It’s difficult to find a more impressive stretch of about 150 minutes of game time than what the Vols are coming off of right now.
Dating back to about the second quarter of the Alabama game, the Vols have put together some of their best football since really the early 2000s with possibly a few exceptions.
In that span, the Vols put a scare into Alabama after the Tide built an early 27-0 lead, won an unlikely game at South Carolina where their odds of winning at one point in the fourth quarter (per ESPN) were down to 0.9% and then waxed Kentucky on Saturday by a 50-16 margin, their largest SEC win since 2010.
In the process the Vols have gained national attention as an up-and-coming program that will be set to contend at least in the SEC East next season. But while all that has occurred, this is still a team looking to secure even a bowl berth this year. That’s a task that now looks infinitely easier than it did a few weeks ago with the Vols now just needing a win over lowly Vanderbilt to get it done.
But while it’s nice to have that safety net, the Vols are thinking much bigger with Missouri, a team that is in control of its own destiny in the SEC East but opened as a three-point underdog to the Vols, coming to Knoxville next weekend.
Tennessee will likely be without starting center Mack Crowder when the Tigers come to town. Crowder, at best, has a sprained ankle and there are more tests to be done on his knee. No confirmation if anything is torn in there, but the redshirt junior crutched out of Neyland Stadium Saturday night unable to put much weight on his injured leg that got rolled up during the Kentucky game. Decent chance that at least his regular season is done and we should know by Monday if it’s more serious than that. Reserve guard Austin Sanders also suffered an ankle sprain, leaving the Vols with less depth on the o-line.
It might be as simple as plugging in Dylan Wiesman at center and going forward with the rest of the same offensive line. The Vols like to cross-train their offensive linemen, however, and there are several options of guys they could move around to mix and match to find their best five. Marcus Jackson, Coleman Thomas and Kyler Kerbyson can all player center, but look for the Vols to give Wiesman the first crack there to keep a gelling offensive front a chance to stay as much together as possible.
Corey Vereen was able to walk around on his own power after sustaining a lower-leg injury against UK, though he didn’t return to the game. We’ll continue to monitor his status going forward, though it doesn’t appear to be anything too serious.
Marquez North, Derrell Scott, Trevarris Saulsberry and Devrin Young are other players we’ll be keeping an eye on this week. North (shoulder) played early against UK, but was held without a catch in limited action as he didn’t seem to be back to 100 percent yet. Saulsberry got some running in last week, so we’ll see if he can get back to practice any this week.
While Joshua Dobbs continues to rack up praise locally and nationally, next week’s game against Missouri will be a great test of how far he’s come. Not to diminish anything he’s done so far – he’s been spectacular in every sense of the word – but the Tigers will be the first highly-ranked SEC defense that’s had time to prep for the sophomore quarterback. The Tigers, needing two wins to return to Atlanta, will certainly be motivated in this one as well.
In future roster news, as speculated when Micah Abernathy committed to Tennessee this fall, the Vols will, indeed, be receiving somewhat of a package with his older brother Ralph David Abernathy IV planning to be a graduate transfer to UT who will be eligible in 2015, according to report from both 247Sports and the Cincinnati-Enquirer.
What are the Vols getting? The somewhat diminutive (5-7, 160 pounds) Abernathy IV is a dynamic player who originally signed with Butch Jones at Cincinnati and was somewhat of a Swiss Army Knife for Jones and Bajakian with the Bearcats. He played receiver, running back and returned kicks. He finished his Cincinnati career with 917 rushing yards, 540 receiving yards, a 25.1-yard-per kickoff return average on 87 career attempts and 13 total touchdowns, including a kickoff return for a score against Vanderbilt in the 2011 Liberty Bowl.
It could be a stretch to call him a likely impact player on the 2015 roster at this point as he is taking a medical hardship this season with hamstring issues. But having a multi-talented player who knows Jones’ offense and can add depth and competition at several spots is a promising development for what already looks to be a talented 2015 roster.
The Donnie Tyndall Era officially tipped off on Friday when the Vols fell to No. 15 VCU. If Friday’s game is any indication, the young Vols will play with a ton of energy for 40 minutes this season. Down 20 points in the second half, they fought back and cut the lead to eight on multiple occasions. Tennessee also bested last year’s single-game highs in turnovers forced (18) and turnovers committed (19).
Texas Southern comes to Knoxville Thursday at 7 pm for Tennessee’s home opener (TV: Fox Sports Net). The Vols practice Monday afternoon in preparation for that matchup – we’ll be there with coverage.
Tuesday, the NCAA will speak with Tyndall about his involvement in alleged violations committed by Southern Miss basketball during his time there. If you missed any of our coverage on the front you can catch up here.
As Daniel wrote above, the Vols will be adding Ralph David Abernathy IV to the roster for next season. Ralph David is the brother of current Vol commit Micah Abernathy, who committed to Tennessee in early October.
Ironically, Ralph David isn’t the only player giving Tennessee a look because of Butch Jones and Micah.
This weekend saw a rather new, but surging name on Tennessee’s wide receiver recruiting board in tow tos check out the Vols. Darius Slayton is a 6-2, 180 pound receiver and current teammate of Micah Abernathy at Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross, GA.
The Vols have been looking for another receiver to add to the 2015 for a few months now, and Slayton has emerged as a player to keep an eye on over the coming weeks/months. Slayton is an incredibly gifted athlete who currently plays both cornerback and wide receiver for his GACS squad. A quick look at his film (imbedded below) reveals an acrobatic, athletic and speedy receiver with a knack for adjusting to the football and making difficult catches look routine.
Tennessee currently finds themselves in a battle with Georgia and Auburn for Slayton’s services, with LSU and South Carolina seemingly a bit behind. Slayton spent the entire weekend in Knoxville for the Vols huge win over Kentucky and he came away very impressed with what he saw on Rocky Top. After his visit, he tweeted out a picture of himself in Tennessee’s locker room wearing a gray jersey which read, “Knoxville it’s been fun these past two days amazing school and fans. #GoVolss #BrickByBrick.”
Look for the coaching staff to turn the heat up on Slayton in the coming weeks. The Vols are currently carrying some momentum with the talented wideout, but will have to withstand an upcoming visit to South Carolina to remain in good shape.
As far as his skill set, Slayton is a little bit of a late bloomer and didn’t really start picking up serious offers until February of last year. He is a bit raw from a technique and fundamental standpoint, but with continued development and proper coaching he is a player who possesses a very high ceiling. Here’s a look at his junior highlight tape:
Another name to keep on eye on over the next few months as a player who the Vols are gaining some momentum with is Indianapolis (Lawrence Central High School) inside linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. Kirkland is 6-2, 235 pounds and is an extremely disciplined player for his age/experience level. Ole Miss and Tennessee look to be among his leaders at this point, and are probably slightly ahead of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State and Texas – but this recruitment still has a long way to go before reaching the finish line.
Kirkland originally committed to Michigan back in may, but after the Wolverines’ inauspicious start to the season which ignited rumors of head coach Brady Hoke being on his way out, Kirkland decommitted at the beginning of November. Kirkland will be in town this weekend to take in Tennessee’s game against Missouri, so the Vols will have a chance to make an impression with him as he wraps up his final visits of the year. Kirkland has already seen Ole Miss and Oklahoma, and will take a visit to Texas during the first week of December. His final visit has not yet been decided, but is likely between Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Southern Cal and Virginia Tech.
Here’s a look at Kirkland’s film from his junior season.
Finally, If you missed our commitment stats post from Saturday, I would highly recommend that you take a look at it. Rocky Reid had another mammoth weekend and Vincent Perry appears to have turned into to go-to offensive weapon for his Hillsboro team as they are hitting the playoffs playing some of their best football of the season.