State of the Vols: One Game Season Edition

    by -

    Curt Maggitt-1

     Football

    A somewhat tumultuous week in Knoxville ended with a 29-21 loss to Missouri – not a completely stunning result, but also a disappointing finish for a team that came into this week sky high with confidence.

    Missouri did what the Tigers know how to do – findingd a way to get the win on the road, even if it wasn’t always pretty. It was key for the Vols to protect the football and limit mistakes and Tennessee simply had too many turnovers and mistakes to overcome a Missouri team that was particularly dominant on defense.

    Remember that this was the first quality defense that’s had an opportunity to prepare for Joshua Dobbs and Tennessee’s new-look offense. That’s not to diminish what the offense has done, or its potential, but it was a reminder that there’s still work to do on the offensive side of the ball, particularly when it comes to the offensive line.

    The Vols are obviously missing a lot of players for various reasons going forward. Starting with A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who remain indefinitely suspended amidst their legal situation. It’s too early to say how this is going to play out for everybody involved, but we know the District Attorney’s Office will have the final say of if any charges are pressed.

    What we don’t know is the exact timing of that process. It’ll be a waiting game for everybody involved going forward, but as of late Sunday night, all we can say for certain is that no arrests have been made and no charges have been pressed and the players will remain suspended in the meantime. Johnson, a senior, was not honored on Senior Night prior to the Missouri game.

    Injuries have piled up as well. Receiver Marquez North (shoulder) is done for the season after seeing limited action since the South Carolina game. Butch Jones didn’t elaborate on the injury, though damage to the labrum – the same injury as Dillon Bates and Justin Worley – is the likely culprit.

    The not dressed list was significant for the Vols against Missouri: North, Mack Crowder, Derrell Scott, Trevarris Saulsberry, Geraldo Orta, Devrin Young, Drae Bowles, Austin Sanders, A.J. Branisel, Justin Worley, Dillon Bates, Josh Smith, Cody Blanc and Charles Mosley were among the scholarship players out.

    Safety Brian Randolph spent the first half of the game in the coaches’ office on a stationary bike watching the game before returning for the second half after serving his suspension for a targeting penalty the prior week against Kentucky.

    That also doesn’t include freshmen defensive linemen Joe Henderson and Michael Sawyers, who are not currently practicing with the team.

    The Vols honored 18 seniors on Saturday night and redshirt junior Geraldo Orta was included on the list. We don’t have details on it at this point, but that would indicate that he will be moving on after this season, possibly as a graduate transfer or perhaps just ending his career. Look for some movement over the offseason as the Vols try to bring in another full recruiting class and squeeze everybody in under the 85 scholarship limit.

    Tennessee had an official attendance of 95,821 on Saturday night, giving the Vols an average home attendance of 99,753 this season. That’s a significant upgrade over the 2013 average of 95,584. The Vols fell just short of setting a post-Philip Fulmer attendance record, which was set in Derek Dooley’s first year in 2010 with 99,781 per game. It was so close that had the Vols averaged just 28 more fans per game this year, or if Missouri hadn’t returned such as large chunk of their allotment for this game, the Vols would’ve had it. Still a solid year on that front and something that Butch Jones will be able to use in recruiting and marketing the program.

    It’ll be mostly business as usual for the team this week. The Vols will go through their normal routine, including some work on Thanksgiving Day with some sort of team meal and activity set on Thursday. The Vols will head to Nashville on Friday to make final preparations for their game with the Commodores, which Tennessee has opened as a 14.5-point favorite in.

    It’s a one-game season for the Vols at this point with a win likely sending Tennessee to its first bowl appearance since 2010. We say likely because the SEC only has 10 guaranteed bowl tie-ins and as many as 13 teams that will be bowl eligible. The Vols are a natural fit for several bowls and we don’t see them getting passed up for one of the SEC-affiliated bowls, but even if they did, the SEC has expressed optimism that it will be able to place teams in other non-SEC affiliated bowls.

     Basketball

    Donnie Tyndall’s Vols got off to a slow start against Texas Southern on Thursday night but closed strong on the way to a 70-58 victory. Four Vols scored in double figures (Richardson, Carmichael, Punter and Moore). Tennessee won the turnover battle 13-8 while out rebounding Texas Southern 40-27.

    Rebounding was a big emphasis in practice last week after getting punished on the glass by VCU. The Vols certainly took a step forward in the right direction in that area. They’re still learning Tyndall’s zone and his offense, they should only get better as the season progresses.

    Tennessee heads to Orlando this week for the Orlando Classic. The Vols will face Santa Clara, of the West Coast Conference, Thursday at 12 pm (TV: ESPN2). The Broncos are coached by Kerry Keating – he was an assistant at Tennessee from 2001-2003. They went 14-19 last season and are picked to finish 7th in the conference by CBSSports. Look for their backcourt to cause problems for the Vols at times. Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark are two of the best guards in the conference and will take the majority of the shots for the Broncos. Tennessee’s front court, especially if Dominic Woodson is back from the hand injury that sidelined him last week, should dominate the boards and the paint against undersized Santa Clara. The Broncos will play four guards much of the time and Tennessee will have a size and athletic advantage. The corner three has hurt the Vols this season and that’s an area they’ll have to defend well against a team that shoots 41.1% from 3. If the Vols win, they should face No. 5 Kansas in round 2.

    In other news, the NCAA was in town last week to speak with Donnie Tyndall. While we don’t know details about the meeting, we do know that the nature of the allegations are very serious. Before the NCAA came to town, sources close to the investigation on both the Tennessee and Southern Miss sides indicated that nothing serious would come from this – that tone changed after Tuesday’s meeting when sources relayed that NCAA penalties might just be unavoidable for Tyndall. How serious could those be? No one knows at this point. We’ll obviously keep you posted as we hear more.

     Recruiting

    Last week got off to an interesting start when 2015 linebacker commit Cecil Cherry took to twitter and started talking about how “at home” he felt at the University of Texas after taking his official visit to Austin on the weekend of November 7th. Cherry has been committed to Tennessee since June, but it now seems like only a matter of time until an official decommitment is announced. Cherry had been one of Tennessee’s most vocal commits on Twitter, constantly recruiting other prospects to join him in the 2015 class, but that tone really changed after his visit to check out the Longhorns. Cherry even went so far as to call Texas his “dream school” and said that he grew up watching players like Colt McCoy and Vince Young. Here’s an excerpt of what Cherry said in a recent interview with Jamie Newberg of Scout.com:

    “Believe it or not Texas is my dream school,” Cherry said. “I have loved them ever since I was little. I am a huge fan of Vince Young and Colt McCoy. It’s those guys that had me loving Texas. I remember when they played in the national title game.

    “Coach [Charlie] Strong is just an amazing person. He keeps it real and he’s so genuine. Coach Strong tells it like it is. He’s just a wonderful man and we all know what a great coach he is. He knows what he’s looking for and that can come from different places. Look at me, I am a guy from Polk County in Florida and they want me. Then again, coach Strong knows better than anyone what kind of players come from Polk County.”

    Cherry maintained that he is still committed to Tennessee and actually had a lot of positive things to say about the school and Butch Jones in that interview, but, as mentioned above, this doesn’t look like a commitment that will last much longer.

    Here’s the link to the full interview: Cherry Talks Texas.

    That may not be all bad for Tennessee and Tennessee fans, as there appears to be a new leader on Tennessee’s recruiting board to fill the void at middle linebacker for the 2015 class.

    Darrin Kirkland Jr. decommitted from Michigan on November 6th and took his official visit to Knoxville this weekend for the Missouri game. Obviously, the on-field results weren’t what the Vols were hoping for, but they did leave a huge impression on Kirkland.

    Here’s what Kirkland tweeted at the conclusion of his visit:

    “Couldn’t ask for a better weekend here on #RockyTop. #VolNation, Coach Butch has something special just wait!”

    At this point, it would appear that Tennessee has put itself in terrific position to land Kirkland’s signature come National Signing Day on February 4th. He still has official visits scheduled to Texas and Southern Cal between now and mid-December, but Tennessee certainly helped their cause this weekend.

    The Vols also got good news from 2016 outside linebacker prospect Emanuel Bridges gave his pledge to the Vols. Bridges visited Tennessee last week and decided to pull the trigger and gave Butch Jones his verbal commitment on Sunday morning. Here’s the link to the complete story on Emanuel Bridgess’ commitment, including video, rankings and analysis from the RTI crew.

    Bridges is close friends with another top target for the Vols in the 2016 class; 4-star defensive end Emmit Gooden from Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tennessee (between Jackson and Memphis). Gooden was also in town this weekend on an unofficial visit to check out the Vols. Gooden is a player that you can expect to hear a lot about in the next year or so, as the Vols look to be firmly locked among his top schools alongside programs like Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Gooden was raving about his visit on twitter, and tweeted out this picture of him and Butch Jones together on Sunday morning:

    Tennessee still has a long way to go in convincing Gooden to stay in the state of Tennessee to play his college ball, but it’s clear that he enjoyed his time in Knoxville this weekend.

    Another in-state defensive end was also in Knoxville this weekend to check out the Missouri game, as Kyle Phillips made the trip from Nashville on Saturday afternoon before heading back on Sunday. This was originally supposed to be Phillips’ official visit, but the coaching staff has convinced him to move his official visit back to the weekend of December 12th. This is huge news for the Vols because Phillips is an early enrollee, and by rescheduling the visit Tennessee now looks like they will get Kyle’s final visit before he makes his decision and enrolls at his school of choice in late December/Early January.

    At this point, it looks like Tennessee persistency in the recruiting process may have them slightly ahead of schools like Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss. He has already officially visited Ole Miss and LSU, but hasn’t yet set a date for his official visit to Alabama. A lot can happen between now and his decision, but Tennessee getting the last visit before he makes his decision has to be viewed as a win for Butch Jones and his staff.

    Finally, if you missed our compilation of commitment stats from Saturday morning, give it a look to see how some future Vols faired in their playoff games on Friday night: Commitment Stats.