes, and his accuracy was off on some throws he normally makes. He completed 19 of his 26 passes to finish the game.

"I told Tyler I was real proud of him because he made a lot of mistakes early on," Dooley said. "He was off, he was rushing, he was getting antsy -- I could feel it. He just kept settling in, and he played well down the stretch.

"He had a good demeanor about him [so] it was a big step for him."

Tailback Rajion Neal also took another step. The junior's performances against Florida and Akron hardly resembled the hesitant, inconsistent runner from the season opener. He's hit holes hard and run downhill the past two weeks, but he still needs to work on breaking arm tackles when he does get to the second level.

"My confidence is pretty high," Neal said. "It starts up front with those guys. I've got a lot of confidence in those guys, and they believe in me.

"They put me in some good situations. All I need to do is just finish. My confidence is high, I'm staying under my coaches, I'm understanding what I'm told to be done and I'm just really focusing and watching what these other teams are doing and playing under my O-line."

Defensively, Tennessee has surrendered touchdowns of 80, 75 and 70 yards in the last six quarters alone, and Georgia currently leads the SEC in scoring and total offense and scored three touchdowns of 20 or more yards in a 45-point demolition of Vanderbilt. As it did in the season opener, the Vols settled in and played better after simplifying things in the secondary.

"Akron did a good job," said defensive lineman Maurice Couch, who sported an SEC-style cut across his nose after Saturday night's game. "We're just going to take it one day at a time. We're going to clean up our mistakes from Akron and get ready for Georgia."

After the Florida loss, Tennessee surely is looking forward to the defining stretch of its schedule, though the Vols might want to be careful what they wish for to some degree, too. The Vols proved they could compete but couldn't finish. Dooley's hope is his team can use that experience.

"I hope we learned," he said. "We're going to be in there again, and we'll see how we handle it. We play a heck of a team next week.

"This team and a couple others are going to be contending for it all. They have the ability to. I hope we learn and grew, but we won't really know until we get back in our league."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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