Monthly Archives: November 2013

Tennessee opens as 4-point favorite at Kentucky

Tennessee runs through the T on Nov. 23, 2013, against Vanderbilt. (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee has opened as a four-point favorite over Kentucky in offshore sports books.

The Vols (4-7, 1-6 SEC) and Wildcats (2-9, 0-7) will play their final game of the season on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.)

Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt 14-10 on Saturday to fall out of bowl contention and ensure the program’s fourth consecutive losing season.

In the Sagarin predictor ratings, which are sometimes frighteningly accurate, the Vols have a 5.19-point edge over Kentucky.

Owen Williams, 3-star juco defensive tackle, verbally commits to Tennessee

Owen Williams (photo from 247Sports)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeOwen Williams, a three-star defensive tackle from Butler (Kan.) Community College verbally committed to Tennessee on Sunday, according to News Sentinel partner GoVols247 and other media.

Williams, a native of Macon, Ga., was previously committed to Texas Tech.

Listed as 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds, Williams took an official visit to campus this weekend. He has said that he plans to enroll in January.

Williams is the 32nd member of Tennessee’s 2014 class. The Vols can sign up to 30 by counting five early enrollees against the 2013 class and taking the full 25 in this year’s group.

Butch Jones has used the phrase “brick by brick” to describe the rebuilding process at Tennessee.

Tennessee-Vanderbilt pre-game updates (with photos)

The field-level view from Neyland Stadium before the Vanderbilt game (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — As promised, it’s chilly and windy as Tennessee prepares to kick off against Vanderbilt.

Here are a few quick pre-game notes and photos…

* Freshman tight end A.J. Branisel and defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry were both on crutches in the pre-game walk-through. It looks like receiver Cody Blanc will also be out.

Branisel’s absence could leave Joe Stocstill as the next option behind starter Brendan Downs.

* Take one name off the list of seniors to be honored today. Fourth-year junior Gregory Grieco will be back next year, we’re told. That means 27 players will be recognized.

Butch Jones walks with his players before the game (photo by Evan Woodbery)

Pre-game view of Neyland

Graduate assistant Larry Knight (left) and quality control assistant Terry Fair before the game (by Evan Woodbery)

Condredge Holloway visits with a staff member before the game

UT senior associate athletic director Mike Vollmar

Vols’ offense has shifted under Joshua Dobbs

Neyland Stadium before the game on Nov. 23, 2013.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee uses about five times as many five-receiver and two-back sets under freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs than it did before he took the reins.

Joshua Dobbs (photo by Evan Woodbery)

The Vols’ new look on offense was the subject of a subscriber-only story on GVX this morning. You can cheat and check out the explanatory graphic here for free.

The Vols (4-6, 1-5 SEC) play Vanderbilt (6-4, 3-4) today at 7 p.m. (TV: ESPN2). You can follow our free live blog on GoVolsXtra starting one hour before kickoff.

Hourly forecast for Tennessee-Vanderbilt game (Hint: cold, but no rain)

Neyland Stadium last week (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — It’s sunny and pleasant right now, but temperatures should start to drop dramatically as the sun goes down and the wind picks up.

Here’s the hourly forecast courtesy of The Weather Channel.

5:23 p.m. — sunset, 47 degrees, feels like 43

7 p.m. — kickoff, 43 degrees, feels like 38

8 p.m. — 41 degrees, feels like 35

9 p.m. — 40 degrees, feels like 33

10 p.m. — 38 degrees, feels like 31

11 p.m. — 37 degrees, feels like 29

The wind will be consistently northwest at 9-11 mph. There is no chance of rain until late in the game and even then, it’s only 10 percent.

Vols will honor 28 players Saturday on Senior Day

Defensive end Corey Miller stretches before practice last week (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee will honor 28 players before Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt, including four who are technically fourth-year juniors but will graduate and play their final games this month.

We’ll have short capsules on each player in Saturday’s News Sentinel. For now, here’s the list.

TE Joseph Ayres

RB Austin Bolen*

LB Brent Brewer

OL Alex Bullard

LS J.R. Carr

DB Tyler Coombes*

LB Raiques Crump

WR/H Tyler Drummer

OL Zach Fulton

LB Gregory Grieco*

DT Daniel Hood

Ja’Wuan James before a game this year (photo by Evan Woodbery)

OL Ja’Wuan James

DB Reggie Juin

LB Greg King

DT Daniel McCullers

DE Corey Miller

S Byron Moore

RB Rajion Neal

QB Tyler Page*

P/K Michael Palardy

WR Brett Parisi*

LB John Propst

LB Dontavis Sapp

DE Jacques Smith

OL James Stone

TE Dakota Summers*

DE Marlon Walls

WR Dylan West*

*fourth-year juniors

About 96,000 tickets sold for Tennessee-Vanderbilt game at Neyland Stadium

Neyland Stadium two weeks ago against Auburn (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — About 6,000 tickets remain for Tennessee’s game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, UT said on Thursday.

UT has sold about 96,000 tickets, including tickets claimed by students. The capacity of Neyland Stadium is 102,455.

The Vols (4-6, 1-5 SEC) play Vandy (6-4, 3-4) on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) in the final home game of the regular season.

UT has essentially sold out of the discounted flex tickets in the upper end zones, according to a check of the UT ticket website. The face-value price for game tickets is $55.

View from the other side: 5 questions with Vanderbilt beat writer Jeff Lockridge on Saturday’s game

Vandy coach James Franklin (AP photo)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Vanderbilt clinched its third consecutive bowl appearance last week, while Tennessee must on Saturday to keep its hopes alives.

The Vols (4-6, 1-5) play the Commodores (6-4, 3-4) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.)

We talked to Vanderbilt beat writer Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean in Nashville to get his thoughts on this weekend’s game. Follow Jeff on Twitter for the latest on Vandy sports.

For my contribution to Jeff’s blog, click here.

Q. What does the return of Austyn Carta-Samuels mean to the Vanderbilt offense? Was there any hint of indecision about returning him to the starting role after Patton Robinette played well in the win against Florida?

Carta-Samuels’ return simply means that James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan have their most experienced guy taking the snaps – a guy that they have confidence in handling any pass call and a guy that can complete throws at a high clip. While Carta-Samuels was a little rusty and made some minor miscues in the first half against Kentucky last week, he completed 19 of 24 passes (79.2 percent) for the game. His mobility isn’t what it was before his left-knee injury in the Georgia game – he wore a knee brace in his first start back – but that’s a trade-off Franklin will accept in exchange for his ability to read defenses and his chemistry with Jordan Matthews.

Carta-Samuels was always going to get his job back once he was medically cleared to play. It was just a matter of how soon that would be. That said, Robinette did a very nice job of managing the offense in Carta-Samuels’ absence. He led Vandy to a comeback win against Georgia and got the win at Florida, with a rocky start at Texas A&M sandwiched between the two. Robinette offers more of a dual threat with his running ability and big frame that Vandy doesn’t have otherwise. It wouldn’t stun me if the redshirt freshman comes in for a snap or two in the red zone when Franklin wants the option of a QB draw.

Q. Both Butch Jones and James Franklin seem to have downplayed the importance of this game, other than it being the next game on the schedule they need to win. How important is this game to Franklin, Vandy and the players?

Well, I’d suggest it’s a bigger game to diehard Vandy fans than anyone else. But this will always be a huge game to Franklin and Vandy players. Their whole persona is built around having a chip on their shoulder (the coaches even wear shirts with the word “chip” printed on the shoulder). Franklin sees UT as the big, public school with most of the state’s college football fans, and Vandy as the small, private, blue-collar program that is trying to reel in more fans and succeed in proving everyone wrong.

You’re never going to see Franklin publicly make one game out to be more important than the others because it would conflict with his “1-0 this week” sermons to his players and the media. However, if you want to gauge how important it is, watch the reactions of Franklin, the players and the crowd after last year’s rout of the Vols in Nashville. From pride to recruiting battles to changing Vandy’s perception in the public eye, it means something. Winning two in row with the second coming in Knoxville, to use a tennis analogy, would be like following a break of serve by holding at love. Vandy would become the hunted instead of the hunter in this rivalry.

Q. What’s Vandy’s biggest weakness, and how successful have teams been in trying to exploit it this year?

While the running game has been too inconsistent and slow starts have plagued this team in all of its losses, I’d point to Vandy’s struggles defending up-tempo offenses and mobile quarterbacks as the primary weakness. Missouri and Texas A&M, Vandy’s most recent losses, conducted clinics on how to keep the Commodores off-balance by using a lot of quick, high-percentage passes with the occasional run sprinkled in. Vandy rarely plays press coverage and is willing to surrender small chunks of yardage at a time, banking on a turnover or a sack or a tackle for loss to help get its defense off the field at some point. But guys like Connor Shaw, James Franklin (the Missouri one) and Johnny Manziel got the ball out quickly and scrambled effectively to avoid pressure while taking advantage of Vandy’s matchup issues.

Vandy did a decent job of pestering a pretty mobile quarterback in Jalen Whitlow last week, so perhaps it’s not as glaring a weakness as it once was. Getting linebackers Chase Garnham and Karl Butler back from injuries – and the emergence of Darreon Herring – have helped stabilize the linebacking corps. The status of defensive end Caleb Azubike, who was hurt at the end of the Kentucky game, will be one thing to watch for this week.

Q. Franklin will likely be mentioned among prominent names in the postseason coaching carousel. Do you think he’s back at Vandy in 2014?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question … well,  I’d have a lot of nickels. I don’t have a clear answer on this. I think it depends exactly which school(s) come calling, because it’s going to have to be a sweet offer from a perennial power to lure him away. Lateral moves or small steps up have not been tempting enough the past two offseasons, and I don’t see that changing.

Is there a chance he bolts? Sure. But I can see both ways of thinking here. Perhaps he leaves if having a program in the national spotlight and contending for national titles is atop his priority list. Perhaps he leaves if he becomes convinced Vandy cannot sell out a 40,000-seat stadium on a regular basis (although lowering prices on individual-game tickets and playing bigger-name opponents outside the SEC could assist in this regard). Perhaps he leaves if he feels like he’s being hamstrung in regards to bringing in the kids he wants on the heels of this devastating rape case.

On the other hand, Franklin has the future looking pretty bright at Vandy. He’s making a lot of money – the kind of money I never thought Vandy would commit to a coach – after have his contracted reworked twice since being hired. Vandy just opened a $31 million recreation center expansion project with a plush indoor football facility, which was built at Franklin’s bidding. Vandy made sure his entire coaching staff remained intact last offseason. The recruiting budget has gone up, allowing for Franklin to take the occasional private jet or helicopter when he likes. Franklin has created a winning perception here, and yet he has virtually no pressure on him other than what is self-imposed. He, his family and his coaches all seem to really enjoy living in Nashville. So like I said, the arguments can be made both ways. But it’s no longer a situation where a good coach can’t wait to leave here.

Q. What’s your prediction for the game and why?

My gut tells me Vandy wins in Knoxville for the first time since 2005, but I’d be wary of this game if I’m a Commodores fan. UT had the bye week to rest and prepare, and as Vandy offensive lineman Wesley Johnson noted, the Vols have more to play for: bowl eligibility, revenge for last year’s embarrassment, a win for Jones in his first UT-Vandy contest, etc. In the end, I think the Vols will have trouble containing Matthews and a more confident Vandy defense will continue its turnover binge with a couple of key takeaways to decide a testy affair. Let’s say: Vandy 28-24.

Tennessee football practice report: Butch Jones invites coaches to join in competition (photos)

Butch Jones directs Daniel Hood (97) to place a ladder near the end zone for a practice drill. Jones had several players race each other at the Nov. 20, 2013, practice. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones added a new twist to the ladder runs that are a staple of his practices on Wednesday evening.

He called for competitions between prominent players and even got coaches into the act. Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen raced quality control assistant Terry Fair (and lost). Special teams coordinator Mark Elder started stretching out of concern that he might be next. With one coach already on the shelf due to injury, you can’t be too careful.

More practice photos are below. Watch in your highest HD setting for best results.