That went well.
Entering a game against what appeared to be a dangerous Utah State team – a program that had won 25 of its last 33 games and played toe-to-toe with the likes of Auburn, USC and Wisconsin in recent years – Tennessee had a lot of questions to be answered and a lot of unknowns to be revealed.
Sunday’s game answered a lot of those questions and truly went about as well as Tennessee could’ve hoped for. So what worked?
The extra team speed showed up, particularly on defense. A unit that had a hard time containing mobile quarterbacks last year kept Chuckie Keeton in check, actually holding him to less rushing yards (12) than Justin Worley finished with (14). Credit the defensive scheming as well. The Vols were very multiple on D – showing several hybrid looks combining some 4-3, 4-2-5, 3-3-5 and other formational principles. Chris Weatherd and Curt Maggitt look like they’ll be versatile players that coordinator John Jancek will move around to create matchup issues for opposing offenses all year. Cam Sutton and A.J. Johnson were absolute studs as well. If those two continue to play at the level they did Sunday, this UT defense could surprise more people.
Offensively, the game plan was to attack with more horizontal and mid-range passes and let the receivers make plays with the ball. That gave Worley a chance to settle, took some pressure off the offensive line and allowed UT to take advantage of perhaps its biggest mismatch in that game.
Jalen Hurd, Ethan Wolf, Jashon Robertson and Josh Malone were among the freshman who showed flashes of what they can do. That offense should get better and better as those guy progress along with the inexperienced offensive line.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. There were a few freshman moments and some things Butch Jones would like to see be done better.
“As a coach, you look back at the 3rd & 1, the 4th & 1 with the penalty, the one kickoff return that we gave up,” he said. “We didn’t do very well on third down offensively in the first half, but you’re playing a good team and they’re going to make plays. Closing games out is critical as well, so there’s a lot of teaching lessons and it’s always a lot easier to teach off a win.”
Some areas they’ll continue to look at will be the offensive line, which didn’t get a ton of push in the run game and got overrun a few times in pass protection. The secondary still has a couple spots that need solidifying. Justin Coleman, who played nickel and outside corner, got beat a few times. LaDarrell McNeil was a surprise starter at safety over Devaun Swafford, though Swafford and Todd Kelly Jr. both saw time there as well.
And with Oklahoma and a full SEC schedule still in front of them, the Vols will also need to continue developing the vertical passing game – something that wasn’t quite in midseason form on Sunday. Jones was also unhappy with the work of the special teams on Sunday. Though the Vols didn’t have any catastrophic errors – Jones clearly needs to see improvement in that are going forward.
On the injury front, Tennessee got very bad news when Butch Jones announced Tuesday afternoon that Jacob Gilliam is out for the season with a torn ACL. He was seen smiling and walking around after the game, so it came as surprising news to some, but the Vols must now press on without their starting left tackle. Knoxville native Brett Kendrick, who replaced Gilliam in the game, could be the next man up at left tackle, though Jones said there will be open competition for the spot between Kendrick. Dontavius Blair and Coleman Thomas. The Vols could also certainly flip Kyler Kerbyson over to the left side since he’s the most experienced man left, though Jones also mentioned the value of the new left tackle playing next to veteran left guard Marcus Jackson.
Matt Darr got his ankle rolled up on what likely should’ve been a roughing calling late in the game. Jones said he would be able to practice this week. Trevarris Saulsberry, Johnathon Johnson, Woody Quinn, Derrell Scott, Cody Blanc and Charles Mosley all didn’t dress Sunday due to injury.
The next step is taking on a short prep week to get ready for Arkansas State – a team coming off an 8-5 season and a 2014 season-opening 37-10 win over Montana State.
“The next evolution of this new football team is how can we handle this, put it to rest, and then come to work tomorrow with a short workweek [preparing] for a very good quality opponent, a very good football team that knows how to win in Arkansas State,” Jones said immediately after beating Utah State.
And speaking of the Arkansas State game, UT is set to host its 2014 Lettermen’s Fall Weekend, so expect a heavy dose of alumni in attendance on Saturday.
While this weekend may not have yielded any public commitments, it was a weekend that will pay huge dividends in recruiting for years to come. The Vols played host to nearly 30 recruits who made the trip to Knoxville for unofficial visits, nearly half of which were members of the 2016 class as the Vols are already well out in front of the curve for next year’s class. Sunday’s atmosphere leading up to the game, the sellout crowd, and subsequent whooping that Tennessee put on Utah State could not have been scripted any better in terms of their impact on recruiting. From all accounts we’ve heard, recruits in attendance were simply blown away by everything they saw in Knoxville.
The list, as best we have discovered, looked like this:
Class of 2015
Class of 2016
B.J. Emmons Rb
Mecole Hardman DB
Dillon Mitchell WR
Moe Neal RB
Marquill Osborne DB
Tariqious Tisdale LB
Donte Vaughn DB
Malik Walker DT
Antonio Williams RB
Joejuan Williams DB
To host this many prospects for unofficial visits is absolutely huge for Butch Jones and his program. This gives the recruits a chance to see and explore Tennessee once without using up one of Tennessee’s limited official visit spots as well as a chance for uncommitted players to meet and spend time with the current commits who come in for the game. A lot of that is planned by Butch Jones so that he can get feedback from his committed players on the character of certain recruits to see if they would be a good fit in his program and with the current class. There were a few cases last year where feedback from committed players and current team members about the behavior of certain recruits led the staff to pull offers or stop recruiting them all together.
There was an interesting development very early on Monday morning when 3-star defensive end Emmanuel Olenga put out a tweet that stated he was committing to the University of Tennessee. Olenga was expected to commit to the Vols back in the summer but failed to bring his transcript on a visit, forcing the staff to put his commitment on hold until they could verify his grades. We believe that Olenga’s current academic standing is not up to Tennessee’s standards and that the Vols are unable to accept a commitment from him at this time – that could change down the road if he can get his grades in order.
We are exactly one week away from Drew Richmond‘s announcement and it appears that things going down to the wire between Tennessee and Ole Miss for the 5-star offensive tackle. As we have mentioned before, Memphis hasn’t typically been the kindest of in-state areas to Tennessee over the years, and this battle with Richmond is again driving that point home. Ole Miss has an extremely strong contingent of supporters in the Memphis and greater-Memphis area and Tennessee has always been a tougher sell to recruits from that part of the state (See: Michael Oher, for example). Oxford is only a little over an hour away from Memphis, whereas Knoxville is closer to a six-hour drive that parents and family members have to make to visit or catch a game.
Richmond visited Ole Miss in mid-August and the Rebels have had some steady momentum in this race ever since, but it looks as if Tennessee has been right there every step of the way to counter their momentum. Regardless of who Richmond ultimately announces for next Tuesday, he has maintained that he will still be open to being recruited and taking visits to other schools, which means that Tennessee will still have a lot of work ahead of them either way – be it in an attempt to flip Richmond or make sure he doesn’t flip to someone else.
Lastly, as we mentioned on Saturday, Tennessee commit Kahlil McKenzie was ruled ineligible to play his senior season at Clayton Valley Charter School after transferring from De La Salle in his hometown of Concord, California. The ruling came after it was decided that McKenzie’s and several other players’ transfers were athletically motivated. McKenzie and the other players that were also ruled ineligible are expected to file an appeal in order to regain their eligible status, although it is unknown at this time how likely it would be for them to win that appeal.
The Vols hosted around 100 prospects this weekend, the majority of which were in attendance for Tennessee’s 38-7 win over Utah State Sunday evening. Tennessee’s previous coaching staff didn’t do a great job of showcasing the football program and that’s an area this staff will focus on. What better way to show a recruit what UT has to offer than to take them to a sold out drubbing of a solid football program? Their approach certainly paid dividends this weekend when they added two 2015 commitments and laid some important recruiting groundwork for the years to come.
Admiral Schofield, who made it known last week that he planned to commit if his visit went well, became the first 2015 commit of the Tyndall era when he made his pledge public before kickoff Sunday evening. A 6-5, 210-pound small forward from Zion, Illinois, Schofield is ranked as a 3-star prospect by Rivals and 247Sports. He had offers from West Virginia, Wichita State, Minnesota and a few other programs.
Shembari Phillips, a 6-4, 185-pound shooting guard from Tucker, Georgia, committed Monday. Like Schofield, he’s a 3-star prospect according to both Rivals and 247Sports. He has offers from Alabama, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Wichita State, Texas A&M and others.
While Schofield and Phillips may not wow you with their ratings, they’re both top-250 players nationally according to 247Sports and both solid players who fit Tyndall’s system. Tennessee’s 2015 class now ranks 49th nationally and 10th in the SEC.
The Vols are on an 8-hours a week training schedule through October 3rd – with two hours of on-court work and six-hours of off-court conditioning.