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Thursday, March 6, 2014

On the Beat with...the Knoxville News Sentinel's Evan Woodbery - Columbia Daily Tribune: Behind The Stripes

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On the Beat with...the Knoxville News Sentinel's Evan Woodbery

We're trying something new here at the blog.

We feel as if we're a pretty insightful collective, but maybe not so much when it comes to other teams. So let's try to do something about that, shall we?

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Starting this week, we're going to try to run a weekly "five questions" feature with an opposing team's beat writer.

Groundbreaking stuff, I know. But hey, we are the innovators.

For this inaugural edition, we turned to friend Evan Woodbery, who covers the Tennessee Volunteers for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Read his stuff here. Follow him on Twitter at @TennesseeBeat.

And get your nightstick a-twirling, because we're going...on the beat:

1) So, what can we expect out of quarterback Joshua Dobbs in his first collegiate start?

That’s difficult to say, as we’ve only seen him for one half, but he appeared to handle himself well under challenging circumstances at No. 1 Alabama.

Dobbs is a more mobile quarterback than Justin Worley, and he’ll give more credibility to the read options that Butch Jones has traditionally liked to use.

2) Tennessee's one of only three teams in the SEC that has more rush yards than pass yards this season. Is that more of a reflection of the good year Rajion Neal and Co. are having or the pass game's struggles?

I think Tennessee was going to have to lean on the running game regardless this year, but the early struggles in the passing attack made it difficult to do anything else.

The veteran line and two battle-tested SEC running backs make up the strength of the offense. The quarterback and receiving corps are the question marks. That hasn’t really changed, although some young receivers have shown promise. The more Tennessee can balance its offensive attack, the better chance of success it has.

3) The Vols' line has given up 16 sacks in the past 20 games. Missouri has 22 sacks in its past five. So which side gives Saturday? How good a chance does Tennessee's line have slowing down the Missouri pass rush?

Tennessee’s line has generally done a good job of protecting the quarterback -- even a quarterback who isn’t very elusive. Worley also did a good job of throwing the ball away rather than taking a sack (or tossing an interception), a trait that coaches would like to see Josh Dobbs continue.

4) An SEC team has yet to rush for fewer than 200 yards against Tennessee this season. What has been behind the Vols' struggles in rush defense?

That stat is actually new to me. I may use it in a future story! Assuming that stat is true and you didn’t just invent it out of thin air, I think the quality of Tennessee’s early opponents and the nature of their offenses may have something to do with it. The Vols have also been victimized at times by running quarterbacks, although they’ve improved considerably since early in the season.

In the big picture, this defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012. Perhaps the worst in Tennessee history. And they have basically the same cast of characters this season. Viewed through that lens, the defense has actually taken some steps forward.

5) What's behind the inconsistency in Tennessee's play this season? Has it been youth? Injuries? Adjusting to first-year coach Butch Jones' system? All of the above? None of the above?

Lack of depth is a major issue. Tennessee is thin at virtually every position, so the impact of injuries are magnified. I also think problems on one side of the ball can easily bleed over into the other. When the offense struggles, it puts more pressure on the defense. When the offense is able to move the ball, sustain drives and either score or gain an edge in field position, the defense looks much better.

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