State of the Vols: Bama Week Edition

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    Neyland Stadium-1-5

     Football

    There was a sense all week that the Vols knew they were in for a massive challenge in Oxford on Saturday. Coaches and players spoke, in what seemed to be a very genuine and concerned tone, about the talent that Ole Miss has on its roster at nearly every position.

    That’s not to say the Vols went into the game defeated, but it was clear they knew it would take a perfect effort to pull off the upset.

    It obviously was anything but that as the Vols turned it over four times, fumbled it two other times that they recovered, gave up seven sacks and had enough mental errors to erase any realistic shot at a win. Butch Jones thought his team pushed a little too much at times and was thinking about trying to avoid the bad too much – causing the opposite effect.

    “I think we have some young men who are pressing right now and trying to play perfectly,” Jones said Saturday night. “That is not a world you want to live in. You want to play aggressively and not worry about making mistakes.”

    That challenge will continue next weekend in a big way when No. 4 Alabama comes to Knoxville with former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin leading the offense. Virtually nobody was picking the Vols to win the Alabama game before Saturday, but UT’s performance at Ole Miss coupled with Alabama’s dominant 59-0 win over Texas A&M over the weekend led to a 15.5 spread in favor of the Tide and a reminder of the uphill climb the Vols will have.

    Obviously the return of Kiffin will be a major storyline this week with fans and the media, though don’t expect it to be too big of a distraction with this team. Butch Jones will likely downplay it when asked about it in a media setting and will do as much as possible to avoid the issue. Remember, everybody from AD Dave Hart to a majority of the support staff around the program came to Knoxville after Kiffin’s abrupt departure in 2009.

    Redshirt senior offensive lineman Marques Pair, a seldom-used reserve, is the only scholarship player on the roster who committed to Kiffin in the recruiting process. Kiffin’s direct thumbprint has all but disappeared from the program from that standpoint.

    The Vols were banged up at several positions heading to Oxford and they’ll add a few injury concerns heading into this week. Quarterback Justin Worley indicated that he would be fine after the game Saturday night, though the training staff will perform some extra tests on his shoulder before he’s cleared to return to the practice field on Monday.

    On the offensive line, Coleman Thomas and Marcus Jackson both left the game and did not return. Early indications are that neither sustained a serious injury, though there’s slightly more concern about Thomas at this point. Butch Jones will have further updates on Monday afternoon.

    DT Owen Williams (thumb) got a few effective snaps in after being questionable all week. RB Marlin Lane (ankle) tried to give it a go in Oxford, but was taken out after a limited opportunity.

    Looking more long term, WR Cody Blanc and DT Charles Mosley both continue to make strong progress after suffering season-ending injuries before the season started. Both are upping their work in the strength and conditioning and are on track for a return, possibly as soon as spring practice.

    There have been a lot of questions about the status of Joshua Dobbs’ redshirt in light of Justin Worley’s performance on Saturday. We continue to hear that, at this point, there’s no plan to remove it and get him in the mix this year. That could obviously change due to injury or other unforeseen circumstances, but don’t expect any major announcements on that front.

    Same goes for junior offensive tackle Dontavius Blair, who is working with the developmental squad. The coaching staff is hopeful that adding strength and better understanding of the playbook will put Blair in position to compete for a spot in 2015.

    Finally, the RTI team would like to congratulate Peyton Manning on becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdown passes. He’s obviously a fantastic representative of the program and a classy individual. It was a huge night in Denver for some VFLs with Manning reaching TD No. 509 and Malik Jackson helping him celebrate with a sack of his own.

    Recruiting

    It’s always a little slower on the recruiting front when the Vols travel out of town, but this week’s trip to Memphis on Friday did allow Butch Jones an opportunity to stop by the University School of Memphis to take in Drew Richmond‘s game. The Vols flew to Memphis on Friday and stayed there before heading into Mississippi on Saturday for their matchup against Ole Miss, so it afforded Jones the perfect opportunity to squeeze in some extra work in recruiting the current Ole Miss commit and top-ranked recruit left on Tennessee’s board for the 2015 class.

    According to some people at the USM game on Friday, the crowd really responded well to Butch Jones being in attendance. So much so that they started cheers of “Butch Jones” and “It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol” at various time during the game in an obvious attempt by the locals to make sure Richmond knew how much he is wanted/needed in Knoxville. There has been a lot of talk about the Ole Miss pressure that Richmond has been receiving from folks in the Memphis area to be a Rebel, so Friday night’s events should at least serve as a reminder to Richmond that the home-state school won’t go quietly into the night.

    Also helping the Vols with Richmond and various other recruits that were at Saturday night’s game in Oxford was the amazing showing that Vol fans had inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. There was a pretty strong vibe all week that Tennessee would be well-represented at the game, but I don’t think anyone could have possibly guessed the degree in which that would prove true. Tennessee fans reportedly purchased over 11,000 tickets to this game through the university, and even more West Tennessee Vols looked to have scored some through various other channels because the crowd inside the stadium looked to be nearly 1/3rd orange.

    Obviously, Ole Miss won the game in convincing fashion, but for in-state recruits like Richmond, Cam Ordway and Kyle Phillips, I would have to think that the strong showing by Vol Nation will leave a lasting impact. Recruits notice things like this and word travels quickly among recruiting circles, so don’t be surprised to hear about this story again closer to signing day if Tennessee is able to pull a couple of players who were in attendance on Saturday night.

    Tennessee will obviously be hosting a large number of unofficial visitors in town for this weekend’s game against Alabama, but that list is ever-changing at this point and won’t likely be finalized until later this week (and even then things are always subject to change).We will have a more complete list of potential visitors later in the week, but certainly expect a healthy majority of the current commits to make it into town to help recruit players like Drew Richmond, Bryce Love and many more players from the 2015 and 2016 classes.

    Also, if you missed our Commitment Stats post from this weekend, I’d highly recommend you check out what some of Tennessee’s current commits are getting done at the high school ranks.

    For a taste of what some of the guys got don this week, heres a look at how quarterbacks Quinten Dormady and Jauan Jennings fared on the gridiron this past Friday night:

    QB Quinten Dormady: Dormady completed 10 of 20 passes, but was very efficient in the ones he did connect on, piling up 282 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT in Boerne’s 38-20 win over Fredericksburg. He also led Boerne on the ground with 94 yards on 13 carries and found the end zone on the ground as well. (via HSGameCenter.com)

    QB Jauan Jennings: Speaking of efficient, Jennings completed 9-of-10 passes for 247 yards and 4 TDs. He didn’t throw an incomplete pass until late in the third quarter. He also showed some humility and leadership after the game in his quote to the DNJ: “The receivers made great plays for me,” Jennings said. “All I had to do was just put it in the right spot. And they made spectacular catches. All the credit should go to the receivers and line.”

     Basketball

    The Vols hosted their media day last week and Tyndall, his staff and every player met with the media. We’ll be publishing video interviews with several players, with a focus on newcomers, every few days during the coming week or so. If you haven’t seen our video interview with Kevin Punter, make sure to check it out. He’s extremely likable and bound to be one of the key players on the roster the next two seasons.

    There haven’t been any apparent depth chart changes (remember, all depth chart reporting is unofficial) since last week. Both Punter and Richardson have been playing point guard the last week or so. If the season started today, they’d both see significant time at both point guard and shooting guard. Baulkman would probably start at the three, though Robert Hubbs has had a few good weeks of practice and is certainly in the hunt for a starting spot. Armani Moore would start at the four and Willie Carmichael the five.

    Behind those six, Derek Reese continues to improve. He’ll be in the rotation. Dominic Woodson continues to shed weight but has really struggled to “push through fatigue” as Tyndall worded it on Thursday. He’s got a ways to go before he can play significant minutes in Tyndall’s uptempo system, but he looks like he’s on the right track.

    True freshman Tariq Owens, who stands at 6-10 but weighs just 210 pounds, leads the team in blocks in practice and looks to be in line for some time off the bench. Ideally, they’d redshirt Owens and allow him to put on some weight (he’s one of the skinniest players we’ve ever seen) but they’re just not in a place to do that. Owens’ length and athleticism is something the Vols haven’t featured in the paint in some time. He’s going to make an impact and has enormous upside.

    Tennessee still doesn’t know if point guard Braxton Bonds will be eligible this season. They expect to hear back from the NCAA in the next two to four weeks. If he’s eligible, Tyndall said Thursday that he will play and should help this team.

    Big Orange Madness will take place on Friday. Doors to Thompson-Boling Arena open at 6 pm and the event will tip off at 7 pm. Admission and parking are free. Fans are encouraged to park in G-10, G-3, G4 or G5. Vehicles without football gameday permits have to be moved from all lots by 11 p.m. that night.

    Both the Vols and Lady Vols will participate in the event. Fans will be able to watch each team scrimmage for about 10-15 minutes plus see 3-point and dunk contests. There will also be a designated time for players to sign autographs and meet with fans.