On Saturday evening, a new era began on Rocky Top, again. For the fourth time in the past six seasons, someone different has been at the reigns of the University of Tennessee’s football program. And for the first time in the past six seasons I left the home opener feeling very confident that the Vols unquestionably were headed in the right direction.
So, why does a win over an abysmal Austin Peay team give me such confidence? Let’s break this down in four main reasons:
1) Tennessee pitched a shut out, winning the season opener 45-0.
I would have been surprised if the Tennessee defense I saw last year could have shut out MUS. Last year, Tennessee gave up an average of 36 points per game. Granted, Austin Peay missed a very makeable field goal and got intercepted in the red zone after driving the field in the second half, but overall I was very impressed to see such solidarity out of the defense. I’ll take giving up a total of 211 yards in an “everyone gets a chance to play” anytime.
2) The Vols went unpenalized for the first time since the 2007 SEC Championship game.
This is a crazy stat to me. And just like the shut out, I don’t care who Tennessee played. To play football for 60 minutes without one penalty is a huge step in the right direction for this team. If you think about it, the fact that Tennessee did this against Austin Peay might even be even more impressive because of how much the second and third teams played in the game. To be that mentally sound across the board is a huge accomplishment for a team that Plaxico’d itself over and over throughout the past several years.
3) Tennessee scored on their first seven drives of the game.
This is a team that despite having possibly the worst defense in school history last year came into the season with even more question marks on offense due to guys leaving for the NFL. The play calling was very vanilla overall, as expected, but the execution was nothing to take lightly. The fact that the Vols didn’t even have to punt until the second half leads me to believe that the offensive unit may be more cohesive than anyone initially thought.
4) Butch Jones gets it.
By this point in today’s coaching carousel culture, most coaches have learned what to say to rally the troops and inspire a fan base. Tennessee fans in particular have grown more familiar with the different styles of “coach speak” over the past several years than they would like to have. So what is the difference? Butch Jones is legitimately putting actions behind his words. Every coach takes the approach with the media that if nothing else they will not get outworked. As someone who closely follows this team, I can’t help but start to believe it more than I have under any other recent staff. Heck and I even worked in the recruiting office under Lane Kiffin where my first day at work I got to the office around 5:30am and personally witnessed then defensive line coach Ed Orgeron double fisting Red Bulls just as the legends foretold. Those guys worked hard but seeing Butch Jones and his staff work together as such a united group really makes me believe I’m seeing the infancy of something special.
Next up: Tennessee has a Western Kentucky team who already has as many SEC wins this season as Tennessee got all of last season (one). This will be a truer indicator of where this team is in terms of development before they travel to Oregon in week three.