With 5:22 to play, the Vols found themselves for the third time in three SEC game in a position to go win the game. But like the two previous games, Tennessee couldn't make the needed plays to get a road win. We take a look back at some good, some bad and some ugly with The Day After.
HOT AND COLD
The Vol offensive line - It doesn't seem to matter who the tailback is or the formation the much maligned offensive front of a year ago as become the most consistent part thing in the football program. After a 197 yard performance against Georgia two weeks ago, the Vols without their top back Rajion Neal for nearly all the second half, finished with 213 yards on 34 carries and only had one minus yard rushing for the entire game. It's the first time since Vanderbilt 2005 that a Tennessee team has rushed for over 200 yards and not won the game. A year ago in SEC play, the Vols rushed for 447 yards. In three SEC games this year, the Vols have rushed for 493 yards.
Cordarelle Patterson - The guy is a freak. Patterson finished with 195 all purpose yards. His 57 yards rushing was one yard off the team high. He had 25 yards receiving and a touchdown and his 98 yard kickoff return in the second quarter for a touchdown was one more yard than the Vol offense had for the entire first half. Patterson does things that aren't fundamentally sound like reversing field risking losing big yards. But his speed gets him out of trouble and makes him look like he is playing pee-wee football sometimes. Patterson needs double digit touches every game.
The defense - Derek Dooley says it's not the adjustment to the 3-4. Who knows. But what we do know is that the defense is just terrible in three SEC games. In 12 quarters of SEC football, the defense has given up 1560 yards and 129 points. You will not win in this league playing defense the way this unit is playing defense.
The kicking game - It's a familiar trend except this time it's not just the kickers. Tennessee had a kickoff out of bounds. They gave up an pooch/onside kick where senior Mychal Rivera didn't react quick enough to field the ball. They had a 13 yard punt with a 5-yard penalty tacked on resulting in a net of 8 yards change of field. They muffed a punt, but fell on it. They ran into the placekicker but the 5 yard penalty wasn't enough to give State a first down. Patterson was great in the return game and Michael Palardy deserves credit for not packing it in after losing his job. But the kicking game cost Tennessee severely Saturday night
THUMBS UP/THUMBS DOWN
Zach Rogers - Rogers gets little recognition for what he's doing for this offense. Rogers led the team with 3 catches for 35 yards and was huge in the Vols opening touchdown drive. For the season, Rogers now has 17 catches for 284 yards and two touchdowns. All are season high's for Rogers' career. The senior is enjoying good health and a growing relationship with quarterback Tyler Bray.
AJ Johnson - The defense did little right Saturday night particularly in the first half. But when you are credited with 21 tackles your giving big time effort and that's what A. J. Johnson did Saturday night. The sophomore has been a tackling machine. He has had double digit tackles in each of the last four games and in the SEC, Johnson now has 43 tackles in three games.
Ben Bartholomew - Few thought that Bartholomew would ever contribute at Tennessee, but the senior has done more than that this year. Bartholomew has been huge for the offense in the variety of roles he plays. Saturday night, Bartholomew pulled the Vols within 3 points in the fourth quarter with a terrific 10 yard touchdown catch. And if you want to see how the Vols got a good chunk of yards on the ground see Bartholomew's blocking.
Sal Sunseri - With two weeks off to prepare, Mississippi State had a record setting first half. The Bulldogs drove the ball inside the Tennessee 20 yard line on their first five drives scoring 3 touchdowns and 2 field goals. Everyone expected some growing pains, but no one thought the transition to Sal Sunseri's defense would be like this.
Errors at critical times - For the third time in three SEC games, the Vols have been in a one possession game in the fourth quarter. Saturday night, Tennessee had the momentum in their favor when Devrin Young fumbled. A turn over that State turned into a touchdown. Two weeks ago the offense turned it over down seven points in Athens the last three times they had the ball.
Inability to seize the moment - On Tuesday before his surgery, head coach Derek Dooley was asked by Volquest if he thought his team hoped the could win or believed they would win in a close game.
"What matters is what do they think with 8 minutes to go in the game," Dooley said. "I think we have approached every game believing we can win and not hoping. We have to learn how to finish. How to execute the plays in the last 5 to 7 minutes of the game and go win it."
Against Florida, the Vols couldn't execute in the last 20 minutes offensively or defensively. At Georgia, the defense got off the field but Tyler Bray fumbled the ball and threw an interception down a score in the fourth quarter. Saturday night with 5:22 to go, the defense couldn't get off the field down three points.
The inability to seize the moment late in games is the most disappointing trend for this program.
There were plenty of key moments in the game Saturday night. The fumble by Devrin Young was huge. But to me the turning point was 3rd and 7 at the Mississippi State 39 with less than 5 minutes to play. Tennessee had offensive momentum an dwas looking for a chance to win the game, but the defense couldn't get off the field as Bulldog receiver Chad Bumphis made a first down catch to the Vol offense on the sidelines.
The only thing that Cordarrelle Patterson didn't do on Saturday was get enough touches on offense. Patterson was fabulous with the ball in his hands rushing for 57 yards, 25 yards receiving with a touchdown and 113 kickoff return yards and a touchdown. There's not been a player as electrifying as Patterson to wear the orange and white in a long time.