Today is Friday, August 18, 2017

A yardstick game for UT

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Joe Biddle

Tennessee fans looked at the Oklahoma game as a measuring stick to determine just how far second year coach Butch Jones has taken this program.

The Vol Nation is hungry for success, after dismal results produced by former head coaches, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley.

I wanted to see how they competed against the No. 4 ranked team in the Associated Press poll.

I wanted to see if they could maintain their composure when or if the Sooners started to score at will.

I wanted to see how the Vols stacked up with Oklahoma in the talent department.

Butch Jones and his staff also were anxious to get a report card on all the hard work they have put in to get the Vols to this point.

"I thought they competed to the end," Jones said. Agreed. There was no quit in this team, even when the game was over and they lost, 34-10.

"I thought we improved in some areas, but when you get on the road against a quality like Oklahoma, you can't turn the football over. That was absolutely critical," Jones said.

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley threw two interceptions. Sooner QB Trevor Knight was intercepted once.

The Vols fumbled twice, lost one. The Sooners fumbled once and lost it. Even-up there.

"I thought that the one critical play was at the end of the first half. You're hoping to go in, possibly 13-7 at halftime and we get a turnover off the field that doesn't go our way, and they score a touchdown," Jones noted.

It was a momentum changer, as if Oklahoma needed it to be.

The Vols won in an important statistic, third-down conversions. They converted six of 17. Not great, but considering Oklahoma's front seven are as good as any team in the country.

The Sooners, meanwhile, converted only three of 12. That speaks well of Tennessee's defense. It got better as the game progressed, especially in the second half.

"I thought we were in good physical condition," Jones said of his defense. "That's a good football team. They possess, they challenge you in so many different ways schematically. And, their skillset, they're big up front. They can run the football . . . I thought the defense kept playing. I thought they showed some resiliency.

"We didn't blink. We talked abut not looking up at the scoreboard, just fighting, playing every single down and having that 'snap and clear' mentality."

One person qualified to assess a football program is Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops. He was Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator during SEC and national championship days.

"I really think they are doing a great job there at Tennessee," Stoops said of the Volunteers. "They have a lot of good football players on their team.

"I think they are really talented. I eyeballed a bunch of them through the years. They match up well. They have great size, speed and good athletes. I thought they were really good."

I also thought Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley showed no fear, despite being pressured from the National Anthem.

He threw 44 passes, many of them under duress. Worley completed 21 for 201 yards and a touchdown. Worley was sacked five times, as it was apparent Stoops and brother Mike (defensive coordinator) would go after Worley.

The experience will bode Worley and teammates well as SEC play gets underway.

Wilson Post Sports Columnist Joe Biddle can be reached at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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