The Vols opened the season Saturday with a comfortable 49–13 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers. After a sloppy first 20 minutes on offense and special teams, the Vols settled in and began to impose their will. The performance the Vols had Saturday was pretty average and inefficient at times, but when a far from perfect showing results in a 36-point victory you know the team is in a pretty good position moving forward.
The defense looks FAST and hungry
After a touchdown on the opening drive, the offense went into a massive funk, but the defense showed up ready to pull their weight. Racking up 11 TFLs during the game the defense was nothing short of dominant. It’s not like Virgina was starting possessions in the shadow of their own goalposts either as 3 first-half possessions for the Cavaliers started in Tennessee territory, and none of them resulted in points. The defense showcased elite speed and physicality (a rarity last season). Each time a Virginia player had the ball in space they were swarmed almost immediately, and only a handful of long pass plays were completed. If the defense can replicate this performance in SEC matchups the sky is the limit for the Vols in 2023.
The running game was dominant
Many questions surrounded the offensive line coming into this matchup with starting center Cooper Mays being unavailable. Those concerns were eventually squashed as the offensive line turned in an excellent performance paving the way for 287 yards on the ground. The running backs were impressive as well, finding the holes and making defenders miss. The Vols took the running-back by-committee approach as Jaylen Wright carried the ball 12 times for 115 yards, Jabari Small 13 times for 67 yards, and Dylan Sampson 13 times for 52 yards. Joe Milton, not wanting to be left out ran for 33 yards as well. The biggest misconception a casual college football fan has about Tennessee is that they run an air raid offense. This could not be further from the truth as Josh Heupel’s scheme relies on being able to pound the damn rock. The Vols executed their identity on Saturday in that sense and the scoreboard backs it up.
The punting game needs vast improvement
The Vols punting situation looks less than ideal at the moment. The Aussie Jackson Ross averaged only 35.8 yards per punt. The run to one side and kick a low screamer approach works for a lot of Aussie punters in rugby, but in College Football it is hit or miss. Ross’s first punt was a cringe-worthy effort that went a whopping 17 yards before going out of bounds to set up Virginia in prime field position. Ross then followed that up with a touchback, and then another laughable sidewinder that went 27 yards before going out of bounds. If Tennessee played a better opponent on Saturday these poor punts might have resulted in points for the opposition. Another thing is if the Vols are backed up in the swamp and have to punt near their own endzone a rollout to one side style of punting stands a good chance of getting blocked. Ross needs to improve quickly if he wants to keep the punting duties by the time SEC play is here.