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Front Page - Friday, September 08, 2017

Vols’ near-miss dismiss: ‘Coach, we’ve got you’




Linebacker Colton Jumper tackles on Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who had 249 yards rushing and 120 passing in his first start. He was named ACC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort. - Jerry Denham | The Ledger

Get ready for another thrill ride, Tennessee fans. Your football team is at it again, just like last year.

Tennessee needed a comeback and overtime to beat Appalachian State in its 2016 season opener. The Vols needed comebacks to beat Virginia Tech and Florida and got a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time ran out to beat Georgia.

It was a similar story Monday night when the No. 25-ranked Vols beat Georgia Tech 42-41 in double overtime in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

UT (1-0) trailed the Yellow Jackets 28-14 in the third quarter. It needed a forced fumble by Rashaan Gaulden with 4 minutes, 50 seconds left in regulation, then a 93-yard touchdown drive, then a blocked field goal by a walk-on to get into overtime. Finally, the Vols needed a stop on Georgia Tech’s two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime to preserve the victory.

UT coach Butch Jones was asked afterward why his team seems to play such chaotic games.

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “I think you can go the other way. It’s all in how they tell the narrative. Maybe our program has great character and grit. These kids believe in each other, and the amount of players kept walking by me, saying, ‘We’ve got you, coach. Coach, we’ve got you.’

“Again, I think it’s how you tell the narrative. I think this is a program that’s built on character, it’s built on grit, it’s built on belief, and we found a way to win when we didn’t play our best, but a lot of that is a tribute to Georgia Tech.”

Now, the Vols play host on Saturday (4 p.m.) to Indiana State, a Football Championship Subdivision program (previously Division I-AA).

Indiana State (0-1) of the Missouri Valley Conference opened the season last Thursday with a 22-20 home loss to Eastern Illinois (1-0) of the Ohio Valley Conference in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“We talked about three games in 13 days,” Jones said. “We have to turn around now with a short work week and get into Neyland (Stadium) Saturday afternoon. We have to get a lot better and make tremendous progress, but [I’m] just really proud of our players.”

Forgive UT fans for looking past Indiana State, best known as Larry Bird’s alma mater. Much bigger games are ahead later this month.

Tennessee travels to play Florida on Sept. 16, then has home games against UMass (Sept. 23) and Georgia (Sept. 30).

The SEC games against Florida and Georgia will do much to define the Vols’ season.

Florida is coming off a 33-17 loss to Michigan – the only loss by an SEC team in 11 games Saturday. The Gators get a chance to regroup in Gainesville on Saturday against Northern Colorado.

However, the status of 10 Florida players suspended for the opener hangs over Gators coach Jim McElwain and the program. Among them were two of the team’s top playmakers, receiver Antonio Callaway and running Jordan Scarlett.

McElwain said Monday of the suspensions: “Still haven’t heard anything, and we’ll see.”

Tennessee, meanwhile, has its own worries.The Vols lost starting middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. for the season due to a torn meniscus requiring surgery from an injury sustained Aug. 25 during a non-contact practice drill. Kirkland was the Vols’ best linebacker at the most important defensive position.

Redshirt sophomore Austin Smith, expected to play a key role in the linebacker rotation, suffered a knee injury last Friday and is expected to miss at least four weeks.

Senior Colton Jumper, a former walk-on from Chattanooga Baylor, started for Kirkland at middle linebacker against Georgia Tech.

Also, UT played the opener without starting tackle Drew Richmond, who was suspended for a violation of team rules but is now “ready to play,” Jones said Wednesday. Marcus Tatum got the start for Richmond.

Senior receiver Josh Smith missed Monday’s game due to injury, and top receiver Jauan Jennings was hurt in the second quarter and didn’t return.

Jones wouldn’t get into the specifics of Jennings’ injury this week, saying “In terms of Jauan’s injury, it’s indefinite and that’s all I can say at this particular time. I really can’t get into specifics.”

Earlier media reports indicated he suffered a dislocated wrist and might have to have season-ending surgery.

Jennings caught three passes for 17 yards before getting hurt. Sophomore Marquez Callaway had four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

UT had six dropped passes – two by Jennings, two by wide receiver Tyler Byrd and two by tight end Ethan Wolf.

“Again, we have to get a lot better in a hurry,” Jones said. “We have to be able to throw and catch out on the perimeter and catch the football, and we can’t have negative yardage plays, and then defensively we’ve got to find a way to get off the field on third down.”

Matchups to watch

UT Run ‘D’ vs. Sycamores’ run game

Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense rolled up 535 rushing yards against the Vols, the most ever against a Tennessee defense. The Yellow Jackets broke the record of 457 rushing yards by Alabama in 1986.

It was no surprise Georgia Tech would run, run, and run some more against the Vols. The Yellow Jackets averaged 6.2 yards on 86 carries. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall rushed for 249 yards and five touchdowns. Former West High slotback Nathan Cottrell ran for 79 yards on six carries.

“Well, the good thing is we don’t have to play a triple option team (Saturday),” Jones said. “We need to spend a lot of time on this video, but tackling, we had way too many missed tackles.”

Indiana State gained 160 rushing yards on 43 carries (3.7 yard average) in the loss to Eastern Illinois.

UT running backs vs. Sycamores’ run ‘D’

UT junior John Kelly rushed for 128 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia Tech.

The only other carry by a UT running back was by true freshman Ty Chandler of Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy, who gained 7 yards on his lone run.

“In terms of John Kelly, what can I say about him?” Jones said. “You know, as much as (receiver) Marquez Callaway sparked us, John Kelly sparked us, as well, and he played with passion, played with energy. He played with a toughness, and again, he played with a great will to win.”

Look for Chandler to get more carries against Indiana State, along with freshmen Tim Jordan and Trey Coleman and sophomore Carlin Fils-aime. Kelly can’t carry the load all year.

Eastern Illinois was held to 76 rushing yards and averaged 2.3 yards per carry in its victory over Indiana State. However, EIU’s Mitch Kimble completed 27 of 44 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown – the game-winner with 3 seconds left to play.

Sycamores’ QBs vs. Vols secondary

Marshall only threw nine passes Monday against the Vols, but his five completions were big ones. Ricky Jeune caught a 44-yarder and Qua Searcy caught a 42-yarder.

UT senior cornerback Justin Martin struggled, and senior free safety Todd Kelly Jr.’s role was limited.

Jones and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop could use the Indiana State game as a secondary tune-up for Florida.

The Sycamores’ passing game wasn’t good in the opener. Quarterbacks Isaac Harker and Cade Sparks were a combined 7 of 19 for 133 yards. Harker completed 4 of 10 passes for 38 yards with a touchdown and interception; Sparks was 3 of 9 for 95 yards.

Noteworthy

Vols quarterbacks

Junior quarterback Quinten Dormady got the start and played the entire game for the Vols, and it didn’t appear to sit well with redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, who spent much of the game sitting alone on the bench, pouting.

With former UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs in attendance, Dormady completed 20 of 37 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. In the second half, Dormady completed 12 of 17 passes for 169 yards and both TDs.

His performance drew praise from ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

“There are some good things I saw from Tennessee tonight,” Herbstreit said. “I really liked Dormady at quarterback. I thought early the whole offense was trying to (find) themselves and trying to find an identity. And then when they got behind I thought, ‘Boy, this is tough to put on this kid’s shoulders.’

“By the way, Jauan Jennings is out, and he’s your only real returning receiver with Josh Smith out and injured, and yet the kid (Dormady) made throw after throw and got them back into position to eventually get in to overtime.”

Herbstreit also noted during the game Guarantano seemed uninterested on the sideline.

Jones said during fall camp both quarterbacks might play against Georgia Tech.

Asked about not playing Guarantano after the game, Jones said: “Jarrett will get his opportunity, but each game is different in and of itself.”

Special special teams

Tennessee’s special teams played a huge role in the Georgia Tech win.

Walk-on Paul Bain, a junior defensive lineman who transferred from Tusculum, blocked the potential tying 36-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in regulation.

Also for the Vols, Evan Berry returned a kickoff 86 yards, and Trevor Daniel had a 70-yard punt and averaged 47 yards on six punts with five inside the 20-yard line.

“Well, what can you say about Paul Bain?” Jones said. “He’s a walk-on, pays his own way for school, has two jobs to make ends meet, and we put him out there, and I’ll tell you what, just coming from the locker room, he got probably the biggest cheer and respect from our players. But I just respect him so much, him as a person and what he means to our football program, and obviously he had a big hand in helping us win the football game tonight.”

Linebacker leaders

Senior Cortez McDowell got the start at weak-side linebacker, but sophomore linebacker Daniel Bituli of Nashville Christian School came off the bench and led the Vols with 23 tackles (10 solo, 13 assists).

Jumper had 18 tackles and McDowell had 13. Strong safety Nigel Warrior had 13 tackles and end Darrell Taylor had 12. Taylor forced an incomplete pass by Marshall on the final two-point conversion attempt.

“Daniel Bituli, he’s a warrior,” Jones pointed out. “When you look at 20-plus tackles, what can I say about him? Our defense played, what, (96) plays, and you look at that defensive front being cut blocked most of the time, I think that shows some toughness.”

SEC in Week 1

Aside from the Vols’ win against Georgia Tech, the SEC finished 11-2 for the weekend – a stark contrast to last year when the SEC went 6-6 in Week 1 of the season.

Leading the SEC way was No. 1 Alabama’s 24-7 win over Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, South Carolina’s 35-28 win over North Carolina State, and Georgia’s 31-0 win over Appalachian State.

Tennessee plays Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 21.

Most stunning was Texas A&M blowing a 34-point lead late in the third quarter of a 45-44 loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Sunday night. In the second half, UCLA had consecutive scoring drives of 75, 85, 96, 74 and 66 yards against an Aggies defense led by coordinator John Chavis.

No coach in the SEC is on a hotter seat than Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin.

Mallory-Hoke connection

Eastern Illinois spoiled the head coaching debut of Curt Mallory last Thursday when it drove 69 yards on 11 plays and scored the game-winning touchdown with 3 seconds to play. Kimble threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Turner for the go-ahead touchdown.

Mallory spent the previous four seasons as secondary coach at his alma mater, Michigan. For two seasons at Michigan (2013-14), Mallory served under head coach Brady Hoke, hired in February by Tennessee as associate head coach and defensive line coach.

Hoke spent the 2016 season as Oregon’s defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach before joining Jones’ staff at Tennessee.

Mallory, an assistant coach for 22 years, brought in an entirely new staff except for assistant head coach/defensive line coach Mark Smith, who’s in his 16th year at Indiana State. Nine other assistants are in their first seasons with the Sycamores.

Mallory, who played at Michigan under Bo Schembechler (1988-89) and Gary Moeller (1990-91), previously was pass defense coordinator and secondary coach at Wyoming for two seasons (2015-16). He’s also been an assistant at Michigan, Akron, Illinois, Indiana, Central Michigan, and Ball State.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.



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