-We are about twenty minutes from kickoff between the Vols and Rebels. The skies are clear and the weather is perfect for football. There are quite a few Vol fans in attendance for this one, as there were reportedly more than 11,000 tickets purchased by the Big Orange faithful for this matchup. The Vols will be wearing the all-white ‘stormtrooper’ uniforms for tonight’s game.
-JUCO transfer offensive lineman Dontavius Blair was not among the 10 offensive linemen that traveled with the team to Oxford, but senior offensive tackle Jacob Gilliam was. Gilliam is still recovering from an ACL tear he suffered against Utah State in the first game of the season.
-Tennessee’s captains were Justin Worley, Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson.
-Injury notes: Senior running back Marlin lane is on the field and participating in warmups with heavy tape on both of his ankles. Owen Williams was not seen on the field during warmups with the defensive linemen. Update: Owen Williams later joined the team and participated in warmups.
1st quarter thoughts:
Wow….probably not what people expected. The game is tied, and Tennessee’s defense and special teams are saving the day as the offense has continued their struggles early against the Rebels. The Vols have just two first downs and 66 total yards in the quarter thanks to -3 yards rushing to start the game. Justin Worley threw an interception in Ole Miss territory while rolling out to his left and has looked rattled at times. BUT, the Tennessee defense has been more than impressive to start this one; holding Ole Miss to just 46 yards on 20 plays. A.J. Johnson and Cam Sutton are off to an incredibly strong start to this one, as well as Curt Maggitt and Corey Vereen. This team is playing with a different attitude defensively.
2nd quarter thoughts:
The Vols started the second quarter with all the momentum and ended it just trying to get to the locker room. The Vols moved into the red zone early in the quarter, but an odd play where Justin Worley ended up running into right tackle Coleman Thomas knocked them back out of it and they eventually settled for a short field from Aaron Medley and a 3-0 lead. A couple possessions later, a four-play drive by Ole Miss turned the momentum in the Rebels’ favor. Bo Wallace hit Vince Sanders, who was matched up against Emmanuel Moseley both times, for two long passes, including a 39-yard touchdown strike. Worley forced one on the next drive – a floating pass that was easily picked by Ole Miss CB Senquez Golsen and returned for good field position. The Rebels went on the ground this time, running on four out of five plays to find the end zone for a second time an a 14-3 lead. Jacob Gilliam made his return to the lineup at right tackle late in the second quarter, playing for the first time on a torn ACL, but he was blown by for a sack late in the second quarter. The Rebels got the ball back and, after an interesting timeout by Butch Jones with 3 seconds remaining, had a shot at a long field goal, but missed it as the half expired. Field position was a big factor in that quarter. The Rebels finally got out of a hole and that helped them jump-start their offense. Worley must make better decisions and the Vols are out of ideas on the offensive line. It’s in really bad shape and the early returns are that Gilliam won’t be much of an answer for them at this point. It’s hard to call the game over at 14-3, but the Vols will have to figure out something on offense to have any kind of chance tonight.
3rd quarter thoughts:
Things just keep going from bad to worse for Tennessee in this one. To this point, there has been nothing that has has worked consistently for Tennessee offensively and the Ole Miss defense is swarming. An interception by Justin Worley early in the quarter stalled a Tennessee drive around midfield, and Ole Miss would add a field goal later after a 40-yard drive by the Rebels. The bottom fell out for Tennessee on the ensuing kickoff, however, when Evan Berry fumbled the football during the return. Ole Miss recovered the ball at the Tennessee 28 and needed only one play for Bo Wallace to find Evan Engram for the touchdown. At this point in the game, Tennessee’s offensive line is getting dominated and the defense is beginning to wear down after being on the field so much. The key for Tennessee down the stretch will be to contain the big play attempts by Ole Miss and try to figure something out to score some points offensively. With injuries along the offensive line, it doesn’t look like there are too many options for Tennessee on offense right now. So, scoring any points at all would be a ‘win’ for that group.
Just a tough matchup for Tennessee all around at this point, and the Rebels are starting to hit their stride and flex some muscle.
4th quarter thoughts:
Not a ton to add as the Vols went pretty quietly into the Oxford night. The Rebels tacked on a field goal to build a 24-point lead early in the quarter. The Vols, who had to replace Justin Worley with Nathan Peterman at QB after Worley went down hard on his shoulder, made it past midfield, but their fourth-down attempted run by Derrell Scott was stuffed well short of the first-down marker – not that the Vols had enough time or offensive firepower to mount any kind of a comeback at that point anyhow. The Rebels added a garbage-time touchdown when running back Mark Dodson took it in from 8 yards out to stretch the lead to its final margin of 34-3. Worley and right tackle Coleman Thomas will be two injury concerns going forward. That throws even more questions at the two positions that are under the most scrutiny right now.