Tennessee’s Youth Overwhelm Utah State 38-7


The Vols opened the 2014 season in front of 102,455 win-hungry fans, and they saw Tennessee’s youth overwhelm Utah State 38-7. It is amazing how different the Vols look in one season. Talent has arrived again in Knoxville.

Coach Butch Jones signed a much heralded recruiting class in 2013. 16 of these freshmen had played mid way through the first quarter, and 21 total contributed in the opening win. The game was never a contest. It was all Tennessee, all night long.

The Vols opened with a quick 3 and out with three straight poorly executed pass attempts, and many Vol fans looked a little worried as they had seen this type of Vol offense last season. However the Vols were just getting started. Even Coach Jones told the SEC Channel sideline reporter that it was a minor victory that the young Vols had turned right while running through the T.

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  • Tennessee’s defense smothered Heisman Trophy hopeful Chuckie Keeton and the rest of the Utah State offense from the start of the game to the end of the game, and there was never a sense that the Aggies were the threat they were hyped to be. Tennessee was faster and stronger, and it was evident. “Faster” is something we haven’t been able to say in a while on Rocky Top.

    Worley had his best game as a Vol. After the sluggish start and a so-so first half that saw him hold the ball too long and throw too late to his receivers, Worley settled in and had a second half that saw him complete his first 12 passes of the half in a row. Worley looked confident, poised, and even decisive in the second half. Tennessee will need the Worley that played in the  second half in order to compete and win in the SEC East. He finished 27/38 for 273 yards and no interceptions. Worley distributed the ball to 11 different Vol receivers.

    While Tennessee’s short passing game was effective throughout the game, the running game was never a threat. Time and time again the Utah State defensive line met the runner as the ball was handed to him, and Justin made several bad reads on the zone read. Senior running back Marlin Lane started but gave way to freshman Jalen Hurd much to the delight of the orange clad crowd.

    The offensive line was never able to create space for the backs to run at any point during the game. I will write about this later, as this is a huge concern going forward. However, Lane and Hurd showed determination and strength in simply moving the pile backwards in order to pick up some key first downs as the offense was sputtering. The running game has to have rhythm and timing just as well as a passing attack, and it just wasn’t there in this first game.

    The passing attack is “as advertised”. Von Pearson showed his skills on several catches with his best coming on a short touchdown pass from Worley where the took a pass in the flat, planted his foot firmly in the turf and juked a would be Aggie defender on his way to the checkerboards. We will see this a lot. Marquez North, who is a beast, was his steady self and Jason Croom made his presence known.

    Josh Smith and 5 star Josh Malone both looked smooth and fast running precise routes and catching everything that came their way. Pig Howard seems to be Worley’s “go to” receiver for now. Pig is Pig. He has great moments, and he has less than great moments, but he will give you effort and fights for every yard.

    The Tight ends are simply fantastic. Ethan Wolf led the way with 3 catches for 28 yards. Brendan Downs added a touchdown catch after a early turnover, and Daniel Helm had a catch as well.

    The Tennessee defense was the star of the show, and the brightest star on stage is AJ Johnson. If AJ keeps this up there will be songs written about him, people named Bubba wearing dreads, and kids being named AJ in Knoxville. This guy flat gives his all for Tennessee. He is a tackling beast. He is not fast, just highly motivated to get to the ball carrier. He finished the night with 9 tackles.

    Right after Pig Howard found the end zone in the first quarter and the first score of the 2014 season, I turned to my father in law to mention how I hate seeing AJ on the kick off team as I did not want to see him in a situation where he may be injured. Find someone else. About 5 seconds after that AJ jumped on the returner like a Lion on a wildebeest and the ball fell to the ground into an alert Todd Kelly, Jr’s hands. I turned back to him right after and said, “But then again….” The guy is everywhere.

    I am convinced that when any player in any era that has been running with the ball and falls inexplicably to the “turf monster” that it is actually AJ Johnson that has made that tackle. He is the “turf monster”.

    As well as he played, the entire unit played just as well. Cam Sutton was tremendous at his corner position. He covered his receiver and made several clean and authoritative tackles. The whole team tackled much better than in any game I saw last year. The young defensive line played hard and was able to put a lot of pressure on the fleet footed Chuckie Keeton. The Williams boys and Danny O’Brien had great games in particular.

    Curt Maggitt was a force in his first game back, and it was great seeing linebackers Dillon Bates and Chris Weatherd perform at such a high level. Jalen Reeves-Maybin had 10 tackles to lead the Vols. This guy is getting better each week. He went down early in the game and everyone held their collective breath, but he returned to the game.

    It was a great win for the Vols, and the Vol fans. It has been a while since there was a feel good moment in Neyland. Last night, things changed at Tennessee. This team has an energy about them. They have an edge. I am sure they are going to have it handed to them by some SEC east teams that have older talent and more depth this season. It is inevitable, as Tennessee does not have the depth up front on either side of the ball, and it will show late.

    However the operative phrase is “older talent and more depth” in that statement. I say that because I believe that Tennessee has the best young talent in the SEC east, and possibly second behind Alabama in the entire SEC. Butch is assembling another recruiting class to rival this one, and if they can get the franchise qb he needs…oh my. So get them now if you can Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Missouri, because there is a sleeping giant in Knoxville, and the awakening is coming soon to a stadium near you.