Vols still searching for balance

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, right, hands the ball off to tailback Tauren Poole during the fourth quarter against Montana on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, right, hands the ball off to tailback Tauren Poole during the fourth quarter against Montana on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Game recap: Tennessee 42, Montana 16

The Tennessee passing attack picked up right where it left off a year ago.

So did its running game.

One of those things was a major positive for the Vols as they lifted the curtain on the season, with Tyler Bray again slinging the ball all over the field and liberally spreading around touchdowns. But on the ground UT couldn't quite impose its will consistently in the opener, and while it didn't cost it anything in a 42-16 rout over Montana on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium, the search for balance is apparently still an ongoing effort.

"We were hoping we could run it a little bit better, but Montana did a good job," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "They have all seniors and juniors on defense, and you can tell.

"They whipped us at the line of scrimmage, I felt like, the whole game. That's a real tribute to them, a veteran team with some big, physical guys. We didn't run it the way we needed to run it, so we need to make a little improvement there. But we made some big plays in the throwing game, stretched the game out a little bit early and that was good."

That was a familiar formula from the four-game winning streak that closed the regular season for the Vols last year, when the running game seemingly hit a wall and Bray began piling up impressive numbers.

The sophomore was doing that again, answering any doubts about some average scrimmage performances during training camp by continuing to hit big plays down the field and completing his passes at a productive clip. Bray finished 17 for 24 for 293 yards and three touchdowns against the Grizzlies, hooking up regularly with fellow sophomores Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers and getting both of them into the end zone in the first quarter as the Vols took control after a 93-minute weather delay.

But like last November, Bray was doing that without much support from the tailbacks, who averaged less than three yards per carry despite senior Tauren Poole grinding out 98 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown.

"Montana was playing hard the entire game, they never let up — and we've got to be better," Poole said. "Not every game is going to be perfect, and this is the prime example. We've got to be better each and every down.

"It wasn't disappointing, because when I was watching film, I saw how hard they played and how disciplined they were on the defensive side. It wasn't disappointing, if anything I'm just disappointed in my play. I've got to be better, me and Marlin (Lane) and the entire game will be better."

Lane showed some flashes of his ability in his debut with the Vols, turning heads with an impressive 18-yard carry in the first quarter and then making a quick cut to the middle of the field in the next frame to punch in a 9-yard touchdown on a short pass from Bray.

But overall the Vols were leaning much more heavily on Bray's arm than the legs of any of their tailbacks, even at one point focusing their running game on Bray's whole body to convert a pair of third downs and extend drives when it was struggling to get the tough yards.

"We've got to do better, we've got to do a better job of coaching and getting them in the right play and we've got to run the ball better," Dooley said. "I mean, I'm very concerned. But I knew this wasn't going to be easy, so let me qualify it.

"Montana has some big, thick, stout guys who have played a lot of snaps. I knew this was going to be a good test for us. We're going to get better, we're young up front and this was a good game for us to go through."

The Vols got through it with a win, doing it in much the same way they got accustomed to last season.

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Comments » 9

orangegrass writes:

So much for the hope that the OL was improved. When was the last time Tennessee actually ran the football on a consistent basis? Yep, it has been that long ago that we can't remember.

OldNumber7 writes:

I am with Dooley and Poole on this a little...Montana played with good up-front players and had every intent on stopping the run. With all the fodder the KNS staff has written about "Tennessee's Much Improved Running Game"...I would come to Knoxville hell-bent and determined to stop it too. Kudos Montana. But other defenses will have to worry about Rodgers and Hunter..and that will open up running opportunities.

volsfannsc writes:

Being a big Poole fan, I was perplexed that he would choose to run into stalled blocks in the middle rather than cut outside and gain yardage. Knowing that we couldn't punch up the middle, why were there no plays called to spread out the defense like sweeps, counters, or a reverse. We did not make them respect anything but up the gut, and passing on third and long. Those plays get stagnant quickly. Lane looked much the seasoned player and I was impressed with Rogers. On D, all thats missing is a solid linebacker corps. Austin Johnson was everywhere but he did not have a lot of support. Although not a lot of sacks, the D line was disruptive in the backfield and the corners did their job. I know their QB has to be ragged out today. Poole needs to run smarter and we need to open up the play book a bit. I'm not being ungrateful for a solid win, but unless progress is made in the running game, our future games against our SEC opponents are going to be tough and Bray can only be expected to do so much.

xvolx writes:

Bray has a cannon for an arm, but he still throws into double coverage. He needs to improve in reading defenses. The running backs aren't the problem. The off. line got beat at the snap. Bullard was driven into the backfield several times. Five fumbles and we were lucky to recover four. This team needs a lot of improvement.

iowavol writes:

in response to xvolx:

Bray has a cannon for an arm, but he still throws into double coverage. He needs to improve in reading defenses. The running backs aren't the problem. The off. line got beat at the snap. Bullard was driven into the backfield several times. Five fumbles and we were lucky to recover four. This team needs a lot of improvement.

Spot on regarding Tyler's throws. He had Poole wide open five yards down the field on one his triple coverage throws. Why he isn't getting the ball to our backs in the flat more often is puzzling. Poole and Lane both can turn a pass like that into a 20 yard gain easily. If Tyler can slow down the commitment to a certain route and do more reading and reacting, he will be a much more effective qb. If he learned from his last pass last year, it didn't show last night. Still, a strong performance with lots of upside.

Of all units on a football team, the o-line needs the longest to develop. It will be a long year. I think we can count GA and KY as wins. Too bad we don't play Auburn this year - that would definitely be a win.

BadBob70 writes:

Late in the game, the O-line blew the D-line back into the end zone nearly 2 yards, but the running back stutter stepped, jinked around, until the d-line recovered and stopped him at the goal line. The refs gave us 6, but you couldn't blame the closeness of the play on the O-line, the RB took too long... I don't remember seeing a single trap block, or other stuff to take care of a faster, bigger D-line - did I just miss them?

ICECOLDVOL writes:

I feel like we do need to improve in our running game, but that will happen this was an irregular game with an irregular opening....it all started with the weather of course, and transitioning into not running out of the T to start the new season. Now if any of you out there have ever realized, thats a mental moment the whole team didnt get to experience. That means alot to a football team, and no thats not an excuse if you think it sounds like one. They did a good job of stopping our run plays i will admit, but why run a reverse or any other special run play against Montana. they were base run plays for a reason. Bray completed 70% of his passes. i think we could have scored many more td's but for what. Our front four created some pressure, good, not many special packages from wilcox, but for what. When i watched that game i saw it more like a preseason game and i loved what i saw from the air. Running game needs continuous work. overall im happy from what i saw considering the mental hurdles we overcame. Glad coleman was beat so he can get better. One more game to get polished until we got down and beat Florida.......watch fellow Vol fans!!!!!GBO!!!!! 4 Life....even in my sleep

lomas98 writes:

in response to orangegrass:

So much for the hope that the OL was improved. When was the last time Tennessee actually ran the football on a consistent basis? Yep, it has been that long ago that we can't remember.

2009 with hardesty. One season and one game ago. Not that long ago. Actually ran it pretty consistent all the time with the exception of last season.

BlueHound writes:

Nothing like a big fat reality check for the OLine. All of whom are over three hundred pounds with much more experience than last year, two big, fast, agile SEC caliber running backs to tote the rock, and yet less than 3.5 yds per carry against an FCS team. Hello? This is your WAKE UP CALL!
Otherwise, typical first game, made more odd by the weather. Don't get me started on the kicking game. The good news? We have a lot of room for improvement and are still undefeated in '11.

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