Saturday, July 26, 2014

Vols 2014 Early Schedule Report

Tennessee has posted three consecutive 5-7 seasons and has lost at least seven games in five of the last six years. In the standings, few things have changed in Knoxville despite the hiring of a fourth coach in six years.
However, things could not be more different now that Butch Jones is in charge. Entering his second spring practice, Jones has already accomplished more than his predecessor. He has a win over a top-15 opponent, produced more rushing yards in a season than any Tennessee team since 2004, signed a top-10 recruiting class, moved Tennessee from adidas to Nike apparel and has retained his entire coaching staff.
He also has converted a culture of losing into one with lofty expectations and championship aspirations. Jones talks of “building our identity,” improving “football intelligence,” creating “team brotherhood” and using a “consistent approach each and every day.”
All of that coach speak is important and relevant, especially for a team with 41 losses in the last six years. But behind closed doors, fans can bet his goals for his second spring camp are more specific. Tennessee must find pass rushers, rebuild the offensive line, work in more than a dozen early enrollees and, most importantly, settle on a quarterback.
These objectives are more concrete than “taking pride in the fundamentals” and will go a long way in setting up the Vols for their first bowl game since 2010.
2014 Schedule
Aug. 30
Sept. 6
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4
Oct. 11Chattanooga
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 
Tennessee Volunteers 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 7
Spring Game: April 12
Returning Starters
Offense: 5
Defense: 5
Three Things to Watch in Tennessee's 2014 Spring Practice
Settle on a signal-caller
No one expects this battle to be over when spring camp ends, however, Jones and coordinator Mike Bajakian would feel a lot better about the future of their offense should they break camp with a clear(-er) pecking order under center. Justin Worley has the most experience. Joshua Dobbs has the most athletic ability. And Riley Ferguson, a redshirt freshman who didn’t play last year, might be the most gifted passer of the bunch. Nathan Peterman also is in the mix but appears like a distant fourth in the race for the starting job. Worley isn’t overly talented but has lots of snaps under his belt while Dobbs acquitted himself fairly well as just a true freshman a year ago with his ability to make plays with his legs. Ferguson is the wild card and many believe he might have the inside track on the starting job if he can prove to the coaches that he is ready to step into an SEC huddle. This battle should rage on into the fall but Jones and his staff would sleep better if they can establish at least the framework for a quarterback depth chart this spring.

Find answers in the trenches
All five offensive lineman are gone on offense and essentially the entire defensive line is gone as well. Restocking the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is imperative for success in the SEC. There is a host of young players on defense who will step into bigger roles (Jordan Williams, Corey Vereen) and a few who will eventually return from injury (Jaylen Miller, Trevarris Saulsberry) along the defensive front. And there are probably more than a few fans who would like to see what linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin would look like flying off the edge in blitz packages. So finding pass rushers on defense (ideally) shouldn’t be as difficult as replacing multiple All-SEC blockers up front on offense. Very little starting experience returns at this position for the Vols with Mack Crowder — and his one start — the only player with any starting experience. Crowder, Marcus Jackson and Kyler Kerbyson should get first crack at earning spots but other names will need to develop quickly if Tennessee wants to improve the 102nd-ranked total offense in college football. Going the junior college route is a slippery slope and can be extremely volatile but can also pay off in a big way (SEE: Cordarrelle Patterson). So keep an eye on JUCO early enrollees Dontavius Blair (OL) and Owen Williams (DL). It won’t matter who is under center if Jones and Bajakian can’t stabilize the front line... on either side of the ball.

Find playmakers and work in the youth
With 14 early enrollees, Jones has what amounts to an entirely new roster heading into his second spring camp. And he has repeatedly talked about finding playmakers on both sides of the ball. With Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson returning to the linebacking corps, that shouldn’t be a huge undertaking on defense. However, on offense, Tennessee is in much worse shape and will likely turn to more than one freshman to help create big plays with Pig Howard, Drae Bowles and Brendan Downs not participating in spring camp. Five-star wideout Josh Malone and five-star athlete Jalen Hurd, be it at running back or elsewhere, have elite upside but need to get acclimated quickly to college life if they want to contribute in the fall. The same can be said about junior college wideout Von Pearson and early enrollee freshmen tight ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf. Jones and Bajakian have a lot of new toys to play with and figuring out how all of those pieces fit together is much easier in the spring than en route to Norman, Okla.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
Things are finally pointed in the right direction for Big Orange Nation. While the results on the field are yet to come, Jones has established a winning culture within the halls of the luxurious Anderson Training Center. He has overhauled his roster, improved team speed, gotten stronger and now has a young roster he can mold into a winner. There is a lot of work left to be done before the Vols are competing for SEC titles again — in particular, with a schedule that includes road trips to Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt — but the overall trajectory of the program appears to be very positive for the first time in nearly a decade.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

BasketVols. Tennessee VS. LSU In SEC Road Opener.

On Jarnell Stokes's 20th birthday, the Vols traveled to Louisiana for the SEC opener against the Tigers. These two teams were both expected to finish 3rd and 4th in the SEC and go dancing in March. The Tigers were coming of an embarrassing defeat against a small but talented Rhode Island school. The Vols were riding on a 3 game winning streak against weaker opponents in Moorehead State, Tuscalum, and a blowout win against a really good Virginia squad.

Tennessee broke open a back-and-forth game late in the first half with a flurry of 3-pointers on the way to its biggest halftime lead in nearly two years and never eased up against LSU in a 68-50 triumph.

Tennessee used smothering defense and red-hot 3-point shooting to take a 38-24 halftime lead. LSU made just 34 percent (11-of-32) of its first half shots. Meanwhile, the Volunteers made seven first-half shots from behind the arc -- four by Barton.

Tennessee took the lead for good at 15-12 on a D'Montre Edwards 3-pointer with 11:58 remaining in the first half. The Vols (10-4, 1-0 SEC) got 19 points from Jordan McRae, 14 from Antonio Barton (12 in the opening half on four 3-pointers) and a ho-hum double-double from human rebounding machine Jarnell Stokes (15 points, 15 rebounds), his seventh this seaosn and the 25th of his three-year career.

The Volunteers protected their double-digit lead throughout the second half. In the first eight minutes after halftime, LSU cut its deficit to a dozen points on three occasions. Each time, Tennessee answered with a basket -- twice by birthday boy Stokes. The Vols pounded the backboards to the tune of 40-28, led by Stokes' 7 on offense and 8 on defense.

Jordan Mickey was again the best offensive weapon for LSU (9-4, 0-1) with 14 points and he also rejected 5 shots. Johnny O'Bryant bounced back from a second-half benching three nights earlier to contribute 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.

The Tigers lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and this one was as thorough as any they have absorbed by a long stretch. The same problems that plagued the Tigers in an unexpected 74-70 loss to Rhode Island last Saturday in their final non-conference game reared up again, this time against a much more talented and veteran Tennessee team that may be playing as well as it has all season.

The first half was competitive until the closing minutes despite the Tigers' shooting woes. The Vols eviscerated LSU's defense with the same slow-paced approach. With the Tigers honed in on not allowing McRae to erupt after he scored a career-best 34 points against them last season, he became a distributor early on.  He recorded four of his five assists in the first half, three to Barton who peppered LSU with four 3s -- three in the last 6:23 before halftime, which started the unclimbable mountain for LSU in the 2nd half.

Now the Tigers head out on the road, with a game at South Carolina (12:30 p.m. | SECTV) in Columbia, Mo. The Vols (10-4) will face off against The Texas A&M Aggies (9-4) back home in Knoxville, Saturday, January 11, 2014 - 6:00 PM ET airing on ESPN3

The Vols are starting to look like the top 25 team they were projected to be preseason. With balanced scoring, a smothering defense, an insane duo in Stokes and Maymon under the goal, arguably the best player in the SEC in Jordan Mcrea, and surprise contributions from players like Antonio Barton, the Vols are poised to compete toe to toe against the rest of the SEC and come out on top. Coach Martin needs a NCAA tourney trip this year after disappointing NIT departures the last two seasons, and this team is capable of playing deep into the tournament.

The problem is no one ever knows what team we will see take the floor on any given night, extreme highs and disappointing lows. If the Vols keep playing games like they did against Virginia and LSU, expect a very interesting season and a good bid going into the NCAA Tourney.