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2010 NCAA Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee Volunteers In A Nutshell

Tennessee is now working on its 3rd coach in 3-years. Not a lot of football teams can deal with that sort of transition on a year basis & Tennessee is proving to be no exception. The big story regarding Tennessee is of course Lane Kiffin using UT as a stepping stone to the USC job, leaving the Volunteers after a single season. If Kiffin isn’t the most hated man in Tennessee, I’m not sure who is at the moment. The sad part about it really is that I think Kiffin would have been a great fit. He got Jonathan Crompton to have an outstanding year at QB despite Vol Nation hammering Crompton year in and year out. Another interesting development was Kiffin & his staff’s ability to keep RB Montario Hardesty healthy. Hardesty turned into an outstanding RB. Tennessee was 7-5 last year during the regular season, but that 7-5 could have easily been 10-2. Tennessee lost to UCLA, Auburn & Alabama by a combined 10 points. They went into to Florida and only lost 23-13. Playing in Tuscaloosa, UT had 2 FG blocked in an eventual 12-10 loss. Those 2 FG go in and Tennessee beats Alabama 16-12! Kiffin would most likely be looking at the same rebuilding project in ’10 as new HC Derek Dooley is now, but from a different perspective. Kiffin brought in a top-10 class in ’09 and was well on his way to do the same in ’10. In 4-years, Tennessee would have been one of the most talented teams in the nation. If Kiffin were to have gone 10-2 & gotten into a BCS game, would he have jumped to USC? Did 7-6 make it easier?

Offensively UT loses a ton. They lose QB Jonathan Crompton, RB Montario Hardesty, RB Bryce Brown & their entire offensive line! They are bringing back their top-3 receivers in WR Gerald Jones, WR Denarius Moore & TE Luke Stocker. Of course with no running game, no quarterback & no offensive line, you wouldn’t expect Tennessee to be able to use their more experienced receivers. Matt Simms & Tyler Bray are the likely candidates to replace Crompton although I doubt Crompton’s 2009 numbers are going to be replicated. RBs Tauren Poole & David Oku are a couple of very talented backs that should give UT a solid 1-2 punch, but Hardesty & Brown combined for 2,244 total yards & 18TD! No matter how good Poole & Oku are, there is no chance they put up those kind of numbers behind UT’s returning offensive line. Speaking of that line, all 5 starters are new including 2 freshman & 1 sophomore! It’s a big line to be sure averaging about 6’6/315lbs, but it is extremely short on talent and experience. You really can’t say just how young Tennessee is. Their top-2 QBs & RBs have no starts. Their projected offensive line has 3 starts among them and that’s concentrated in one player. The offense evokes memories of the offense in 2005 & 2008 where UT failed to average 20ppg & failed to be a .500 team.

Defensively Tennessee isn’t much better although there are things to be excited about. There is no way this defense doesn’t take a massive step backwards. They lost DT Dan Williams, WLB Rico McCoy & SS Eric Berry. Williams & Berry were 1st round NFL Draft picks while McCoy led the team in tackles a year ago. DT Wes Brown is also gone. The D-Line does return DEs Ben Martin & Chris Walker. Walker is on the verge of being a superstar in the SEC while Martin hasn’t quite cashed in on his exceptional talent. UT brings in a couple of new DTs who have good size but are both true sophomores. Tennessee has 2 returning starters at LB in LaMarcus Thompson & Nick Reveiz, but both weren’t fantastic last season. Savion Frazier will try to replace McCoy. The linebackers are all seniors which gives UT some veteran leadership, but the talent level really isn’t there. The secondary obviously takes a step back losing Berry. FS Janzen Jackson is a fantastic talent that should be an All SEC type of player. SS Darren Myles will try to replace Berry. While Myles won’t be Eric Berry, he’s an extremely talented kid in his own right. Both he & Jackson give UT a dynamite safety combo & both are only true sophomores. Art Evans & Anthony Anderson are the CBs. They are OK I suppose, but nothing out of the ordinary. Bottom line is that this UT defense is bad. The front-7 is bad while the two corners are most likely average to below average. Martin, Walker & Jackson are solid players & Myles has the potential to be, but their front 7 is going to be abused by the running game while the corners might not be good enough to stop high powered SEC passing offenses.

The schedule is a tough one, but it will be coming from the SEC. Tennessee’s OOC schedule isn’t bad although they will almost certainly lose to Oregon. Getting Memphis, UAB & UT-Martin are solid wins made especially so because Memphis & UAB are going to be terrible this season. They draw Alabama, LSU & Mississippi out of the West which isn’t brutal especially because they get Ole Miss at home. They do have to play Georgia & South Carolina on the road, but Tennessee wasn’t winning those game anyway. The schedule to me actually works out in Tennessee’s favor for a couple of reasons. The first is that getting Mississippi from the SEC West gives them a winnable game because Ole’ Miss is going to be down, but also because it’s a home game. This is true as well for their game against Kentucky. If Tennessee gets those games as road contests, then their ability to get a couple of wins goes down the toilet. The reason is that UT might come out OK is that their winnable games are all at the end of the schedule. To me this is important because it could provide UT with a big winning streak at the end of the season, but also because they should have been toughened up quite a bit from playing the best the SEC has to offer. They’ll need to stay healthy after taking a beating for the early part of the year, but if that happens and UT grows as a team and gets better, there is no reason why UT couldn’t beat Kentucky, Mississippi, Memphis & Vanderbilt to finish the year 6-6 and get into a bowl game.

BOTTOM LINE: Best case scenario is 6-6. I think Tennessee beats on UAB & UT-Martin, but there is absolutely no way they can get out of starting the year 2-6 (0-5) unless they pull off a massive upset early. That’s OK. There can certainly sweep the month of November and get to bowl eligibility. This would be a big win for Dooley and his staff. They’ll take their lumps but ending the year on a 4-game winning streak and getting to a bowl will certainly make it look like Dooley has the team on the right track. Getting Kentucky & Mississippi has home games really allows this to happen, but the Vols have to stay healthy so they can get better and gel as a team. If that doesn’t happen then the last 4 games could be difficult. Worst case is 3-9. To me the only guaranteed wins are UT-Martin, UAB & Memphis. Even the Vanderbilt game could be iffy if UT is beat up when they come into Nashville. Mississippi & Kentucky can certainly beat Tennessee this season if UT doesn’t show up to play. Splitting the difference you get a 4-5 win team, and I think I’d take the over right now. I still believe in the brand I think Dooley is a good coach. The key here is to weather the storm the first 8 games are going to be. I don’t see a way around 2-6, but if Dooley keeps the team healthy & focused, I think he’s a good enough coach to get home wins over Mississippi & Kentucky to push Tennessee to 6-6. The offense & defense stink so statistically Tennessee won’t look fantastic, but luckily for them, other teams in the SEC are rebuilding too such as Kentucky & Ole’ Miss. I think Tennessee can get it done.

Head Coach: Derek Dooley: 0-0 at Tennessee, 1st season as HC
Last Season: 7-6 (T2nd in SEC East)
Bowl Game: Lost to Virginia Tech 14-37 in Chick-fil-A Bowl
Last 3 Seasons: 22-17
Last 5 Seasons: 36-27
Last 10 Seasons: 83-44
Last 5 Bowl Games: 2-3
AP/BCS National Championships: 2 (1998, 1951)
Experience Level for 2010: LEAST experienced team in SEC (#119 in NCAA)
Turnover Margin: +3
NFL Draft Choices: 6 (SS Eric Berry-1st Rd; DT Dan Williams-1st Rd; RB Montario Hardesty-2nd Rd; RG Jacques McClendon-4th Rd; LT Chris Scott-5th Rd; QB Jonathan Crompton-5th Rd)

This section coming soon.

TENNESSEE OFFENSE

Returns: 10.0% of rushing yards, 0.0% of passing yards, 69.7% of receiving yards
PPG: 29.3 (6th in SEC)
Rushing Offense: 157ypg (9th in SEC)
Passing Offense: 226ypg (3rd in SEC)
Total Offense: 383ypg (6th in SEC)

Starters Lost

QB Jonathan Crompton: 58.3%, 2,800yards, 27TD, 13INT
RB Montario Hardesty: 1,345yards, 13TD, 4.8ypc, 25rec, 302yards, 1TD
OC Cody Sullins: 13 starts
RG Jacques McClendon: 13 starts, 2-Year Starter
LG Cory Sullins: 10 starts
RT Aaron Douglas: 10 starts, Freshman All-American (quit team)
LT Chris Scott: 13 starts, 3-Year Starter, 2nd Team All-SEC

Returning Starters

FB Kevin Cooper/SR: 12rec, 110yards, 1TD
WR Denarius Moore/SR: 40rec, 540yards, 7TD
WR Gerald Jones/SR: 46rec, 680yards, 4TD
TE Luke Stocker/SR: 29rec, 389yards, 5TD

Where to begin? Tennessee’s projected starter at QB this season is junior Matt Simms. Simms originally was a signee of Louisville & played there in ’08. He transferred out to a JC school & finds himself now at Tennessee. Now matter how you spin this, Tennessee is going to take a massive hit at QB. Jonathan Crompton last season passed for 2,800 yards including 27TD & 13INT. He completed 58.3% of his passes. Those numbers aren’t completely out there except maybe the 2,800 yards, but it’s conceivable for someone to come in & make better decisions. That someone is likely Matt Simms although true freshman Tyler Bray could see some decent time as well. Crompton was a 5th round NFL draft pick so the position obviously takes a hit. How big a hit it takes will be depedent upon how the new guys make the transition, but my guess is that Tennessee will struggle mightily under center for the duration of the ’10 season & that’s not a good thing in the SEC.

The skill positions also take a hit. Gone are RBs Montario Hardesty & Bryce Brown. Hardesty is now trying to win a starting job with the Cleveland Browns while Brown transferred to Kansas St. Hardesty was a beast rushing for 1,345 yards last year with 13TD. Finally healthy, Hardesty showed the nation what he could accomplish and was paid handsomely in the NFL. Brown wanted out, but did a pretty good job & was a exceptionally high ranking recruit out of HS. Trying to replace those two will be junior Tauren Poole & sophomore David Oku. Oku was arguably the best RB in his high school class and Poole is a decent talent in his own right. There certainly isn’t at on of experience & it doesn’t look like anyone is going to put up numbers like Hardesty did so Tennessee should see some dropoff here. The one skill position Tennessee should be OK at is receiver. Gerald Jones & Denarius Moore were Tennessee’s two leading receivers last year & both return as seniors. TE Luke Stocker is a beast of a TE at 6’6/250lbs that should battle for 1st Team All-SEC honors. Marsalis Teague is likely the 3rd starting WR. At 5’10/178lbs, Teague has exceptional speed and should fit in nicely at the slot. Most exciting about the WR position are the guys Dooley brought in for his first recruiting class. Da’Rick Rogers arguably is the best WR in the ’10 class. At 6’4/215lbs, he gives Tennessee the right size for a true #1 receiver. Justin Hunter (6’4/190lbs) fits that mold as well & Hunter certainly has the talent to be a dominating collegiate receiver. Ted Meline (6’2/183lbs) & Matt Milton (6’5/220lbs) round out the freshman receivers. There is plenty of talent at the skill spot if a Tennessee QB can get them the ball.

Tennessee is terrible on the offensive line. They are going to break in 5 new starters which is downright nuts for a program as historically important as Tennessee. Two of the guys they lost were NFL Draft picks. RT Aaron Douglas was a freshman All-American and decided to quit the team and transfer out despite his father playing for Tennessee back in the day. There are only 3 career starts on the offensive line meaning it is one of the youngest O-Lines in the nation! The good news I suppose is that the line is a massive one. RT Ja’Wuan James (6’7/313lbs), LT Dallas Thomas (6’5/300lbs), RG Jarrod Shaw (6’4/331lbs), LG JerQuari Schofield (6’6/331lbs) & Cody Pope (6’6/300lbs) certainly look the part of a big strapping offensive line. Schofield & James are freshman while Thomas is just a sophomore. Pope & Shaw are upperclassmen but only have 3 starts between them. With so much turnover at the HC spot at Tennessee you might wonder how learning 3 systems in 3 years would affect the O-Line, but these guys are so raw it might not matter. In an offense full of weak spots, the O-Line stands out as truly weak.

Overall this offense is going to struggle to score points. It really looks to me like the offense will be down at the level the ’05 & ’08 offense was which is less than 20ppg! Those two seasons were also losing seasons for Tennessee as the Vols went a combined 10-13 during that span, missing the postseason twice. Clearly the offensive line is a complete and total mess. It’s always possible for a gifted QB along with gifted RBs to make the offensive line look a lot better than what it actually is by a quick release or picking up the blitz or other intangible things players in the backfield might do to aid an offensive line. On the other hand, Peyton Manning & Travis Henry aren’t suiting up for Tennessee this season so the deficiencies along the offensive line are going to be staggering & noticeable. All in all this offense is going to be downright horrible. Their only saving grace might be that the players actually get better as the season goes on. Oddly enough Tennessee gets its most winnable games at the end of the schedule. If the offense can steadily improve during the year, it’s certainly possible that UT gets to 6-6 by going 4-0 in November! It’s a tough sell but I’m trying to be positive here!

TENNESSEE DEFENSE

Returns: 51.6% of tackles, 67.5% of sacks, 53.7% of TFL, 45.9% of PBU, 40.0% of INT
PPG: 22.2 (6th in SEC)
Rushing Defense: 150ypg (8th in SEC)
Passing Defense: 169ypg (5th in SEC)
Total Defense: 319ypg (5th in SEC)

Starters Lost

DT Dan Williams: 70tkl, 2.5sks, 6.5tfl
DT Wes Brown: 20tkl, 2.5sks, 2.5tfl, 2int
LB Rico McCoy: 119tkl, 0.5sks, 2.5tfl, 5pbu
CB Dennis Rogan: 69tkl, 1sks, 3.5tfl, 6pbu, 1int
SS Eric Berry: 87tkl, 7tfl, 7pbu, 2int, 1st Team All-American

Returning Starters

DE Ben Martin/SR: 38tkl, 3.5sks, 1tfl, 3pbu
DE Chris Walker/SR: 42tkl, 6sks, 2.5tfl, 1pbu, 2int
LB LeMarcus Thompson/SR: 35tkl, 1sks, 6tfl
LB Nick Reveiz/SR: 27tkl, 4.5tfl
CB Art Evans/JR: 39tkl, 1tfl, 3pbu
FS Janzen Jackson/SO: 37tkl, 1sks, 3pbu, 1int

Goodness! Talk about losing impact starters! Dan Williams & Eric Berry were 1st round NFL Draft picks while Rico McCoy led the team in tackles! The defensive line actually won’t lose too much even with Williams off to the NFL. Tennessee returns both DEs in Ben Martin & Chris Walker. Both are extremely talented guys that just need to play a little better. They both are 6’3/250lbs which is probably a shade on the small side for DE, but Walker should definitely get some All-SEC team consideration. Despite losing Williams & Wes Brown at DT, UT brings back Marion Walls (6’3/280lbs) & Montori Hughes (6’4/305lbs) to replace them. Both are big guys up the middle that should be able to plug some holes. Opposing offensive lines are going to have to worry about Walker on the outside so that should lessen some double teams on the interior which should make life a bit easier on Hughes & Walls. Both are just sophomores who got in as true freshman so there is still quite a bit to learn. Dooley certainly didn’t rest on his laurels with the D-Line. He brought in John Brown, Corey Miller & Jacques Smith to buttress this unit. Losing Williams stings but this could be a better unit with Walker & Martin on the outside generating quite a pass rush.

The linebackers are probably a bit better too despite losing McCoy. Tennessee returns senior LaMarcus Thompson & senior Nick Reveiz along with senior Savion Frazier who will try to replace McCoy at WLB. Also helping out here is sophomore Herman Lathers who is actually the returning leading tackler for the Volunteers. It’s a smallish LB unit without much talent to speak of. There isn’t even a ton of talent in the 2-deep outside of possibly Jerod Askew & Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, but both of those guys are a bit on the small side. It’s somewhat of a weird unit for me. On the one hand the Volunteers have 3 senior starters at LB which gives it a wealth of experience including 2 returning starters. On the other hand, those starters aren’t all that great when it actually comes to playing football and are even a bit small. The tough part for Dooley is that if he gets starts from all his seniors then next season he’ll have 3 new starters at LB without much talent to speak of. LB was not a position hit hard by Dooley in the ’10 recruiting class. It’s an experienced unit, but sort of weak.

The secondary takes a hit no matter who’s coming back because of the loss of Eric Berry. Berry might have been the best overall football player in the nation last year so there is no way you lose a guy like that & have a better unit overall. The only star returning is FS Janzen Jackson. Jackson was just a freshman last year but is incredibly talented & will probably garner some interest for the All-SEC team. Joining him at safety is SS Darren Myles who has the unenviable task of replacing Berry. Myles is a fantastic talent who battled injuries last year as a true freshman. Obviously he won’t be as good as Berry, or even Jackson, but these two safeties are sophomores and could grow into a formidable pair of defenders. CB Art Evans returns & is joined by new starter Anthony Anderson. Neither players will turn many heads, but if they can be an average corner tandem they’ll be OK. It’s obviously a weaker unit than last season without Berry, but the Myles & Jackson tandem at safety is very intriguing and Tennessee might have a gold mine here at safety although it’s a bit raw.

What can you possibly say here. Tennessee is set at DE, but they have two new starters at DT with a back-7 that is borderline atrocious. That’s a recipe for disaster in most conferences let alone the SEC. Tennessee does have some interesting pieces. I really like Ben Martin & Chris Walker at DE. I also like Janzen Jackson & Darren Myles at safety but that’s where it all ends. Like the offense, the only thing I can really take from this team is that they’ll get better as the year progresses and Tennessee gets their most winnable games late in the year which could work to their advantage. As a Vols fan you have to hope this is exactly what happens.

TENNESSEE SCHEDULE

Tennessee-Martin
Oregon
Florida
UAB
@LSU
@Georgia
BYE
Alabama
@South Carolina
@Memphis
Mississippi
@Vanderbilt
Kentucky

Good grief! Tennessee gets Oregon, Florida, LSU & Georgia in their first 6 weeks! It’s a brutal schedule for a team in such rebuilding mode. Tennessee draws Alabama, LSU & Mississippi from the SEC West. It’s not that horrible. At least it wasn’t Alabama, Arkansas & Auburn! Getting LSU early on the road isn’t bad, but Les Miles isn’t the smartest coaching mind in the SEC so from that perspective maybe it won’t get out of hand. It’s a tough break drawing Alabama at home because it’s a loss anyway, but getting Ole’ Miss at home late in the year provides Tennessee with a chance to get a win.

As for their SEC East draw, I think it works out well. Vanderbilt won’t be good so even though they get Vanderbilt on the road it’s still most likely a victory. Getting Kentucky at home is a good thing as UK should be decent, but might not be good enough to beat Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. Plus both Vanderbilt & Kentucky are late in the year when Tennessee might have gelled as a football team.

The out of conference slate is a solid one. Even in a rebuilding year, Tennessee should have no problem beating UT-Martin at home. Both UAB & Memphis are in down years so those should be quality games for Tennessee too. Getting Oregon is a tough nut to crack. Tennessee is losing this game, but 3-1 in the out of conference portion of the schedule is more than great for this Tennessee team. At the end of the day, the schedule does work out well. Sure it’s a tough draw, but Tennessee got all of their winnable games in November after they’ve toughened up on the best the SEC has to offer and their team has had time to grow into a better squad. The key here is staying healthy & getting better. If that happens, it’s possible for Tennessee to start out 2-5 (0-5 in the SEC) but manage to get bowl eligible at 6-6 after sweeping November & ending the season on a big time positive note!

TENNESSEE SUMMARY

Best case scenario for Tennessee is a barely bowl eligible 6-6. I think Tennessee has 3 absolute locks on the schedule with UT-Martin, UAB & Memphis. The 3 other games they could potentially win are games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi & Kentucky. Luckily UT gets both Mississippi & Kentucky at home. If it wasn’t for that then I might have to rethink things a bit, but I think all 3 of those games are winnable which would put the Vols at the magic win total of 6. The key here of course is that Tennessee gets their winnable games at the end of the season which is a definite positive for the Vols as it gives the team time to grow as a unit. It’s impossible to discount just how young & inexperienced this team truly is. The only way to remedy this problem is through game experience which is what the Vols will get through their first 8 games. Another positive is that those first 8 games are going to come against extremely stiff competition. If Tennessee can weather the first 9 weeks of the season, stay healthy & get better then their last 4 games won’t seem nearly as bad.

Worst case for Tennessee is 3-9. If the Vols take a serious beating during the first 9 weeks of the season then the last 4 weeks could be harsh. If Tennessee has taken on a lot of injuries which would prevent the team from developing a chemistry & rhythm between the starters, then they could wind up where they started when November rolls around. Mississippi & Kentucky are good enough teams to beat a rebuilding Tennessee program. It’s difficult to think the Vols would lose to Vanderbilt, but the game is in Nashville so I suppose it’s a possibility. Luckily for Tennessee, both UAB & Memphis are going through big rebuilding projects themselves or the Vols might have trouble with them if they didn’t bring their A-game. I can’t imagine UT going 3-9 even in a rebuilding year, but that’s the worst case.

Splitting the difference you get 4-5 wins. The season comes down to a couple of home games against Kentucky & Mississippi. That is really what the season is going to boil down to. If Tennessee can win those two games then they’ll be 6-6 which is bowl eligible and gives them a chance for a 7-6 season which I think would be a tremendous success for Dooley in his first season. If I had to bet, I’d go with 6-6. I think Tennessee is still Tennessee. They are a bit down this year, but it’s still a talented groups with the two most meaningful games of the season at home in Neyland Stadium. It’ll be a tough year no question and the Big Orange Nation shouldn’t be too upset off a 2-6 start. Patience will the keyword, but a better one might be “health” through the first 8 games of the season.

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September 1, 2010 - Posted by | Previews, Tennessee

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