A couple of concerns stemming from our week 4 performance against a vastly inferior opponent:
1. Special Teams- Continues to cost us field position, hidden yardage, and points. If not corrected immediately, will begin to be the difference between W's and L's. Most glaring, the inability to consistently field a punt and the lack of kickoff return production. This is compounded by being ranked dead last in the country in punt return production as well as not having a kicker capable of kicking the ball off in (or even close to) the end zone. Without researching it, I would guess our average starting field position is around the 25 whereas our opponents would be close to the 40. Not good, and will be costly.
2. Defense- At first glance, you see 30 next to Ball State and cringe. And I agree wholeheartedly 30 points given up to Ball State is a cause for concern. 260 total yards allowed is quite impressive however, and many of those came at the expense of seemingly 11 true freshmen/walkons getting their first playing opportunities. Tackling was better, but we were extremely soft on the edges. I've got to believe we played nothing but base defense and have much more disruptive and aggressive schemes waiting to be unleashed in Knoxville. We need to be more dominant against the run on 1st down however, to increase 2nd and 3rd down pressure.
3. East-West/Lateral Running Game- This was the last week we outrun a defense to the edge. From here on out, it's straight downhill or negative yardage. Would like to see us be more effective at imposing our will running the ball as opposed to racking up yards on big plays alone. Granted, the big plays are fantastic, but again, they'll be limited drastically in SEC play.
Game Ball--Chris Todd
Ultimately, this was a difficult situation for our players to be in. A sandwich game between W. Virginia and Tennessee against a team these guys know nothing and care nothing about, with a another rain delay in a stadium and Tiger Walk I'm sure was less enthusiastic than the prior weeks.
Tennessee will be an enormous measuring stick for this teams toughness. First road trip for a young bunch against a team not afraid to punch you in the mouth. Easy week to mentally prepare for. Even easier when the national polls believe you're unworthy of a top 25 ranking!