Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tennessee-Northern Illinois Report Card: Better Start Earning Some Extra Credit

Tennessee had a change under center, as Nick Stephens got the start at quarterback. Tennessee went out and got an uninspiring 13-9 victory against Northern Illinois of the MAC. Let's take a look at the report card:



Nick Stephens was 10-of-17 for 156 yards; two incompletions were drops. Stephens showed poise and pocket presence and appeared to manage the offense well. His touchdown pass to Denarius Moore was the best pass thrown all year.

Stephens made a couple of dangerous throws and took a costly sack on third-and-goal that led to a missed FG. Stephens short-hopped a pass to an open Austin Rogers with the game in the balance.


Running Backs

Arian Foster (18 carries, 75 yards) hit the corner a couple of times, but continues to get caught from behind on other runs. Foster also showed a lack of power (maybe heart?) on short-yardage runs.

Montario Hardesty had only seven carries and never got into a groove. Also, there were limited plays from the "G-gun."



The plus is for Denarius Moore, who used his speed to make the biggest play of the game, hauling in a 52-yard TD pass. Josh Briscoe had two catches for 22 yards but fumbled.

Brandon Warren and Gerald Jones each dropped a pass, and Jones was called for being an ineligible man downfield.

For a school known as "Wide Receiver U," Tennessee lacks a pure deep threat who can beat tight coverage and get the deep ball against tough SEC opponents.


Offensive Line

The Vol O-Line outweighed the Husky D-Line by 45 pounds per man and got outplayed. Tennessee only got 69 yards net rushing.

Ramon Foster's missed block led to Stephens taking a fumble-inducing hit. Jacques McClendon had motion penalties on consecutive plays. No surge on short-yardage plays.



Defensive Line

In the past, Tennessee would take these inferior non-conference opponents and just dominate them with their line play. That was not the case on Saturday.

They looked very ordinary much of the night, as Wes Brown recorded one sack and Dan Williams a 1/2 sack. Demonte Bolden got a silly personal foul for a late hit.



Looked aggressive the whole game, but NIU was falling forward on most of its runs. Nevin McKenzie had nine tackles, two tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks. Rico McCoy was in on eight tackles and had a sack. Nick Reveiz had four stops after getting the start.



Eric Berry is one of the best defensive backs in the entire country. His interception and 48-yard return was the highlight. However, this was the secondary's worst game of the season.

NIU receivers were open often, but the Huskies' third-team QB couldn't find them. Dennis Rogan was called for holding, and DeAngelo Willingham had a pass interference. These are things you should not do against a MAC opponent.



A week after I give them credit for nearly winning the Auburn game, the special teams went out and laid an egg. While coverage was good, Daniel Lincoln's kicking was disconcerting.

Lincoln made field goals of 36 and 34 yards, but one bounced off the upright and the other one just slipped inside the upright. Lincoln missed a 32-yarder. Chad Cunningham had a punt partially blocked.



Well, I will give Fulmer credit for pulling the trigger on Stephens. Clawson also did a admirable job in getting him ready to play.

Time management wasn't a problem, and the only turnover was Briscoe's fumble. Defense played hard despite being on the field 33:05.

The only real mistake I noticed was after two consecutive timeouts with the game winding down, Stephens was sacked and then Lincoln went out and missed a field goal that would have at least put Tennessee up by a touchdown.



So even though the game was a win, Tennessee got a worse GPA than in the loss to Auburn. Not good.

Tennessee kept it simple so they could break in a new starting quarterback. However, simple will not get it done next Saturday Between the Hedges at Georgia.

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