State of the Vols: Post-Oklahoma Edition

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     Football

    Saturday night went largely according to script. Sure, the 72-man travel squad and the coaching staff truly believed they could leave Norman with a win and that confidence showed up throughout the week of practice and during stretches of Tennessee’s 34-10 loss to the Sooners.

    But the loss was still a reminder that rebuilding is a process. We have extensive grades posted and more film analysis coming, but it was plain to see that the Vols’ inexperienced offensive line was overmatched. That and a few other costly mistakes were some of the primary factors in the loss.

    Still, the Vols leave Oklahoma feeling better than they did after the trip to Oregon last season. They battled the No. 4 team in the nation into the fourth quarter and certainly were a play or two from making it interesting.

    “I’m proud of the way our guys fought,” Butch Jones said after the game. “It’ll be a great reference point moving on, for what it takes to play winning football on the road, and giving yourself an opportunity to win the football game. You can’t have mistakes; you can’t have mistakes at critical moments in the game. I thought our special teams improved a little bit. It was great to see [the] blocked field goal. We will go back and work to be a better football team in this bye week.”

    And though Justin Worley clearly carried at least some of the blame for a few critical errors, his gutsy performance and leadership were evident. Perhaps most notable was the way he stood up for his offensive line – not pointing any fingers or putting the blame on them.

    That was noticed by teammates and coaches alike, and did nothing but give him more credibility in the leadership realm.

    IMG_6113There obviously was a lot of commentary on the officiating – particularly the lack of holding calls and the questionable non-fumble call against Oklahoma late in the second quarter. While we in no way mean to insinuate that the officiating cost UT the game, we did find out via a source that Tennessee sent a film to the SEC officiating crew before the game to point out some things the Vols thought Oklahoma did illegally on a regular basis. We don’t know the complete contents of that film, but found that point notable in light of the discussion on the issue.

    Jersey talk was also popular this week after Adidas released a fairly unpopular new Smokey Gray uniform to retailers. We don’t know UT’s exact plans with the jerseys, though we were told there’s no official confirmation that they will wear those, and as a reminder from last year, the version released in stores isn’t always the same – or even that close necessarily – to what Tennessee would actually wear.

    So while we can’t rule out some of those new jersey elements being incorporated, don’t expect the Vols to take the field wearing exactly what you’ve seen so far.

    Tennessee came out of the Oklahoma game pretty healthy. Tight end Ethan Wolf was available to play, but the coaches and trainers decided taking this week and the bye week was the best option to get his knee back to 100%.

    Von Pearson (ankle) didn’t make an appearance during the open practice last week and didn’t travel to Oklahoma. We’ve been told he’s still struggling to put a lot of weight on it. We don’t want to speculate too much on a return for him since we haven’t even seen him try to practice on it, but the Georgia game might be a bit optimistic at this point. Keep checking out practice videos/reports for updates on that the next couple weeks.

    There’s a good chance freshman running back Derrell Scott could make his collegiate debut at UGA in two weeks. Defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry also made some big steps in rehab this past week. Butch Jones called his return “down the road” last week, but it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to say he could return to practicing soon and possibly play sooner than later.

    The bye week will provide a chance to heal a few other bumps and bruises and the Vols will get a chance to return to some fundamentals work while getting a jump start on UGA prep. Needless to say, the Bulldogs’ rushing attack will be at the forefront of Tennessee’s mind.

     Recruiting

    The biggest news of the week came on Tuesday when Memphis offensive tackle and top-rated instate prospect Drew Richmond selected Ole Miss over Tennessee and Ohio State. Tennessee appeared to be in terrific shape for Richmond over the summer until a few weeks ago when an unofficial visit to Oxford in mid-August swung momentum in favor of the Rebels.

    The interesting thing about Richmond’s commitment to Ole Miss is that I wouldn’t exactly count him as a firm commitment at this point.  What I mean by that is that Richmond is still going to take visits to other schools over the fall and still allow coaches from other schools to recruit him up until he signs his letter of intent. Richmond has said that he still plans on visiting Tennessee this fall, so I certainly wouldn’t count the Vols out in this race. Keep in mind that there is a strong Ole Miss contingent in Memphis who are putting a lot of pressure on Richmond to be a Rebel and there is a possibility that his early commitment to Ole Miss is a way for him to subdue some of that pressure down the stretch. There’s no guarantee that this is what’s going on here, but in talking with some people this week I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.

    In fact, while Richmond was on an unofficial visit to Ole Miss this weekend, he sent out this tweet during the Tennessee vs. Oklahoma game:

    And as Tennessee’s offensive line continued to struggle later in the first half, Richmond tweeted out the following:


    Hardly what you would expect from a recruit who just committed to an in-conference rival.

    Regardless of what happens in the end with the Vols and Richmond, however, Tennessee does have some other names on their list along the offensive line that they will likely turn their focus towards in the wake of his announcement. Here are some of the names to keep an eye on:

    Patrick Allen: Allen is currently committed to Georgia, but has left the door open for other schools to continue recruiting him until signing day. Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan and Tennessee were his top-5 before he ultimately decided on Georgia. The Vols will have some ground to make up in order to have any real shot with Allen, but they at least have a chance as Allen as said his recruitment is still open and he will likely use all five official visits.

    Alex Givens: In April Givens claimed a top-3 of Auburn, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt until Tennessee offered the in-state tackle and gave him something to think about. He also committed to Ole Miss this week, but the Vols will continue to recruit him up until signing day. 

    Marquell Harrell: Harrell committed to Ole Miss early in the recruiting process but backed off of that commitment and committed to Auburn in April. With Tennessee receiving a commitment from his teammate, Venzell Boulware, and having signed his former teammates Elliott and Evan Berry in 2014, look for the Vols to remain in the mix for Harrell until the end. Harrell projects as a guard, but is a talented player that the staff could certainly try flip after the loss of Richmond. 

    Isaiah Prince: Prince recently narrowed his list of schools to Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Ohio State and Tennessee. He had planned to have a decision made before his senior season began, but has since delayed that in order to weigh his options. Prince wants to be sure to visit each school before making his final decision, so expect him to take some officials during the coming months. Even though they lost some ground when they shifted most of their efforts towards Drew Richmond, if the Vols can secure a visit they’ll have a chance with Prince.

    Some other names that may emerge if the Vols can’t have some success with the names mentioned above are Michael Howard, Emanuel McGirt, and William Sweet. We will be following this one closely and hope to have even more details on the o-line recruiting plans in the coming days. 

    In other recruiting news this weekend, Vol running back commit Alvin Kamara and Hutchinson Community College ended a 23-game losing streak to rivals Butler Community College on Saturday behind Kamara’s 143 rushing yards and receiving touchdown in the third quarter that cut Butler’s lead to a single point. Kamara averaged 5.1 yards per carry while also adding two kickoff returns for 40 yards as Hutchinson would go on to win the game 35-26.

    Editor’s note: The basketball portion of SOTV will return soon.