When South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier watched game video of Tennessee in preparation for the Gamecocks’ home game Saturday (TV: SEC Network, 7:30 p.m.) his eyes locked on to the Vols’ dreadlocked middle linebacker.
“I’ll tell you, that linebacker, is it Johnson? No. 45?” Spurrier asked a reporter on Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “He’s really something. He plays at a faster pace than anybody on the field, it seems like. One play against Alabama, he blitzed off the left side and came clean, but the running back broke it off the other side. He chased him down and made the tackle about 30 to 40 yards down the field. I was just amazed. That guy’s a real ballplayer. I admire the way their whole team’s played.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones obviously didn’t disagree with Spurrier’s assessment of A.J. Johnson. The senior leads the conference with 86 tackles, 14 more than any other player in the SEC.
“He brings it every day,” Jones said. “We talk about consistency in performance with our players and knowing what you’re getting every day. You know what you’re getting with A.J. Johnson every day. He needs football in his life. He loves football. He’s really grown into a leader of our football team.”
Other notes from the SEC call follow.
— Jones was asked again about senior quarterback Justin Worley’s status after Tuesday’s practice and gave the same answer he gave Tuesday. “He was at practice, was able to throw a ball a little bit around,” Jones said. “So we’ll continue to progress today and see how that goes. The only thing is velocity. We’ll he be able to do it. So again, it will be a work in progress and kind of see where we’re at like I talked about early in the week. We’re really trying to progress him and push him and see where his body is at getting ready for this game and then we have a bye week next week. We’re really trying to get him game ready, but we’ll see here shortly.”
Jones also continued to praise sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who played in Saturday’s 34-20 loss to Alabama with Worley out with his shoulder injury.
“Josh is progressing,” Jones said. “He made some big plays for us. He was very poised. I thought he benefitted from his live-game opportunities last year. Then going into a game with a sold-out crowd playing the No. 4 team in the country. So I thought he handled himself well. I thought he had good command of the offense. For him, it’s just being able to make the routine plays, not the ‘oh-my-God’ plays, but just the routine plays. We had a slant down at the goalline that’s gotta be a touchdown and some things that way that he’s working on. I thought also, though, Nate Peterman did some good things and Justin Worley did some good things as well.”
— Spurrier has been known to take digs at Tennessee going back to his days as Florida’s head coach, famously saying that you can’t spell Citrus without UT, but he was very complimentary of the Vols (3-5, 0-4 SEC) on Wednesday.
“Tennessee’s a good team,” Spurrier said. “Tennessee plays hard. They play with a lot of effort. Butch Jones and his staff have got those guys flying around. They’ve been I think a little bit snake bit this year, losing some close games. It appeared they outplayed Alabama in the second half last week even though they got behind early.”
Spurrier was more critical of his own team, which is 4-4, 2-4 coming into the week and ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 32.8 points per game.
“We’ve not done anything spectacular, except beat Georgia I guess,” Spurrier said. “…. Obviously we didn’t figure we’d struggle (on defense) this much. The media didn’t figure we’d struggle this much. But for whatever reason, we’re struggling. We’ve got to force some punts. We gotta force a turnover somehow.”
— Spurrier was asked about the suspension and planned reinstatement of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley, who was punished by the NCAA for accepting money for autographs.
“I’ve always been in favor of giving football and basketball players somewhere between $4,000-$5,000 in expenses,” Spurrier said. “… With the tremendous amount of money that football and basketball brings in, I just personally think you oughta reward the guys that are bringing in the big money for all of our universities. But the autograph thing? It appears some guys sign autographs and say ‘Hey, give me the money when my days are over.’ Because obviously, they’re not signing them for free. I guess Todd Gurley took some money now when he should’ve waited until his eligibility was over, and he would’ve been fine I guess.”
Spurrier said he’s not sure if he’s for making it legal for players to accept money for their autograph.
“The right guard might not get the same amount as the quarterback,” Spurrier said. “He’s busting his tail, Nobody knows who he is. He’s not signing autographs. It’s a team sport, It’s a team sport. I just sort of feel that might alienate some team chemistry if one guy gets a whole bunch of money and the right guard, he’s saying, ‘Where’s my cut of that pal? I’m blocking for you.’ I think it oughta be sorta even and I think most of the guys that are in position to sign autographs are smart enough to say, ‘Hey, catch me after the bowl game, and we can do some business.’ “