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VOL. 38 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 10, 2014

After Florida, how do fans, players get excited about UTC?

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Look around the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium about mid-afternoon Saturday.

No more human orange-and-white checkerboard in the stands. Some empty seats, for sure. The most diehard of UT football fans will turn out to cheer for their beloved Vols against Tennessee-Chattanooga.

It will be painful, in a way.

Think about the atmosphere last Saturday: a sellout crowd of 102,455 fans filled Neyland Stadium, most of them wearing orange or white, forming a wonderful checkerboard, festive in anticipation of a victory over Florida.

It was the day UT could end a nine-game losing streak against the Gators, and perhaps get coach Will Muschamp fired.

We all know it didn’t happen that way. More like: Vols flounder against an average (or bad) Florida team, muster three field goals and lose 10-9 in the fourth quarter against a backup quarterback.

Boy, did that one hurt, probably more for UT fans than any other during the current losing streak to Florida.

Now, they try to get excited for UTC, which is ranked No. 12/13 nationally in Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). That means it’s a really good FCS/I-AA team, but not a team that should be too competitive against an SEC team like Tennessee on a normal Saturday afternoon.

The Mocs (3-2) opened the season with a 20-16 loss to Central Michigan and a 26-23 overtime loss to Jacksonville State, a top-10 FCS team. Since then, they have victories over Austin Peay, Samford, and Virginia Military Institute.

“Mission remains the same,” UT coach Butch Jones says. “We talk about being relentless. We talk about not going away. It’s just one game (the Florida loss), and in this conference and in college football, every game, every week is a new season in and of itself, so we have to keep pressing along.”

It would have been a lot more fun pressing along this week, waiting for UTC at Neyland Stadium, but Florida played spoiler yet again.

Instead of an upbeat, inspired week, the Vols (2-3, 0-2 SEC) were left on the rebound against a team nobody outside of Chattanooga thinks can win.

UT won’t have to worry about being the heavy favorite for long, though. After the Mocs, they play at Ole Miss, at home against Alabama and at South Carolina.

Jones maintains his same approach: one day at a time, one game at a time.

“All our focus and energy is on Chattanooga,” Jones says. “That’s it. We have to be a better football team. We must get better this week and we must play winning football on Saturday. That’s our entire focus. It’s on Chattanooga.”

The Vols have plenty to work on after the loss to Florida.

Where to start?

  • The offensive line broke down again.
  • Quarterback Justin Worley threw two interceptions – one on the potential winning drive.
  • UT couldn’t run the football.
  • And at crunch time, the Vols couldn’t stop freshman quarterback Treon Harris.

“For us, how do we respond?” Jones says. “What’s our leadership like? This is the first time this football team has faced some adversity and some noise and some clutter, and how do we respond? I know our football team pretty well, and I think they’ll respond ready to go.

“There’s many things we have to fix and improve on. This week it’s going to be about ourselves and continuing to get better against a good Chattanooga football team that’s ranked (13/14) in the country.

“But everyone wants the prize, but no one wants the process, and we’re going through that process right now.”

Jones can dismiss the Florida loss as just one game, but in the all-important quest of six wins and bowl eligibility, it was a big blow. A victory against the Gators would have given UT some breathing room in November.

Instead, the Vols’ may need victories over Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt in their last three games to be bowl eligible. That’s assuming UT beats UTC and loses to Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina.

Jones says his players took the Florida loss as hard as fans.

“Again, when you invest as much as these young men have invested in victory and invested in this football program, when you lose, it should hurt,” he explains.

“You play the game to win the football game. You expect to win. This football team isn’t hoping to win. They believe they’re going to win every time they step out on the football field.

“So it should hurt, and I think that’s been the progression of our football program. You want to see that hurt. Now, it’s how do we respond?”

Good question.

And how will fans respond?

There would have been a much different vibe this week in Vol Nation – getting ready for Saturday’s game against UTC and for the rest of the season – if not for another missed chance against Florida.

Key matchups

UT pass protection vs. Mocs’ pressure: Worley was sacked six times against Florida. He also and gave up a costly fumble while getting blindsided under pressure. UT’s quarterbacks have been sacked 18 times this season.

Jones will stick with the same starting offensive line for the UTC game: freshman Coleman Thomas at right tackle, freshman Jashon Robertson at right guard, junior Mack Crowder at center, junior Marcus Jackson at left guard, and junior Kyler Kerbyson at left tackle.

“It is what it is,” Jones says of the line. “Those are the five that we have. Those are the five that we feel gives us the best opportunity on Saturdays and we’re sticking to those five.

“It’s the onus on those other individuals (backups) at the offensive line to continue to work themselves to be in that conversation through their week in preparation.

Tennessee defensive back Cameron Sutton walks off the field after the Vols’ 10-9 loss to Florida on Saturday, a game they appeared to have in hand until the fourth quarter.

-- Ap Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Saul Young

“We’re down two full recruiting classes in the offensive line. That’s just the realities of where we’re at with our football program.”

Chattanooga won’t bring near the pressure the Vols have seen the past three games against Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida, so maybe this is a game the line can gain some confidence.

The Mocs’ best defensive player – and one of the best in the FCS -- is defensive end Davis Tull, a 6-3, 240-pound senior out of Knoxville Bearden High School.

Tull is the two-time Southern Conference defensive player of the year and two-time FCS All-American. He has five of the Mocs’ 12 sacks this season and had six tackles (one for loss) in UTC’s loss in the season opener at Central Michigan, where Jones was an assistant coach (1998-2004) and head coach (2007-09).

“He’s a very, very good football player,” Jones says of Tull. “A lot of the people from Central Michigan after their game called me and said this young man is a very, very talented football player.

“When you watch him on film, he plays with effort, and he plays with toughness. He has the mentality to be disruptive and rush the passer as well. I’ve been very, very impressed with him. Good football player.”

UT run game vs. Mocs’ front 7: The Vols’ run game was terrible against Florida. During the 10-game losing streak to Florida, Tennessee has been outrushed in every game.

This time, the Vols gained 28 net rushing yards on 29 carries (which includes the minus-45 yards on Worley’s six sacks).

UT is averaging 107 rushing yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry. The Vols rushed for 117 yards against Georgia and 112 against Oklahoma and have averaged 2.7 yards per carry during the three-game losing streak.

Jalen Hurd, a true freshman from Hendersonville’s Beech High School, got his first start against Florida and rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries. Marlin Lane gained 23 yards on 10 carries, giving the Vols’ only two true running backs a combined 3.1-yard average.

Jones said freshman Derrell Scott could get his first carries against the Mocs. Scott rushed for 6,145 yards and 87 touchdowns in his career at Havelock (N.C.) High School.

“In this conference, you can’t have one running back,” Jones says. “You need to have three or four. Derrell Scott continues to develop, and you’ll probably see more of him in practice and in the game on Saturday.”

Huesman vs. Vols’ secondary: UTC features one of the FCS’s top quarterbacks in 6-2, 220-pound senior Jacob Huesman, son of Mocs head coach Russ Huesman.

Jacob was selected to the Walter Payton Award Watch List and was the Southern Conference preseason offensive player of the year going into the 2014 season. He was the league’s offensive player of the year in 2013.

This season, Huesman has completed 63.5 percent of his passes (66 of 104) for 681 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s averaging 4.2 yards on 61 carries with four TDs.

UTC, however, has been a balanced offense through five games – averaging 174.4 rushing yards and 148.8 passing.

Notable notes

What Type of Scheme? Jones seems when asked about his choice of using zone reads as opposed to gap reads for his offense/quarterback.

“We ran more gap schemes than we did zone read schemes this past week (against Florida),” Jones says. “We’re not just a zone-read football team. I think that’s a myth, and it just comes with people not understanding run schemes and blocking schemes.

“Maybe next year, part of this press conference is ‘10 minutes with the coach,’ and I’ll come in and put the video on – I’m serious – and we’ll go through the videotape, and I’ll show you so you can really see, cause we do have a lot of good things going on, and we need to continue to progress, but I think maybe this spring we’ll hold a couple-hour deal, and I’d be more than happy to go through everything with you.”

Quick Turnaround: Jones and his staff had no time to dwell on the loss to Florida – not with a big group of high school recruits in town for official visits.

Jones says he had a couple of hours after the game to take care of postgame responsibilities, including media obligations, before visiting with recruits and their families.

His assistant coaches have a much quicker turnaround after a home game with recruits waiting.

“Our coaches had about 20 minutes to reflect on the game, and then went to dinner and recruited all night and then came to my house,” Jones says. “Our recruiting department, their day Saturday started at 6 a.m. with getting the recruits up for breakfast and all that, and it ended at about midnight when the final parents left my house. So there’s so many things that go on behind the scenes.”

Jones says the recruits were impressed with the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium, despite the loss.

“The great thing is our prospective student-athletes understood,” Jones says. “They saw a great game. Their parents knew it was an emotional game. They came away, and it’s a tribute to Vol Nation, they were blown out of the water.

“They were so impressed with our fan base, with our fan support, our student body, and the vision of the program and where we’re headed. For a lot of them, it was a defining moment for them.”

Fan Obscenities: Some UT fans were less than sportsmanlike during the final minutes of the Florida game when they chanted obscenities toward the visitors.

Jones was asked about the negative impression it gave UT during an ESPN-televised game.

“I think it’s just the emotion of the game and the want to win, the appetite for winning and that’s the passion that our fan base has and that’s what makes them very, very special,” Jones says.

We Meet Again: Former teammates will be opponents on Saturday.

For example, UT’s Devrin Young and Isaiah McDaniel were teammates at Bearden with the Mocs’ Tull and Xavier Johnson. UTC starting fullback Taharin Tyson played with Vols’ kicker Derrick Brodus at Alcoa High School.

Also, UT’s Josh Malone played with the Mocs’ Tony Zaffore at Station Camp High in Gallatin, UT’s Rashaan Gaulden and Vic Wharton played with the Mocs’ Oscar Prado at Independence High in Spring Hill, and UT’s Evan and Elliott Berry played with the Mocs’ Josh Freeman at Creekside High in Fairburn, Ga.

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