2014 SEC Preview: Can Tennessee overcome weakness on the lines?
Let’s be honest: It hasn’t been the greatest few years at Tennessee. The fans on ‘Rocky Top’ haven’t had a winning record since 2009, and one double-digit win season in seven years. In other words, UT fans have spent a lot of time finding game tailgates as a chance to catch up and hate life together. Neyland’s a pretty easy ticket now. Butch Jones coming in last year, though, has threatened to turn things around. Tennessee was perhaps the best 5-7 team in college football, and this year, recruiting’s going well and smiles might just be returning again.
Tennessee had a winning record early on in the season because they beat very substandard competition. And beat ’em well. But when it came to Oregon and Florida, they were drowned. But we saw glimpses of good when they took the game to Georgia, losing only because they turned the ball over in OT (‘Pig’ Howard should still shudder at the thought of THAT OT end-zone turnover). And then – beyond all expectation – they beat South Carolina, coming back from a 21-17 deficit (after blowing a 17-7 lead) to score 6 in the fourth quarter – including a time-expiring kick to win 23-21. They then four straight, before smashing Kentucky 27-14 in the game-ender.
The ‘Fulmer Cup’ is still given out (in spirit) in memory of Philip Fulmer’s UT teams who couldn’t stay out of jail….but the title’s going to Texas (A&M), not Tennessee. In fact, UT’s only had 2 arrests, and those were for getting busted at a party. All-SEC, potential All-American linebacker A.J. Johnson was one of them, and reserve NT Danny O’Brien was the other. That’s been it since Feb 9. Johnson and O’Brien had the charges dropped by the state after making deals. We suspect both players will be suspended for the opening game or two by Coach Jones.
Butch Jones got himself some headlines at SEC Media Days for – rightly – referring to Tennessee as ‘Wide Receiver U’. There wasn’t a team in college football with the amount of WRs going to the NFL than Tennessee back in the day. Read this report if you don’t believe us.
Only in the SEC could you be 7th in the nation but 5th in the SEC in terms of recruiting. Jeez. Hard life. Anyway, the Vols were still hugely happy with their haul, taking the top 4 players in the state (WR Josh Malone, RB Jalen Hurd, S Todd Kelly, DE Dwyane Hendrix), and the nation’s 4th-best JUCO WR Von Pearson. That’s pretty tidy.
AND NOW….THE 2014 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
WHO’S GOING TO WIN THE QB RACE?
The battle: Senior Justin Worley, soph. Josh Dobbs, redshirt soph. Nathan Peterman, redshirt frosh Riley Ferguson. Who’s going to win? Jeez. Experts say that Riley Ferguson’s been fun to watch, but a heart attack in terms of his miscues. Dobbs shone in the Spring. Worley manages the game but doesn’t really shine out. So who’s going to win? We’re going to give it to Worley because of seniority, but Dobbs will take the role by end-season because of talent.
ARE WE REALLY RETURNING TO ‘WIDE RECEIVER U’?
As you can see by the link we supplied earlier, Tennessee’s got a rich, rich history of WRs, and Butch Jones is eager. Well, they’ve got one of the best receivers in the SEC – and maybe college football – in Marquez North, who led the team with nearly 500 yards and 1 TD on just 38 receptions. The kid can catch ANYTHING, yo. Well, now they bring in Malone and Pearson which is going to excite a lot of people on Rocky Top. Butch Jones might be right about this…but he needs a good QB. Or maybe a not-awful QB. They are four-deep at TE, too with Daniel Helm, Ethan Wolf, A.J. Bransiel and AJ Downs your guys at that position.
AND AT RUNNING BACK….
UT fans are really excited about the return of senior Marlin Lane, who ran for 534 yards and 4 TDs last year. If he can keep his nose clean, he’ll be a hoss for Vols fans. Justus Pickett, the transfer from Maryland, is going to compete, too. Hurd should start immediately and is talented enough to immediately create some havoc. Without the offensive line they had last year, the Vols will ask the RBs to do more blocking for the passing game than eat up the yards. You know, unless the O-Line gets great quickly.
NOW, ABOUT THAT OFFENSIVE LINE…
The Vols are going to have a lot of problems at O-Line. It’s the least experienced in the SEC, and just SIX starts combined. SIX. In other words, we really don’t know who’s going to start, but we’ll have a go, helped by some research. Mack Crowder at center. Kyler Kerbyson and Marcus Jackson the two guards. The giant 6-6, 311lb FRESHMAN Coleman Thomas at RT. Walk-on Jacob Gilliam and Dontavius Blair will battle it out for the LT spot (we’re rooting for the Gilliam because of the ‘walk-on’ story). The Vols better pray that no-one gets injured on the line (in the same way as key opposition players got injured against UT last year), because they aren’t very deep.
DEFENSE-WISE….THIN D-LINE, DEEEEEEP SECONDARY
The return of all-world LB A.J. Johnson is awesome for Vols fans. He’s a tackling machine. Beyond that, fans are pretty excited about DE Corey Vereen and hybrid Curt Maggitt, O’Brien and DE Jordan Williams too. JUCO Owen Williams could start at DT immediately. Beyond that, who knows? We know one thing: A.J. Johnson’s going to be one of the most underrated stories in college football. Again.
The secondary, though, brings back four starters from a unit that finished 3rd in the SEC in total yards given up (27th in the nation YPG), with junior Brian Rudolph and S LaDarrell McNeil leading the way. If soph CB Cam Sutton can continue an excellent 2013, then. Frosh CB Emmanuel Mosley could delight a lot of people at CB, such is his speed and talent. D’Andre Payne is predicted to see the field at nickelback, especially if Justin Coleman struggles at that position. Devaun Swafford will be in the battle for a safety spot, too.
Aug. 31 Utah State
Sept. 6 Arkansas State
Sept. 13 at Oklahoma
Sept. 27 at Georgia
Oct. 4 Florida
Oct. 11 Chattanooga
Oct. 18 at Ole Miss
Oct. 25 Alabama
Nov. 1 at South Carolina
Nov. 15 Kentucky
Nov. 22 Missouri
Nov. 29 at Vanderbilt
We think UT will go to 2-0 with close wins over Utah State and Arkansas State (don’t overlook both teams, folks – Utah State’s a trendy opening weekend upset pick), then quickly go to 2-3 with losses against OU, Georgia and a revamped Florida, before going 3-3 with a win over Chatanooga. They then go to 3-6 with losses at Ole Miss, home to ‘Bama, and at South Carolina, before wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt (sandwiched by a home loss to Missouri – although this one could be really, really close) make Vols fans excited about the future. 5-7 overall.
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