Tennessee-Northwestern grades: Vols' run game dictates victory
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Tennessee’s 45-6 win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl:
– Coming into this game, edge rusher Derek Barnett had earned the second-best overall production grade at his position in the entire country. The Outback Bowl only solidified that distinction as Barnett was seemingly in multiple places at once. Just when it seemed that he might be defeated off the block … an extra-gear of effort engaged on multiple occasions to disrupt lead blocks. Barnett’s ability to zero-in on the QB led to the games top-grade of +5.5, one hurry every seven pass rush snaps, and also added a sack for good measure. In run defense, Barnett recorded a stop once every six snaps in run defense.
– SS Brian Randolph quickly made Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson regret targeting into his coverage, after ending the Wildcats’ second drive of the third quarter with an interception. Northwestern QBs were only able to manufacture 57 yards through the air while completing 40 percent of their attempts and Randolph’s +2.4 pass coverage production grade paced the defense.
– The running game for the Volunteers dictated the pace of play throughout the game. Not only were HBs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara able to control the line of scrimmage – QB Joshua Dobbs chipped in 61 rushing yards and a pair of TDs of his own. Dobbs’ inaccurate passing sunk his overall grade (-1.2), but Hurd (+5.3) and Kamara (+3.1) were not as polite. Hurd ran with a particular increase in force during the second-half that included a must-see stiff arm that left a defender flat on their back. The combination of the playmaking tailbacks combined to bounce runs off of ten Wildcat tacklers and average 3.51 yards after contact per rushing attempt.
ED Derek Barnett (+5.5)
SS Brandon Randolph (+4.3)
HB Jalen Hurd (+5.3)
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (+3.2)
HB Alvin Kamara (+3.1)
– Notable performances from Northwestern’s 45-6 defeat were few and far between. The top two overall production grades came from safeties cleaning up for the defense’s porous approach throughout the afternoon. SS Traveon Henry (+3.1) collected an impressive 15 tackles, four assists, and four stops in run defense. His third-level counterpart, Godwin Igwebuike (+3.1), chipped in with nine tackles and five assists of his own that also included a sack.
– The sole performance on defense that stood out independent of volume came from Keith Watkins II (+3.1). His coverage was targeted on five occasions and three of those attempts ended with a pass defense. He only permitted one of those passes to his zone to be completed and allowed a miniscule 0.21 yards per coverage snap.
– For an offense that was only able to put six points on the scoreboard, to call any performance headline-worthy would be a misnomer. That said, one Wildcat stood out but was simply – and disappointingly – not a major focus of the offense. One might assume that evading seven tackles on 13 rushing attempts and 4.77 yards after contact per attempt would deserve added volume. That assumption would apparently be incorrect, as HB Justin Jackson (+1.4) only touched the ball 16 times among 71 total offensive plays for Northwestern. Ultimately, Jackson was responsible for the entirety of the scoring for Northwestern with a five-yard scamper into the endzone with 5:40 remaining in the second quarter.
SS Traveon Henry (+3.1)
FS Godwin Igwebuike (+3.1)
CB Keith Watkins II (+3.1)
HB Justin Jackson (+1.4)
WR Austin Carr (+1.0)