The tinkering with the format had the desired impact.
A competitive outing to close out spring also gave Tennessee coach Derek Dooley a few teaching points on the way out the door.
Thanks in part to a costly turnover and a sloppy finish with the outcome hanging in the balance for the first-team offense on the White team, the Orange capitalized early and held on late for a 17-14 win in the annual spring game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
And while Dooley had things to praise with both teams posting productive outings on the ground and quarterback Tyler Bray playing much better in the Orange and White Game than he did a year ago, it was a handful of errors in crunchtime that the Vols coach leaned on to get his message across after the final workout of camp.
“Obviously some of the things that we said we were improving on in the spring continued to show up,” Dooley said. “We ran the ball a lot better, didn’t stop the run, so that’s always the give and take when you’re working against each other. But probably the biggest story line from a negative standpoint is that even though you’re playing with all those intangible qualities, making a lot of critical mistakes in critical situations, that’s obviously something we’ve got to get better at before next fall.
“Look at the White team, they had a turnover in the red zone, they had a missed field goal, a third-and-2 fumbled snap in the fourth quarter, a (holding penalty) and a slip on the last drive. Those five plays right there were the difference in the game, and that’s a great learning experience. You have to be able to perform in the critical situations of the game to win the game.”
The Orange did that better at the end of both halves, with Marlin Lane punching in a 39-yard touchdown run as time expired in the second quarter and Derrick Brodus supplying the go-ahead points with a fourth-quarter field goal.
But there was still plenty of time for the White to rally back after that kick went through, but both opportunities slipped away — the latter literally sliding away as Bray lost his footing in the closing minutes as a two-minute drill unraveled.
The drive before that ended in equally disappointing fashion for the White squad with a botched snap on third down leading to a punt, though the Vols could essentially balance those miscues out with consistency from the rushers, big plays from receiver Da’Rick Rogers and an efficient performance from Bray through the air.
“It was my fault I didn’t catch the snap,” Bray said. “I had been fine all day with the snap until then, when it really counted.
“But we did better than last year, so I can’t really complain.”
What’s Next: The on-field work is done.
But the end of camp doesn’t signify the end of the semester, a reminder Dooley delivered quickly to the Vols after the last of their 15 spring practices.
“Overall, real pleased with the spring, real pleased with the attitude the players have had and the work ethic and now we turn the page and get ready for real ball,” he said. “The starting point is we’ve got to finish this academics the good way, then get ready for a great summer.
“We’ve got a lot to build on, and I hope they see that. There’s a lot to build on, that’s the key word. We’ve got to keep working.”
Award Winners: Steven Fowlkes went from an ineligible member of the scout team to potential starter on the defensive line.
That turnaround made him close to a lock to pick up some hardware as spring ended, which he did at halftime when the Vols handed out their awards for camp.
Fowlkes earned the Andy Spiva Defensive Surprise Award, with Devrin Young taking home the same honor on the other side of the ball as the Harvey Robinson Offensive Surprise winner.
Other Players Recognized: Jordan Williams, Brian Randolph, Ja’Wuan James and Tyler Bray (John Stucky Offseason Award); Herman Lathers, Jacques Smith, Rogers and Brendan Downs (Big Lick); Justin Coleman, A.J. Johnson, Dallas Thomas and James (Fourth Quarter); Willie Bohannon and James Stone (Unsung Hero).
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.