Randy Moore's thoughts
Some teams find a way to win. Mississippi State (6-0 overall, 3-0 SEC), for instance. Other teams find a way to lose. Tennessee (3-3, 0-3), for instance.
After surviving a horrendous start, the Vols whittled a 27-14 halftime deficit to 27-24 and had all of the momentum on their side. Then, as losing teams are wont to do, the Vols imploded. Safety Byron Moore dropped an interception that would've given Tennessee the ball near midfield. The Vols eventually got the ball with a chance to go ahead but had a three-and-out. Tennessee got another chance to pull ahead but Devrin Young fumbled at the Vol 30-yard line. Mississippi State scored three plays later to go up 34-24. Tennessee scored in five plays to pull within 34-31 with 5:22 left but this time it was the Vol defense that couldn't make a play, giving up a 75-yard drive that pushed the lead to 41-31 with just nine seconds left.
In spite of Young's fumble, Tennessee's offense played well enough to win. Except for MSU's final drive, the Vol defense played reasonably well in the second half. The first half, however, was about as bad as it gets. Cordarrelle Patterson's 98-yard kickoff return was a bright spot on special teams but Michael Palardy booted a kickoff out of bounds, Young muffed a punt (UT recovered), Matt Darr had a 14-yard punt and Tennessee was flagged twice for illegal formation on punts.
Special Teams: C-
Chris Price's thoughts
Tennessee came out like a team on a short week and they were coming off a open date. The first half play, especially by the defense, was inexcusable. The Vols surrendered 450 total yards and gave up the majority shortly after kickoff.
The Vols offense sputtered much of the first half as well leaving the defense on the field much more than they could handle.
Michael Palardy kicked another kickoff out of bounds, which is inexcusable. He did hit a field goal from 38 yards, but the Vols managed two illegal formation penalties on punts, one on a 55-yard punt and another that netted eight yards.
Perhaps the only positive on the night was Cordarrelle Patterson who was a monster almost every time he touched the football. Enjoy him while you can Vol fans.
Special Teams: D
Josh Woodward's thoughts
Well it isn't easy to get to Starkville, Miss., from Knoxville, but we made the drive and it was just as hard to watch Tennessee. The Vols just can't get out of that SEC rut. The offense played well enough to win, but you can't give up 450 yards on defense and expect to win.
Offensively, the Big Orange can move the ball, Tyler Bray managed the game well, but with Rajion Neal going down with an injury as well as Marlin Lane, you can't win with Devrin Young as your lone back. Justin Hunter keeps getting taken out of games by teams doubling him, but he heard footsteps on a deep ball he should have caught.
Defensively they were awful, with the exception of A.J. Johnson whom accounted for 25 percent of the tackles. Mississippi State had 80 offensive plays and AJ had 21 tackles. That boy needs some help on defense. He can't do it all.
Special Teams is Jeckyl and Hyde, one minute you are like, damn, with the Cordarrelle Patterson touchdown run, then Palardy kicks it out of bounds on the kickoff. Matt Darr had a 13 yard punt, then you bring in Palardy and he boots one 54 yards. I just don't understand the inconsistency.
Special Teams: C
Danny Parker's thoughts
Going to go ahead and tell you, I'm in one atrocious mood. Cowbells, wrinkly dogs, poor media conditions, long trip, ignorant people, etc. If you're looking for a bright light at the end of the tunnel, scroll to the next staff member.
Tennessee absolutely had to have this game. Our staff has pointed at this one for some time and taking down Mississippi State took on even greater importance after losing to both Florida and Georgia. I don't care about streaks, goose eggs or rankings. At some point, the Volunteers have to step up and start beating people.
If this team can put together four straight solid, consistent quarters, it will be just fine. The problem is, no one has an answer on how to do that.
Newcomers Alton Howard and Cordarrelle Patterson gave the running game a lift, and Tennessee netted over 6 yards a carry. As I tweeted during the contest, when the Vols set up their offense with the run, they are formidable. When the inverse takes place, the team self destructs. I say run it and keep running it until you have to throw it.
The second-quarter performance by the defense drops it a pair of letters in my book. The secondary rebounded in a major way for much of the second half, but the last offensive play for the Bulldogs made a bad evening even worse. Simple draw plays gashed the Big Orange throughout the rowdy night. Allowing 450 yards of total offense to anyone is unacceptable.
Patterson's kickoff return for a touchdowns breathed life into the Tennessee bench. With the team reeling, the return unit completely botched a pooch kick to give State the football right back in prime real estate just seconds after toggling the scoreboard. Michael Palardy had one of his best games (definitely behind Tuscaloosa 2011) with a field goal and four extra points.
Special Teams: B-