It is no secret that 2013 is a year of transition for the Tennessee Volunteers. A lot of changes have been made and there are plenty of growing pains to go through, and that was blatantly obvious during the team's spring game on Saturday afternoon.
Defense stood tall as the orange team won the Orange and White Game by a score of 95-71 at Neyland Stadium. While there were plenty of moments that probably made new head coach Butch Jones want to pull his hair out, there were some positives to take away from the game as well.
With quarterback Tyler Bray and the team's four leading receivers from last season no longer on the team, the Vols have a lot of work to do on offense. That was apparent on Saturday as the offense really struggled to gain its footing at times, but that is to be expected from a team with so much turnover.
Junior Justin Worley got the start at quarterback for the white team and he had some issues in the first quarter, as did pretty much everyone else on offense. The lone big play for the white team in the first frame came when Worley dumped a screen pass off to senior running back Rajion Neal. He scampered for 39 yards, but the offense couldn't really capitalize.
By the time the first quarter came to an end, the orange team led by a score of 46-19. In an effort to get the fans involved, Jones allowed a lucky fan to choose an offensive play in the second quarter. He showed a board to a young man in the crowd and he picked a wide receiver reverse pass. Unfortunately the play was snuffed out before it could get going, but it was a cool moment nonetheless.
The offense eventually got going as Worley found sophomore receiver Cody Blanc for a 58-yard touchdown. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman tried to get something going with his legs, but due to the fact that quarterbacks can't be tackled, his plays were cut shorter than normal as the whistle was blown when he was touched.
After a 52-yard field goal by senior kicker Michael Palardy, the teams went to the locker room with the defense holding a 53-40 advantage.
Another lucky fan received a chance to call a play in the third quarter as a young girl chose a play-action pass. The fan-chosen play was once again unsuccessful, though, as it resulted in a throw away. Peterman finally found a way to get himself going as he hit junior wide receiver Vincent Dallas with a 48-yard strike.
Thanks to a strong drive by Peterman in the fourth quarter that culminated in a field goal, the white team got to within a point of the orange team. The offense eventually took a one-point lead, but a fumble put the defense back in front. The defense put the game away when junior quarterback Tyler Page was picked off by junior safety Max Arnold, who took it all the way for a score. That play was good for a total of 19 points, so the offense's comeback fell short.
Tennessee fans couldn't have been happy with the offense's play in the first half, but it picked up the pace in the second and the defense was strong throughout, so there is plenty to build upon.
Justin Worley: C
With Bray no longer in the picture, the Volunteers need to settle on a starting quarterback for the 2013 season. Since Worley is a junior who has seen some action in each of the past two seasons, he obviously has a leg up on the competition. It's clear that Worley has some ability and he can certainly command the huddle, but he's starting from scratch with Jones' playbook just like everyone else.
Worley had his moments during the course of the game, however, he was pretty much just average. A good chunk of his yardage for the day came on two plays. One of them was the screen to Neal, and the other was on an impressive 58-yard touchdown to Blanc. Aside from those plays, Worley didn't do much as he finished with 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Since Worley was able to get the Volunteers into the end zone, though, he deserves some praise. Worley will be given every opportunity to win the starting job, and he didn't hurt his chances on Saturday. He will need to improve in order for Tennessee to be competitive in the difficult SEC, however.
Corey Vereen: A-
It's difficult to track the progress of individual defensive players in these types of scrimmages, but freshman defensive end Corey Vereen was extremely impressive. His name wasn't called much in the second half, but he was a big reason for the defense's success in the first half. Vereen put plenty of pressure on both Worley and Peterman, and he managed to rack up a pair of sacks in succession.
Vereen could be a key player for Tennessee this season as it is transitioning from a 3-4 defense back to a 4-3. The Vols only utilized a 3-4 for one season, so there has been a lot of change in a short amount of time. Vereen is just 230 lbs., so he has a build that is more fitting for a rush linebacker than a defensive end, but small and quick pass rushers have had plenty of success in the SEC over the years.
It is clear that Vereen is an explosive pass rusher with plenty of moves to beat bigger offensive linemen, so he is someone who Tennessee fans should be very excited about. The Vols' defense struggled mightily at times last season, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Vereen play a big role in 2013.
Nathan Peterman: D+
Peterman's day got off to a rough start as he completed just three of his 11 attempts in the first half, but he did pick up his play in the final two quarters. Peterman completed a couple long passes in the second half and even managed to get the white team within one point of the orange team late in the game, but his body of work over the entire course of the contest needs to be taken into account.
He was far too inconsistent with his passing and struggling with his accuracy. Peterman did show some flashes as a runner, but the plays were blown dead when he was touched. Perhaps if the quarterbacks were allowed to be hit, he would have made some more explosive plays. Whatever the case, he didn't exactly help himself in terms of competing for the starting job.
Overall, Peterman ended up with 91 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions on the day. It was definitely a tale of two halves for him, just as it was for the offense as a whole. Peterman will really have to impress throughout the rest of the spring to wrestle the starting job away from Worley, but he showed some flashes that should make Tennessee fans pretty happy.
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