Tennessee's offense is unique. Tyler Bray has been sacked three times all year, which brings to mind an Air Raid, quick-pass-quick-pass-quick-pass style. But Bray completing just 60 percent of his passes and averaging 14.1 yards per completion, which suggests an old-school, pro-style, downfield passing attack with a mannequin standing in the pocket and hoping not to get hit.
This much is certain, however: Tyler Bray is fun. He's a little cocky ,he's excitable, and he's basically built like Colin Kaepernick, only with Merton Hanks' neck and without any semblance of speed or running ability. (He's supposedly 215 now. Still looks 190.) He's definitely old-school in that he is no robot in the pocket. He cares, and he lets you know. He's one of my favorite college quarterbacks, at least when he's not facing my team.
TB: Rajion Neal (5'11, 211, Jr.) (532 rushing yards, 4.5 per carry, 5 TD; 139 receiving yards, 7.0 per target, 3 TD)
Marlin Lane (5'11, 205, So.) (428 rushing yards, 5.0 per carry, 2 TD; 169 receiving yards, 9.9 per target)
Devrin Young (5'8, 172, So.) (140 rushing yards, 4.2 per carry; 9 receiving yards, 1.3 per target)
FB: Ben Bartholomew (6'2, 252, Sr.) (74 receiving yards, 6.7 per target, 1 TD)
Justin King (6'2, 225, Fr.)
Tennessee's running game has improved from terribly mediocre to good in 2012. Neal and Lane benefit a solid amount, both from a good offensive line and the fact that opponents are terrified of the Tennessee passing game. Neither Neal nor Lane has shown amazing upside, but they take what is given to them, and in this offense that's all they need to do. They also catch passes reasonably well on check-downs.
WR-X: Justin Hunter (6'4, 200, Jr.) (838 receiving yards, 8.6 per target, 7 TD)
Vincent Dallas (5'11, 187, So.) (131 receiving yards, 11.9 per target, 1 TD)
WR-Z: Cordarrelle Patterson (6'3, 205, Jr.) (585 receiving yards, 8.9 per target, 4 TD; 242 rushing yards, 13.4 per carry, 2 TD)
Zach Rogers (6'0, 172, Sr.) (417 receiving yards, 11.9 per target, 5 TD)
TE: Mychal Rivera (6'3, 244, Sr.) (356 receiving yards, 10.8 per target, 3 TD)
Brendan Downs (6'5, 254, So.) (21 receiving yards, 7.0 per target, 1 TD)
Oh, dear. If Missouri loses on Saturday, this unit will probably be the primary reason why.
During his recruitment, Cordarrelle Patterson likened himself to Randy Moss and Desean Jackson. He is not that. I don't even think that is physically possible. But when he is making plays, damned if he doesn't kind of look like a cross between Randy Moss and Desean Jackson, especially in the No. 84 jersey.
That said, Patterson is just the No. 2 guy. For every incredible game he has (he caught nine of 12 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown against Troy, and he caught six of eight for 93 yards, carried twice for 72 yards and scored two touchdowns against N.C. State), there is one in which he is held in check (1-for-6 for 25 yards against Alabama, 2-for-5 for 25 versus Mississippi State, 2-for-6 for 31 versus Georgia). But the staff figures out ways to get him involved, namely by giving him the ball on a reverse a couple of times a game. Georgia held him in check through the air but allowed this on the ground.
And his first quarter versus N.C. State was perfection.
So why am I spending so much time on Patterson if he's just the No. 2 guy? Because with him, all of the puzzle pieces fall into place. Last year, Justin Hunter got hurt, and everybody had to play one spot above their capabilities. Da'Rick Rogers (since dismissed) was a great No. 2 but a mediocre No. 1. Zach Rogers is a strong deep threat when defenses have other weapons to worry about, but he was in over his head as the new No. 2 (35% catch rate in 2011). And tight end Mychal Rivera was leaned on a bit too much at times.
In 2012, Rogers was kicked off the team and Hunter returned, but there was still a potential hole in the No. 2 spot. Until Patterson immediately (and I mean immediately) began to live up to his recruiting hype against N.C. State. Now Tennessee has a solid No. 1 (Hunter is a little inconsistent himself, but the upside is terrifying), a great No. 2 (Patterson), a strong tight end (Rivera), a great "don't forget about me" deep threat (Z. Rogers), etc. This is a great, great unit. And Randy Ponder covering Zach Rogers scares the absolute daylights out of me.
LG: Dallas Thomas (6'5, 310, Sr.) (34 career starts)
Marcus Jackson (6'2, 320, So.) (5 career starts)
RG: Zach Fulton (6'5, 324, Jr.) (25 career starts)
Alex Bullard (6'2, 300, Jr.) (14 career starts)
RT: Ja'Waun James (6'6, 323, Jr.) (34 career starts)
Kyler Kerbyson (6'5, 320, RSFr.)
Continuity + experience + talent = quality.
Tennessee has had only one starter miss a game this season -- Zach Fulton missed just one -- and has four players who have started for at least two full seasons now. [Insert weekly "must be nice" whine.] As a result, the Vols' offensive line has been outstanding. It ranks second in Adj. Sack Rate (only because Air Force has yet to actually allow a sack) and a solid 20th in Adj. Line Yards. Mizzou's defensive line has ben incredible the last two weeks. It will need to be even better tomorrow.
Luckily, the Tennessee defense is also playing tomorrow. If it were as good as the offense, Tennessee would be the No. 1 team in the country. It is not.
DE: Darrington Sentimore (6'2, 288, Jr.) (11.0 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 4 QBH)
Corey Miller (6'3, 257, Jr.) (9.5 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 2 QBH)
NG: Daniel McCullers (6'6, 377, Jr.) (23.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)
Daniel Hood (6'4, 292, Jr.) (3.0 tackles)
DE: Maurice Couch (6'2, 295, Jr.) (24.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 QBH)
Marlon Walls (6'2, 283, Jr.) (4.0 tackles, 1 QBH)
JACK: Jordan Williams (6'5, 256, So.) (7.0 tackles)
Jacques Smith (6'2, 244, Jr.) (14.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 7 QBH)
MLB: A.J. Johnson (6'3, 240, So.) (72.5 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 FR, 6 QBH)
Channing Fugate (6'1, 233, Jr.) (13.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
Honestly, the front seven seems to have a lot of potential. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri (a Sabanite) came to Knoxville and has attempted to install the Saban Style 3-4 defense (with the "JACK" linebacker serving as both OLB and DE), and in theory I thought it might work. Daniel McCullers is a mountain at nose guard, Jacques Smith has been an interesting, if incredibly inconsistent, playmaker for a while. Herman Lathers and A.J. Johnson are both solid linebackers, Darrington Sentimore was a big-time recruit, et cetera. But while the secondary has been this defense's single biggest issue, the front seven has just not managed to create any sort of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Vols do rank 31st in Adj. Line Yards (not bad at all) but an egregious 115th in Adj. Sack Rate. Only one player (Sentimore) has more than one sack, and the linebackers just haven't been as good as I imagined.
Mizzou's offensive line has improved dramatically against base defenses over the past month, but the line is still struggling with blitzes and the like. In this game, that might not matter, as Tennessee is struggling with blitzing. Troy quarterbacks attempted 60 passes last week, and Tennessee recorded zero sacks and only three quarterback hurries (one each from A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Jacques Smith). That isn't going to get the job done. And hopefully it doesn't get rectified by tomorrow.
CB: Justin Coleman (5'10, 182, So.) (30.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU)
Marsalis Teague (5'11, 182, Sr.) (7.5 tackles, 1 INT)
CB: Prentiss Waggner (6'2, 182, Sr.) (28.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)
Eric Gordon (5'9, 190, Jr.) (32.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU)
FS: Byron Moore (6'0, 193, Jr.) (59.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 INT, 2 PBU)
Rod Wilks (6'0, 221, Sr.) (6.5 tackles) (6.5 tackles)
When you get no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, you are doing a major disservice to your secondary. And when the secondary is only decent (and starting a true freshman at strong safety), the problems are going to multiply. The Tennessee defense hasn't been as bad all year as it was against Troy (key point), but it's not great. Corner Justin Coleman is solid and physical for his size, and Prentiss Waggner is a decent playmaker. But the safeties are a concern (at least to my eye in the times I've seen UT this year), and again, only the most elite corners can cover for a long period of time when the QB isn't facing pressure. This unit isn't great, but it shouldn't face all of the blame for UT's struggles.
If James Franklin plays the same game he did last week (from a mental standpoint) and, with another week of practice and recovery, can actually hit open receivers ... then let's just say he should have some open receivers to hit.
P: Michael Palardy (5'11, 176, Jr.) (20 punts, 42.5 average, 1 TB, 6 FC, 8 I20)
Matt Darr (6'1, 213, So.) (16 punts, 39.0 average, 1 TB, 4 FC, 6 I20)
KR: Cordarrelle Patterson (6'3, 205, Jr.) (15 KR, 31.5 average, 1 TD)
Devrin Young (5'8, 172, So.) (8 KR, 17.8 average)
PR: Devrin Young (5'8, 172, So.) (13 PR, 9.5 average)
Cordarrelle Patterson (6'3, 205, Jr.) (1 PR, -8.0 average)
The kicking game is a little on the dicey side (and I think it is probably pretty telling that the Vols have yet to even attempt a kick over 40 yards), the punting is fine, and the punt returns are whatever. The one area in which UT shines here is once again because of Patterson. He has been scary enough on returns that opponents have been kicking away from him as often as possible. I assume Mizzou will do the same, but we'll see.