Coming off a rather baffling Akron game and a troubling loss at home to Florida where many questioned the Volunteers effort and fortitude, eyes were on the team as they traveled to Athens, Georgia to face the number #5 ranked Bulldogs. Not all those questions were answered, particularly regarding a defense that oftentimes fails to execute fundamentals. Could the Volunteers find a successful running game? How would often criticized junior quarterback Tyler Bray respond to a troubling Florida loss? Let's dive in and look for answers, starting with the offensive side of the ball.
Let's start with Tyler Bray who really had a better game than he is getting credited. Bray finished the day 24 of 45 and 281 yards of passing with 2 TD's and 3 INT's. There were two dropped passes that should have gone for touchdowns however.
Bray and Hunter also seemed to have some communication issues early on the pass where he threw a tad bit behind Hunter I think was more an issue of lack of Hunter continuing to come back from an ACL and Bray misreading his speed coming out of the break. Hunter really came off fast, much faster than I have seen this year. Another pass to Hunter was incomplete because the defensive back slipped but managed to trip Hunter up just enough to throw off the timing. One thing is for certain, despite complaints of locking onto receivers, he is not afraid to spread it around, hitting 8 different receivers in this game for positive yards.
Furthermore, while the offensive line has made significant process particularly in the run game, Bray was under pressure most of the night.
This throw to Bartholemew was incomplete when he had Cordarrelle Patterson wide open to the side on a screen didn't affect the outcome.
He threw a bad interception with 5:57 left to play in the game which was just a bad decision, but again the only one that was a game changer.
Finally, Bray needs to work on protecting the football. You can tell he wants so badly to make a play and lead his team but he can't fumble the football like this play at the end of the game.
Overall, his performance was actually good and he was clearly not the reason why this game was lost.
Despite the drop, Cordarrelle Patterson rebounded I thought pretty well from a lackluster Florida performance. I love the way we are creative and use him too. He finished the game with 3 rushes for 55 yards and a touchdown. He had 2 receptions for 31 yards.
Zach Rogers had a really fabulous game as well. He finished the day with 6 receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown pass. He is fast becoming a go to guy in the receiving corp and a good compliment to Hunter and Patterson.
Finally, Mychal Rivera is simply an intimidating force and a nightmare matchup in most situations and we simply must get him the ball more.
Officially listed at 6' 3" and 244 lbs he plays far bigger than advertised. He was also the leading receiver in the game finishing with 3 receptions for 82 yards.
I have to give a ton of credit to how much this offensive line has improved particularly in the run game. James Stone I thought had a very good game as did our tackles against a very tough Georgia defense. Having said that, Rajon Neal deserves volumes of credit for the work he has put in and how much he has improved and if forced to choose he would get my game ball.
He finished the game with 23 rushes for 104 yards and a touchdown. It was his second 100 yard rushing game having rushed for over 100 against Florida. He was also a force in the passing game with 5 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
What a solid and reliable guy he is becoming and it is a pleasure to watch. Marlin Lane and Devrin Young are nice compliments and also had some good plays. Most importantly there were no fumbles among any of the running backs.
The kicking game continues to be an area of concern. We simply must get it fixed or it could be a very long season in conference play.
Michael Palardy now only does kickoffs and and was called upon once to hit an extra point which was successful. Derrick Brodus is a great story but he missed a relatively easy field goal and an extra point. He hit one field goal of 34 yards and was 4 of 5 on extra points.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the offensive performance in this game and the areas of concern appear to be fixable. One thing you cannot question is the team effort and the desire to win this hard fought battle.