Copy Chief Gage Arnold covered UT's game against Auburn on Saturday. He assessed grades for each position based on the group's performance in the Vols 55-23 loss to the Tigers.
In his second start, Joshua Dobbs did about what was expected of the true freshman. A few nice throws to Marquez North and Alton "Pig" Howard helped Dobbs' stat line, but a few head-scratching misses – including his air-mailed pick in the third quarter – kept his numbers low. His 68 rushing yards were a nice reminder to opposing defenses of the versatility the young signal caller brings to the position.
Running backs: B+
Rajion Neal – and the entire Vol backfield – rebounded in a big way after a dismal 94-yard performance against Missouri a week prior. Neal crossed the century mark for the fourth time this season and his 17-yard score was a thing of beauty as the senior broke through multiple would-be tacklers before high-stepping into the end zone.
Wide Receivers: C+
The group didn't hurt itself with drops but it didn't really do anything of note. The rapport between Marquez North and Alton "Pig" Howard was evident Saturday as half of Dobbs' completions went to the two wideouts. Jason Croom dropped a potential touchdown – although it would have been a tough catch – that could have jump-started the offense in the second quarter.
Offensive line: B
After posting its worst game of the season against Missouri, the O-Line bounced back in the run game, but penalties still got the best of the unit. The O-Line registered three false starts within the first 20 minutes of the game due to what offensive tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson called "cadence issues" from switching quarterbacks throughout the season.
Defensive line: D-
The UT defense was simply embarrassed on Saturday, and the defensive line's lack of containment on Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is a big reason why. Marshall and the Tigers ran at will, leading to 444 rushing yards, the most UT has given up to a team since 1986 against Alabama (457). Jacques Smith's pick-six was a potential momentum-shifter before the D-Line allowed another Marshall touchdown run directly before halftime.
It was another forgettable performance from UT's linebackers. The linebackers aren't playing terrible, but instead it's more along the lines of the group's ineptitude for making plays. Dontavis Sapp had blanket coverage on a wheel route before Marshall dropped a pass in delicately for Auburn's first score; however, the senior only had two total tackles during the contest. A.J. Johnson's 8 tackles were a team-high, pushing his season total to 84 for the season.
Marshall threw only seven passes and completed just three of those tosses, but that's all the Tigers really needed. UT's glaring lack of back-end speed was largely on display once again as the Vols failed to make tackles in space while Marshall and running back Tre Mason zoomed past safeties Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil on multiple occasions. Cam Sutton, however, recorded the first sack of his career on a beautifully executed corner blitz.
Special teams: D-
The special teams were dreadful for the Vols against the Tigers. After allowing an 85-yard punt return touchdown, UT gave up a 90-yard kickoff return to open the second half that ultimately killed any shot of a Tennessee comeback. It was the first time in Auburn's history it returned both a punt and a kick for a touchdown in the same game. Kicker Michael Palady salvaged the special teams' effort by booting home all three of his field goal attempts and earning two special teams tackles.
Game 9 GPA: The Vols earn a 1.71 football GPA for their performance against Auburn.
Season GPA: After nearly regaining their Hope Scholarship by pushing their cumulative GPA to 2.96 with a win against South Carolina, the Vols now hold a 2.58 for the year.