Points, rushes, yardage galore

3 things to ponder as another college football Saturday (Sept. 27) arrives:

1, The weekend is off to a gonzo start, thanks to a marquee game Thursday night. Well, it was a game for a little while. UCLA eventually blew out host Arizona State 62-27 in a match of top-15 teams. This show of force by the Bruins was somewhat unexpected. It comes one week after a 20-17 squeaker over Texas and two weeks after a 42-35 scare from Memphis. I repeat, Memphis.

2, I still can’t get over the most amazing stat from last week — Wisconsin’s 644 rushing yards against Bowling Green. Yes, it was only Bowling Green, but 644 yards against Wisconsin-Whitewater’s scout team would be impressive. The 644 is a modern-day (from 1946) Big Ten record. The Badgers rushed 60 times and threw 18 passes. This, one game after rushing for 167 against Western Illinois.

The SEC single-game rushing yardage record is 748 by Alabama in 1973, against Virginia Tech. Tennessee’s single-game record is 513 against Washington & Lee in 1951. That doesn’t rank among the top 10 in the SEC annals.

3, The offensive numbers in the SEC are crazy. Eight teams are averaging at least 40 points a game, led by Texas A&M’s 55.2. Even Florida’s maligned offense is in the act at 40.7. Twelve teams are averaging at least 36 points a game. True, it’s only September and non-conference patsies inflate the scores. Still, Texas A&M has scored 52 on South Carolina, South Carolina beat Georgia 38-35 in a shootout and Alabama hung 42 on Florida. Tennessee is still waiting to get in the act. The Vols are averaging 27.3 points, which is ahead of only Vandy at 19.5.

As recently as 2011 Arkansas led the league in scoring at 36.8. That would tie for 10th place at the moment. From 2002-2006, the leader ranged between 32.1 and 34.0.

Total offense numbers, likewise, have gone through the roof in a league that rose to the top of the heap with superior defenses. Alabama is cranking out 587.5 yards a game, second only to Texas A&M’s 612.5. A mere three years ago, Arkansas led the league at 438 yards. From 2002-2006, the lead varied in a range of 406 to 433.

We’ll revisit the numbers in another month.

Vol football: mapping the road trips

Content Warning!! This blog post is more about geography than football. I’m a map freak, a geography geek. Tennessee football going to Oklahoma for the first time was all the impetus I needed to delve into tracing the Vols’ football imprint on a U.S. map. Oklahoma, it turns out, is the 24th state in which the Vols have played a game. Aside from Dallas, in northern Texas, it’s also the first time the Vols have appeared anywhere on the Great Plains.

The first out-of-state road trip was way back in 1893, to North Carolina. In a span of five days, UT played Wake Forest, Trinity (Duke) and UNC.

Without further adieu, here’s a list of states — and The District of Columbia — where Tennessee football has visited.

Massachusetts: Four visits to Boston College, none colder than Halloween 1987.
New Hampshire: Dartmouth, in 1921. Surprised about that one.
New York: Syracuse, Army, Fordham, NYU (1931 in Yankee Stadium).
Maryland: The Vols are unscored upon in Maryland, thanks to a 16-0 win in College Park in 1957.
D.C.: George Washington, 1933. (This was the second-biggest surprise behind Dartmouth.)
Virginia: Not since 1929 in Roanoke.
North Carolina: Regular trips to Duke and Chapel Hill in the first half of the 20th Century. None since 1961.
South Carolina: Four pre-Neyland visits to Clemson. These days, every even-numbered season since 1992 means Columbia.
Georgia: Atlanta used to be a regular port of call. Athens still is. There was a 1912 appearance in Macon.
Alabama: Obviously. Anyone miss Legion Field? I didn’t think so.
Florida: The Vols have had better luck in 17 bowl games than in The Swamp.
Mississippi: Starkville, Oxford and, in days of yore, Jackson.
Kentucky: Lot of cold November Saturdays in Lexington. The ’91 season opened with a sultry Thursday-night win at Louisville.
Arkansas: The Vols are 3-0 in Little Rock, but only 2-3 in Fayetteville.
Louisiana: Seven Sugar Bowls and LSU.
Texas: Ten bowl games, but only two regular-season visits — Houston in 1953 and Rice in 1968. Our grandchildren might live to see a trip to College Station.
California: Strictly the LA area until a 2007 visit to Berkeley, where there were naked men in trees outside the stadium. For my money, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is the best setting for a game.
Hawaii: On Dec. 6, 1975, a season-ending 28-6 victory for a 7-5 record in the days when there was no Advocare V100 Texas Bowl.
Arizona: Back-to-back Fiesta Bowls, one of them more memorable than the other.
Indiana: Four trips to South Bend. That’s it.
Missouri: It took Mizzou joining the SEC to break the ice in 2013.
Oregon: Another 2013 breakthrough.
Oklahoma: Sept. 13, 2014.

I was surprised to find UT had never played in Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia. We could have added Wyoming and New Mexico to the list but UT bought out of return trips. Wyoming’s “home game” was played at LP Field in Nashville. New Mexico’s never was.

That is all. Geography class dismissed.

How have Vols fared against best non-SEC teams? Look here

With Oklahoma in the Vols’ sights, I wrote a column about Tennessee’s history with college football’s “in crowd,” the most elite programs.

Highlights:

Last time UT beat a ranked non-conference opponent was No. 18 Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl after the 2007 season.

Last time UT beat a top-10 non-conference opponent was No. 9 Cal to open the 2006 season in Knoxville. Cal was overrated, but, hey, they were top 10 at the time.

Non-conference headline wins in the post-Phillip Fulmer era: North Carolina State in 2012 and Cincinnati in 2011. Not much sizzle there.

Here is UT’s results in the past 20 seasons against non-conference teams from the other four Power Five conferences — ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 — plus the now defunct Big East. (Rankings, if ranked).

2013: L 59-14 at Oregon (2)
2012: W NC State 35-21
2011: W Cincinnati 45-23.
2010: L Oregon (7) 48-13; L North Carolina 30-27.
2009: L UCLA 19-15; L Virginia Tech (12) 37-14.
2008: L at UCLA 27-24.
2007: L at California (12) 45-31; W Wisconsin (18) 21-17.
2006: W California (9) 35-18; L Penn State 20-10
2005: L at Notre Dame (8) 41-21.
2004: L Notre Dame 17-13; W Texas A&M (22) 38-7.
2003: W Duke 23-6; W at Miami (6) 10-6; L Clemson 27-14.
2002: W Rutgers 35-14; L Miami (1) 26-3; L Maryland (20), 30-3.
2001: W Syracuse 33-9; W at Notre Dame 28-18; W Michigan (17) 45-17.
2000: L Kansas State (11) 35-21.
1999: W Notre Dame (24) 38-14; L Nebraska (3) 31-21.
1998: W at Syracuse (17) 34-33; W Florida State (2) 23-16.
1997: W Texas Tech 52-17; W UCLA 30-24; L Nebraska (2) 42-17.
1996: W UCLA 35-20; W Northwestern (11) 48-28.
1995: W Oklahoma State 31-0; W Ohio State (4) 20-14.
1994: L at UCLA (14) 25-23; W Washington State (17) 10-9; W Virginia Tech (17) 45-23.

Butch Jones’ son Alex providing kicks for dad

Butch Jones, borrowing a page from Bruce Pearl, got a tad emotional talking about his son Monday at the Knoxville Quarterback Club. (Pearl was prone to tears when speaking of his son Steven Pearl, a walk-on who carved a niche role in Pearl’s Tennessee teams.)

Jones was delivering a state of the program address Monday when he spotted Zac Jancek in the crowd and asked, “What are you doing here?” Jancek, son of Jones’ defensive coordinator, John Jancek, was there to receive an award for outstanding play as Catholic High’s quarterback. That got Jones off on a personal tangent about his son, Alex. Alex Jones, it turns out, has become the kicker at Catholic after previously giving up football due to a congenital heart issue.

“Everywhere we’ve been,” Butch Jones said, “Alex has been the best athlete. Varsity basketball, a great football player.”

When the Jones family moved to Knoxville last year from Cincinnati, Alex didn’t play at Catholic due to concerns about his having a bicuspid aortic valve. “So athletics was taken from him,” Jones said. “It was devastating.”
Alex, according to Jones, went to games and supported the team, including his friend Zac Jancek. The Jones and Jancek families had spent the previous three years together in Cincinnati.

Jones: “I told him, ‘you need to kick.’ He thought he was too cool to be the kicker.”

After the 2013 season, Alex reconsidered and decided to take dad’s advice. He attended camps and saught instruction during the summer. Now a senior, he is Catholic’s kicker. Jones said Friday night while the Vols were at a hotel preparing for Saturday’s game against Arkansas State, his phone starting beeping with texts from his wife Barbara. She was providing updates from the Catholic game against CAK.

“For the first time I had the gut feeling of a father,”Jones said. “For once in my life I got to feel what it is to be the father of a son who’s competing on game day. It was a pretty neat experience.”

dale ellis

Dale Ellis finishes his speech

When Dale Ellis was on the court at Thompson-Boling Arena last March to see his jersey raised to the rafters, he got cut off without finishing what he had to say. There was a game to tip off.

“I’d wake up every morning for about two months after that, and think about what I could have said, who I could have acknowledged,” Ellis said Wednesday in Greeneville, where he and ex-Vols Reggie Johnson, Damon Johnson and Skylar McBee were working a clinic for the Boys and Girls Club.

So I gave Ellis a chance to finish his acknowledgements. One of the first people he mentioned was Ed Balloff, the friend of the program who was buried Tuesday at age 94.

Another was Dr. Robert Overholt. Said Ellis, “I’ve had an opportunity to travel the world through the game of basketball. That’s always been my life’s dream. I met a lot of beautiful people. None were more beautiful than Dr. Robert Overholt. I grew up without a father and I always looked at him as somewhat of a father figure to me.”

And Don DeVoe, his coach.

“He prepared me for that next level,” Ellis said. “It wasn’t like you could take a day off with Don. If you scored 30 points last night, he wanted to know what had tonight. It didn’t matter what you did on a test last week, he wanted to know what you’re gonna do this week in school. He was teaching me how to be a professional, off and on the floor.”

The UT fans: “You guys pushed me to come with it every single day. I want to thank you, too.”

Perhaps most of all, his Tennessee teammates.

Wednesday he mentioned Reggie Johnson, Michael Brooks, Gary Carter, Howard Wood and others. “I would take something from their game and I brought it to my game. It’s an individual honor. But that ’14′ — I took my twin brother’s number to honor him. We went to different schools. The ’1979-83′ — that repesents my teammates. That’s a team honor.”

Ed Balloff was a gentle friend of Vol basketball

Ed Balloff died Saturday at age 94. Mr. Balloff was many things in his long life: World War II veteran, Vanderbilt alum, attorney, clothing merchant, pillar of the community in Campbell County. He was also a consumate gentleman, one of the nicest human beings on the planet. If you ever met him, I’m not telling you anything you hadn’t already figured out. But he was also a diehard Tennessee basketball fan and played a unique role in some of the program’s best days.

I wasn’t in Knoxville yet so I don’t know how it came to be that “Mr. B” became John Ward’s driver on basketball road trips. But for years Ed Balloff drove John around the SEC and elsewhere so John could bring the game back home over the Vol Network radio waves. Ward, signing off, would refer to Mr. Balloff as ‘director of transportation’ or something like that.

From talking to Ed and others, the road trips were meticuously planned and adhered to time-honored routines. When I’d show up at a gym in Starkville or Tuscaloosa, Ed would be in the media room, happy to chat. But during the games he would often disappear. He couldn’t stand the tension of a tight game in which the Vols might be in peril of defeat. A couple of years ago I asked him to confirm the story of a game in Memorial Coliseum in Lexington during the “Ernie & Bernie” years. He admitted, yes, he did retreat to the men’s restroom under the stands to suffer in solitude.

“True story,” Mr. Balloff said. “I’d hear the roar when Kentucky scored. So I turned on all the faucets and flushed all the toilets and went from one to the other doing that. Then it got very quiet. And I knew we won the game.”

That was the 90-88 overtime when in 1976 when Ernie Grunfeld scored 43 points and Bernard King made the game-winning shot virtually from the seat of his pants.

Mr. Balloff had a special relationship with Grunfeld. He told me when Grunfeld came on his recruiting visit from New York, coach Ray Mears asked Ed, who was Jewish, to take Grunfeld to lunch. Mr. Balloff and Grunfeld remained friends for life.

After John Ward called his last game in 1999, I didn’t see Mr. Balloff around very often. It was a treat when I did. He remained active until the end, practicing law in LaFollette. The world would be better off with more kind souls like Ed Balloff.

Vols’ Ferguson not dwelling on what might have been

Riley Ferguson talked with the media for the first time Friday as a Tennessee quarterback. After the opening day of spring practice, coach Butch Jones sent all four quarterback candidates — Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs, Nathan Peterman and Ferguson — to face the question-askers.

The obvious question for Ferguson was when and how did he suffer the stress fracture in his right leg that denied him a golden opportunity to play in 2013 and ultimately forced a redshirt. To rewind the timeline, Peterman was lost to a hand injury at Florida on Sept. 21 and Worley to a thumb injury at Alabama on Oct. 26. The tea leaves seemed to indicate that by late October Ferguson was ahead of Dobbs and would have succeeded Worley.

So when did the injury arise? “The week of the Alabama game, maybe the week before that,” Ferguson said.

How did it happen? “We do not know, really,” Ferguson said. “It might be from over-pressing when I’m dropping to throw. It got to the point where it was really sore. They took me to get an MRI and I had a stress fracture.”

So, given that Dobbs took over for Worley in the second half at Alabama and started the final four games, wasn’t that terrible timing for you? “I was thinking that at first,” Ferguson said. “But my family and everybody here, they were telling me things happen for a reason. Just move forward and try to get better.”

And so he did. “That was last year,” Ferguson said. “I’m focused on this year. I don’t really worry about if I’d have went in or wouldn’t have, or if was hurt or wasn’t hurt.”

Ferguson can’t wait to get in a game and put Jones’ offense to work. He embraces the tempo: “I love to line up and see a corner have to run all the way across the field just to match up with my receiver. And I can hike the ball before he’s over there and get it there quick.”

Jones liked what he saw from all four quarterbacks Friday, or so he said. As for Ferguson, “I liked his quarterback intangibles. He was extremely accurate with the football. He looked very confident and he made some big-time throws today.”

C.M. Newton shares memories, suggestions

It would be hard to think of an individual who interacted more with University of Tennessee sports without actually being a Vol than C.M. Newton. Newton spoke to the Big Orange Tipoff Club on Wednesday. His topic was his memories of his brushes with UT sports, particularly basketball. There were plenty. Retired from a long career as a coach and administrator, Newton noted that he spent the bulk of his career at Kentucky, Alabama and Vanderbilt, all of whom considered Tennessee a prime rival.

Newton was born in Rockwood, Tenn., the son of a huge UT football fan who owned a hardware store in Harriman. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but Newton said his dad never strayed from his devotion to Big Orange football. His sister once dated Bowden Wyatt. His cousin married News Sentinel sports editor Tom Siler. As a high school hoops star in Fort Lauderdale, he once played against against a pretty good athlete from St. Petersburg named Jim Haslam.

Newton played basketball for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, helping the Wildcats win an NCAA title in 1951. He later coached at Transylvania University in Lexington, then at Alabama and Vanderbilt. He finished his career as athletic director at Kentucky and has, in retirement, served the SEC as a basketball consultant.

Newton recounted how Rupp dreaded coming to Knoxville, especially in the old days of Alumni Gynasium. At Transylvania, Newton encountered another hot small-college coach — Ray Mears. Newton recalled Transy beating Mears’ Wittenberg University team 38-36 before an audience that included Rupp. Expecting to be congratlated by Rupp, Newton was surprised. “He said we set the game of basketball back a hundred years.” Newton holds a distinction of significance in Kentucky: “I’m the only guy who ever played for (Rupp) that beat him.”

That would have been at Alabama, where Bear Bryant hired Newton to coach in 1968. His teams won three consecutive SEC titles from 1974-76. That includes two years of the Ernie & Bernie Show at Tennessee. One of his benchwarmers at Alabama was Dave Hart. The two sat together Tuesday night at the Vols’ win over Georgia.
At Vanderbilt, Newton’s battles were with Don DeVoe from 1981-89. As AD at Kentucky, Newton hired both Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, both of whom won NCAA titles.

He also served on the basketball rules committee and helped bring in the shot clock and the 3-point shot. Newton still has some opinions about the game.

The season, he said, shouldn’t start until the winter semester: “It makes no sense to have your two profit-makers (football and basketball) going head to head for the entertainment dollar.”

He would also whittle the NCAA tourney field to a more managable size, honoring only confernce champions and runners-up: “You’ve got to be a bad team not to get in the postseason. I don’t think we have a true national championhsip. Sixty-eight teams is too many.”

He doesn’t like the one-and-done rule, which Kentucky’s John Calipari has elevated to an art form: “You’ve got great athletes who don’t know how to play basketball. It’s weakened the NBA and it’s weakened college basketball.”

He thinks college sports are headed to super-conferences in which the big leagues — the haves — separate from the have-nots. “The NCAA has outlived its usefulness, in my opinion. It can re-invent itself. I think it could do that with the have-nots.”

There’s winning on the road and then there’s Rupp

Any basketball coach will tell you winning on the road is never easy. But it’s harder some places than others. Nowhere is it harder than Rupp Arena. Not for Tennessee, any way, but I suspect that’s true for any program that visits there on a regular basis.

Here’s a look at Tennessee’s history in the current venue of all 13 SEC opponents, based on a comprehensive study by my crack research team. The records reflect games in which the Vols played the home team, not SEC tournament games (in Lexington, Nashville and Baton Rouge) against other teams.

Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum (opened 1968-69): 9-26.
Auburn’s Auburn Arena (opened 2010-11): 2-0.
Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena (opened 1993-94): 3-7.
Florida’s O’Connell Center (opened 1980-81): 12-20.
Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum (opened 1964-65): 23-26.
Kentucky’s Rupp Arena (opened 1976-77): 4-34.
LSU’s Maravich Assembly Center (opened 1972): 15-16.
Ole Miss’s Tad Smith Coliseum (opened 1966): 17-19.
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum (opened 1975-76): 13-14.
Missouri’s Mizzou Arena (opened 2004-05): 0-0.
South Carolina’s Colonial Center (opened 2012): 7-5.
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym (opened 1952-53): 23-38.
Texas A&M’s Reed Arena (opened 1998-88): 1-1.

Here’s a look at how all SEC teams have fared in Rupp Arena:
Alabama: 5-22.
Auburn: 2-25.
Arkansas: 2-10.
Georgia: 4-31.
Florida: 6-31.
LSU: 5-23.
Ole Miss: 1-26.
Missouri: 0-3.
Mississippi State: 2-25.
South Carolina: 2-22.
Tennessee: 4-34.
Vanderbilt: 2-34.
Texas A&M: 1-3.

Butch at the QB Club

I wrote a column from Coach Butch Jones’ appearance Monday at the Knoxville Quarterback Club. But there was material left over and I submit some of it for your perusal here:

Jones thanked the crowd — and Tennessee fans in general — for their continued support through hard times. “I’m gonna tell you what,” he said, “you guys are the reason why our recruiting class is going so well. Because (recruits, visitors) do feel the positive energy. They did feel the 97,000-plus (Saturday night against Vanderbilt).”

Recruiting played a major role in the give-and-take between Jones and the audience. He said the most positive factor in the entire program right now is the large number of early enrollees who will start school on Jan. 4. “We will welcome between 14 and possibly 16 mid-year enrollees,” Jones said. “That may be the most in the country.”

Jones went into some detail about being able to back-count five signees to the Class of 2013, bumping the 25 allowed signings for 2014 to 30. Or will it stop at 30?
“We have a lot of good people who write a lot of good things,” Jones said, “but don’t believe everything you hear or read. We have a plan. We’re trying to gain every ounce of value in this recruiting class that we can.
“If we can find a way to sign 35 guys, I’m gonna sign ‘em. … If we have an individual who’s a great player who we feel we can’t turn down, we’re gonna find every imaginable way to bring him to Tennessee. So there is a plan in place. It’s very strategic, but it’s all going to work out. I promise you.”