The Daily Pulse:

Nothing Rhymes With Orange: Now, Things Start To Get Real

If you simply want to feel good this week, the easiest way is to tell yourself a few things:

   The Butch Jones Volunteers have never lost.
   The Butch Jones Volunteers have never been scored on.
   The Butch Jones Volunteers have never even drawn a flag.

On a Saturday when a whopping SEVEN FBS teams choked to death on their "cupcakes" (an early, out-matched opponent scheduled to ease bigger teams into their schedule with a confidence-building win) Tennessee ate up Austin Peay quickly and convincingly.

In the first half, the first layer of the Tennessee depth chart was excellent. New quarterback Justin Worley was 11 of 13 passing for 104 yards, and connecting most often with highly anticipated freshman Marquez North, who led all Tennessee receivers with 33 yards. 

With the help of the Vols' experienced starters on the offensive line, running back Rajion Neal rushed for 142 of Tennessee's 315 yards, including an electrifying 47 yard touchdown scramble.

On the defensive side of things, the Big Orange first teamers held Austin Peay to 99 yards in the first half, only 15 of which were rushing, and only 6 first downs to Tennessee's 20. At the halfway point, the score was 42-0 in favor of Butch Jones and company.

Even Michael Palardy was perfect on the day.

Devrin Young's only kickoff return was impressive, going for 58 yards and very nearly all the way for a touchdown. He looked extremely elusive and should produce big numbers on multiple fronts for the Vols. He also scored his first career touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Worley in the first quarter.

Feel good about all that. That is all real.

What a game like Austin Peay is really good for, though, is seeing what the 2nd and 3rd layers look like when the action is live. And what we learned was unsurprising, but not unconcerning.

In the second half, Tennessee explored the rest of it's depth chart, which yielded no points and the team's only turnover against the Governor's first team for the majority of the half. The only real positive was on the defensive side of the ball, where the two's and beyond prevented Austin Peay from ever scoring, though one touchdown strike by the Gov's was wiped off because of a holding penalty.

Like last year, bad tackling and busted coverage was not uncommon Saturday in the second half.

Ultimately, this first game can be chalked up as a step more real than Tennessee's Orange and White game, and a good opportunity for growth and experience. And Tennessee obviously took AP serious, more serious than some favored first-week teams took their cupcakes. Oregon State, the no. 25 team in the country, was not only beaten by FCS's Eastern Washington, but was blazed for 625 yards of offense. That didn't happen to Tennessee, and that's also good!

And now things get very real, as the quality of competition takes a dramatic turn upwards.

The climb begins with Western Kentucky, who had no trouble with the SEC's own Kentucky Wildcats. Only a few years ago, the Hilltoppers were one of the worst teams in the FBS. Tennessee's new WR coach, Zach Azzanni, helped rebuild the program before heading to Wisconsin and ultimately to Knoxville.

"Western Kentucky is an extremely, extremely talented team with SEC-level talent," said Coach Butch Jones Monday morning at Neyland Stadium. "We will need four quarters to beat them."

The stands at Neyland were docile and starting to empty by the end of the third quarter of the Austin Peay match-up. With approaching bad weather and very little actual football still happening on the field, the advantage that Tennessee's massive crowd offers was no longer necessary. This Saturday, it will likely be necessary to the end.
 
Western Kentucky comes to town under the direction of disgraced coaching genius Bobby Petrino, who was fired from the University of Arkansas after misleading authorities about a motorcycle wreck that included his alleged mistress. His hire was a potential PR firestarter for WKU, but Petrino is a proven winner. Based on their  opener against Kentucky, the risk might prove worth it. The Hilltopper offense racked up more yards on the Wildcats than Tennessee could manage against lowly Austin Peay, led by junior QB Brandon Doughty who threw for 271 yards, who will be a much more serious test for the young Vol secondary.

The last time Tennessee played against a Petrino offense, at Arkansas, it was not pretty. The Vols were completely torched, 49-7. Petrino's offensive schemes feature fast, complex passing routes.

Realistically, we haven't really seen much more than the base of the 2013 Vols on offense or defense, but the cupcakes and open practices are now in the past. The Vols now face a WKU team that could beat them if they don't come to play. After that, Tennessee's next two opponents, Oregon and Florida, have outscored their opposition 90-9.

So, feel good about what happened last week, but understand that, for all intents and purposes, the REAL competitive football season begins this Saturday for the 2013 Tennessee Volunteers.  


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