The number 20 play in our countdown to determine the best plays of Tennessee’s 2015 season is Cam Sutton’s career long 85 yard punt return touchdown versus Vanderbilt.
Midway through the second quarter, the Vols held onto a 20-14 lead over the Commodores. After the swarming Tennessee defense stopped Vanderbilt on a three-and-out, the Commodores were left to call on punter Tommy Openshaw.
Vanderbilt already had a good enough reason to fear Cam Sutton and the Vols’ return unit. Sutton fielded Openshaw’s first punt of the day and returned it 26 yards before Openshaw himself sent him to the ground, saving the Commodores six points. This time Vanderbilt wouldn’t be so lucky.
This play starts with the effort of the Vols’ ten blockers up front. While much credit goes to Sutton and Alvin Kamara for the success of the punt return unit this year, neither returner would ever have reached the end zone without his blockers.
When Sutton fielded the ball, only one defender was within 15 yards of him. However, that defender never had a chance. The Vols’ Johnathon Johnson was responsible to block him and was in perfect position. Tennessee teaches their blockers on the punt team to get a good jam at the line of scrimmage, then stay in “trail” position by sprinting downfield just inside and behind the coverage man’s inside hip. Johnson executed this trail technique perfectly and was able to easily work back over the blocker to push him away from Sutton.
Because the Vols’ blocking up front was so good, Sutton was able to get away with a slip. The Neyland Stadium turf nearly caused him to trip and fall, but Sutton was able to regain his balance. There were no defenders near Sutton and he was able to recover and accelerate downfield.
The only player who ever had a chance to tackle Sutton was long snapper Jacob Schultz. The Commodores snapper beat his blocker, Vols’ linebacker Dillon Bates, down the field, but was left one-on-one in the open field with Sutton. Advantage: Vols. The standout returner easily juked inside, sending Schultz flying by and it was off to the races.
I do want to point out the effort by the three Vols assigned to block Vanderbilt’s “shield” players. Cortez McDowell, Micah Abernathy, and Jakob Johnson all made blocks far downfield that sprung Sutton loose.
McDowell especially had a nice block. He was able to keep his man engaged for most of the play, holding his block for over five seconds. Abernathy was able to run off the last defender, and Sutton was free for a career long 85 yard punt return touchdown.
This was not an overly complicated play. The Vols do not often use intricate play designs on special teams. Instead, they keep things simple and trust the 11 guys on the field to do their jobs. Here is a perfect example of Tennessee’ punt return unit executing a simple scheme, as Sutton was able to make a play behind 10 great blocks.
Be sure to check back in on Wednesday to see what play came in at number 19 on our countdown.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: My new book, Fast and Furious: Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers’ Offense is now available for the first time as an ebook. You can click HERE to read more or HERE to visit the Amazon page to order.
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