With Utah State coming to town, much of the talk this week has, rightfully, been about quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
We took an in-depth look at how Tennessee is preparing in practice to face the potential Heisman candidate yesterday. And while UT’s chances to knock off the Aggies on Sunday night certainly hinge on how well they can limit Keeton, the coaches have also been quick to remind that Utah State is more than one player.
“Everything is about impacting and containing the quarterback,” said Jones. “But let’s make one thing clear: it’s not just Chuckie Keeton. There’s a reason why they’ve won the amount of games that they’ve won. They’re talented across the board. Their defense is a really good defense. They’re tough, they’re physical, they run to the football. They play angry.
“And offensively, they have a lot of weapons. You look at their special teams – I always look at the special teams game first. They have dynamic returners, again, they’re very skilled on special teams – fundamentally sound. So, yeah, Chuckie Keeton’s a great football player, but they’re a very, very, very good football team.”
There’s another future NFL player the Vols will have to keep an eye on when they are on offense. Utah State linebacker Kyler Fackrell has been projected as high as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. At 6-foot-5 and nearly 250 pounds, the junior lines up as a traditional outside linebacker, on the line of scrimmage and even took a 98-yard interception back for a touchdown last year. He can do it all.
“Really, really good football player – very active, physical, can play sideline to sideline,” Jones said of Fackrell. “They have a lot of players who have gained a lot of notoriety and a lot of national attention and they deserve that. They have my respect.”
Schematically, Utah State poises problems with its multiple defense. The Aggies base out of a 3-4, but they show many variations off of that – sometimes even standing all 11 men up on third-down situations.
“They bring an understanding of the game,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. “They know how to win. They play hard. They play fast. They play physical. They’re a well-coached group. They pose a lot of problems with just their skills and you add their scheme and they’ll keep you on your heels.”
“I think they run a scheme that you don’t see very often, with the three down and the shades,” added Jones. “And the different things that they do, some of the different schemes that they do on third down. They are going to challenge us and we understand that. We have to prove that we can handle that.”
Gray finds a home at USU: Former UT cornerback Daniel Gray will make his return to Neyland Stadium on Sunday. Gray transferred from the Vols after the 2012 season, a year in which he appeared in eight games.
He’s listed as the starting cornerback for the Aggies coming into the season opener.
“He’s played really well in camp,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said this week. “It will be his first start as a Utah State Aggie. I’m sure there will be mixed emotions for him going in. He needs to be able to control those and play each snap and move on and have success.”
Wells compares Hurd to George: Wells had some high praise for Tennessee freshman running back Jalen Hurd – comparing him to former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George – a player Hurd has said he models his game after.
“You watch that kid in their spring game and the guy looks like Eddie George,” Wells said of Hurd. “I mean that sincerely. He’s a tall, strong, powerful back. When he runs behind his pads, he’ll be a load to bring down.”
UT announces fan experience initiatives: Tennessee announced several changes for fans’ gameday experience at Neyland Stadium.
Most notably, “more than half of the music available to be played by the Pride [of the Southland Marching Band] is new.” For more information on that and other changes, here’s the full release from Tennessee.