For football programs all over the country, spring games are coming and going, and teams are getting a better look at what their teams will look like on field as the fall approaches.
The Orange and White game Saturday was the Tennessee Volunteers' first chance to show the 61,076 fans in attendance just how far they've come from last year's 5-7 season.
When the final whistle blew, the Orange (Defense) found themselves on the winning end, defeating the White (Offense) 95-71 (a score made possible by a complicated scoring system that took into account big achievements by each unit). But in a situation like this, the outcome of the game pales in comparison to the performances of the offensive and defensive units, and more importantly, as head coach Butch Jones said, it's about the message you send as a program.
"The message is loud and clear: There is no other place in the country like Tennessee," he said. "All you have to do is look at the evidence — the success of the program, the leadership from our administration, the fan base and our coaching staff.
"We are going to attract the right players to come play football here at Tennessee. Why would you not want to come here? You see the environment, the chance to build something special. I think that today spoke volumes."
Throughout the game, the changes that had been instilled in this Volunteer team shined, especially on the defensive end.
The Volunteer defense that last year allowed 35.7 points and 471.3 yards per game, showed major improvement, only allowing one touchdown the entire game, and in total, only gave up 16 points.
"Our philosophy is 'we want to stop them as many times as possible,'" freshman defensive lineman LaTroy Lewis said. "Even if they drive a little we want to force them to a field goal. I'm pretty proud of what we did today."
One key factor in the improvement of the defense was their ability to get to the quarterback, something they managed to do only 17 times all of last season. The defense was able to sack the quarterback nine times, four of which came from 2013 commit Corey Vereen.
"Coming in from last year that was one of the goals of the defensive line (getting to the passer)," senior defensive endJacques Smith said. "Coach Strip (Defensive line coach Steve Stripling) made it a goal for us as a unit, and we've been working on it all spring... The defensive line showed up today, and we're just getting better."
The defense should feel a lot better about getting sophomore safety and defensive leader, Brian Randolph, back after tearing his ACL in last year's Florida game. Randolph made his presence felt on the field felt when he picked-off starting quarterback contender Justin Worley in the second quarter and returned it for 37 yards.
"Brian is slowly starting to work his way back and really be in game shape," Jones said. "He's still hampered a little bit from the recovery of his injury. But it was very encouraging for me to see his play. I thought he really elevated his play today and we're going to need that, obviously down the stretch here in the summer and in the fall."
While the offense didn't have their finest outing, one bright spot was the play of freshman running back Alden Hill, who rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries. He also added 14 yards on three catches, showing his versatility out of the backfield.
"I came out here and did some good things," Hill said. "But you have to go watch film. It's not always as good or bad as it looks and I know there are some things I know I need to work on out there; conditioning and some little things like that."
With the Orange and White game now over, the Vols will have to wait until the summer to hit the field and get back to improving as a team. Commits, such as Joshua Dobbs, Riley Ferguson, and Marquez North, will all be fighting for playing time.
The Vols open the season inside Neyland Stadium on Aug. 31, when they play the Austin Peay Governors.