Posted on: November 14, 2011 5:29 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
In the darkest hour his program has seen in years, could Tyler Bray ride in to save Tennessee's season?
It's still very much to-be-determined. But the first step in that direction has been taken, as Derek Dooley confirmed Monday that doctors have cleared Bray to return to practice. The true sophomore has missed the Vols' last five games with a broken thumb, five games in which his team has gone 1-4 and not once scored more than 7 points against SEC opposition.
That kind of despair is why Dooley made no secret of the fact that he's hoping Bray will be able to make a gof of it Saturday in the Vols' make-or-break game against Vanderbilt. A loss would drop Tennessee to 0-7 in the SEC and eliminate the Vols from postseason consideration.
"The reality is, if he's ready to go, we'd be crazy not to give him a shot," Dooley said.
But will he be ready to go? Dooley described Bray's status as "questionable" and said the quality of his reps in practice this week -- Bray is reportedly in line for the first-team snaps in Tuesday's practice -- would go a long way towards determining if the California gunslinger got the call against the Commordores.
I really won't know until we start practicing to see how he can take a snap, how accurately he can throw it, and then he's going to have a learning curve because he's been out of ball for five, six weeks. That's a long time, so we'll see," Dooley said. "We've still got to get the other guys ready to play and we'll just kind of take it day by day."
With all due respect to "the other guys," since Bray's injury those other guys -- Matt Simms and true freshman Justin Worley -- have combined to complete just 43 percent of their passes against SEC teams, for all of 5.2 yards an attempt and a 0-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If Bray can't take the field Saturday, a dangerous 'Dore secondary could easily ensure the Vols stay home for the holidays.
In short: this week is as a big a week of practice for Dooley since his arrival in early 2010, and it all rests on how well that thumb responds.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:42 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 3:43 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Tyler Bray finds the broken thumb miracle cure between now and Saturday. The Vols' sophomore starter hasn't played since his team's loss to Georgia Oct. 8, and though he got his hard cast off this week, it doesn't sound like he's going to be nearly ready to play against the Hogs. But the Vols might not have a prayer without him: in the three SEC games Bray has missed, backups Matt Simms and Justin Worley have combined to complete 39.5 percent of their passes and post a 0-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio. Yes, those three SEC games came against teams with far better defenses than Arkansas's -- LSU's, Alabama's, and South Carolina's, in fact -- but two of them also came at home. It's also not like the Vols' 118th-ranked rushing game (fresh off averaging all of 2.67 yards per-carry vs. Middle Tennessee State) is going to be much help. Unless Bray can find a witch doctor or mad scientist or special magnetic wristband that fixes his thumb in time, it's awfully hard -- and just about impossible -- to see the Vols winning this game.
ARKANSAS WILL WIN IF: they can just avoid catastrophic mistakes. Maybe easier said than done, of course, if you saw Tyler Wilson do this vs. Carolina last Saturday:
Wilson isn't the only Hog to have turnover issues of late: Dennis Johnson's fumbles helped keep both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in those respective games. If Wilson, Johnson or any other butter-fingered Hog set the Vols up with short fields or throw away scoring opportunities, the Vols have shown -- in their 6-6 halftime tie with Alabama -- that they can hang around with better teams, even on the road.
Hang around long enough to win it? Probably not, but where turnovers are involved, never say never. Wilson and Co. have to make sure they aren't.
THE X-FACTOR: Jake Bequette. The Razorbacks' preseason All-SEC defensive end had suffered an injury-plagued and disappointing season until last Saturday, when he roared to life with three sacks of Connor Shaw and the game-clinching forced fumble. If Bequette terrorizes poor Worley or Simms the way he terrorized Shaw, the Vols really, really have no hope.
Posted on: October 29, 2011 10:44 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 10:44 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
SOUTH CAROLINA WON: For the second straight week, the Gamecock offense sputtered in the kind of decisive fashion that would have spelled road game doom in the SEC most years. But this is 2011, so Carolina's gone 2-0 in those games. The Justin Worley experiment at quarterback was a miserable failure for Tennessee, as the true freshman hit just 10-of-26 passes for 4 yards an attempt and two interceptions--including a backbreaking pick at the Carolina 2 after a Prentiss Waggner interception had set up the Vols inside the Gamecock 5. Freshman Brandon Wilds picked up a solid 137 yards on just under 5 a carry in relief of Marcus Lattimore.
WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WON: It's pretty simple: in a game in which the two starting quarterbacks combined to average all of 4.4 yards an attempt and less than 200 yards total, the winner was always going to be the team that could run the ball. That team was the Gamecocks, who racked up 231 yards on 53 carries and -- in a stunning display of old school power -- put together a 20-play, 98 yard, 11 minute and 35 second touchdown drive in the third quarter. When you rush for 74 yards on one drive alone, you are (as the kids say) doing work.
The Vols? After a couple of small steps forward in their putresecent running game the last few weeks, tonight was a sizable step backward: 21 rushes, 35 yards, no scores. Ick.
WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Of course, maybe the Vol ground game would show some spark if the coaches seemed to trust it at all. Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Carolina 27, down 14-3 and less than 7 minutes left in the game, the Vols put the ball in the hands of Matt Simms--the same quarterback, you may recall, who the staff just benched in favor of a true freshman. Wildly incomplete pass, turnover on downs, game well and truly over.
WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA WON: The right to stay just a nose out in front of Georgia in the SEC East race with next week's trip to Arkansas looming large. Having Wilds prove he's a capable replacement isn't such a bad bonus, either.
WHAT TENNESSEE LOST: Despite Carolina's gaudy ranking, this was an offensively-hamstrung team coming to Neyland Stadium for a night game that helped the Vols with three turnovers ... and Derek Dooley's team couldn't even stay within 11 points of them as the Worley decision appeared to backfire badly. At 3-5 and with the Vols' own trip to Fayetteville forthcoming, Dooley is one upset away from seeing his team stay home for the holidays.
Posted on: October 25, 2011 1:57 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 1:57 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
SOUTH CAROLINA WILL WIN IF: They can manage any kind of running game in the absence of Marcus Lattimore. The only fully healthy tailback on the Gamecock roster is freshman Brandon Wilds, who started the season on the fifth string. Wilds looked competent against Mississippi State in emergency duty but will no doubt need help--most likely from Bruce Ellington in Wildcat sets and from Connor Shaw himself on the zone read option and other quarterback keepers. (Though not known for mobility, Shaw has totaled 70 yards rushing in his two starts--and that's after removing sack yardage.) Shaw looked more than a little uneasy in the pocket against the Bulldogs and that was with Lattimore around; if Steve Spurrier can't find some sort of offensive balance, it seems unlikely Shaw's ready to quarterback the Gamecocks to a road SEC win singlehandedly.
TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Justin Worley is ready. Derek Dooley proved once again this week he isn't scared of rolling the dice, naming the true freshman the Vols' starting quarterback even after the veteran Matt Simms showed some command of the offense against Alabama. If Worley can hack it, the Vols will have a lot going for them: the backing of the Neyland Stadium home crowd, a previously moribund running game that inexplicably found its footing against LSU and Alabama behind tailback Tauren Poole, the abundant question marks on the Carolina offense, and a defense that for all its second-half woes did keep the Tide entirely in check for a half. But none of that will matter if Worley completes more passes the ball-hawking Gamecock secondary (fifth in the FBS with 14 picks) than he does to his own receivers, and a Carolina pass rush featuring Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney won't make things easy on him.
THE X-FACTOR: Neyland. It's been a house of horrors for opponents in the past -- particularly ones quarterbacked by, say, a sophomore making just his second road start without his All-American running back security blanket -- but the recent downturn in the Vols' fortunes has left a lot of unhappy customers in the crowd, dulling UT's formerly fearsome holme-field advantage. If Dooley's team can get out to a fast start and engage the orange masses, Shaw may not be able to get the boulder rolling back in the other direction. If a slow start brings out the boo-birds, though, it's Worley who might wind up wishing he was somewhere very different.
Posted on: October 24, 2011 12:25 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 12:25 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Tennessee freshman quarterback Justin Worley was supposed to redshirt this season, but after an injury to Tyler Bray and an ineffective performance from Matt Simms against Alabama on Saturday, Worley found himself on the field late in Tennessee's 37-6 loss. Worley didn't throw a pass while in the game, but I guess Derek Dooley has seen enough of Matt Simms.
When the new Tennessee depth chart was released on Monday, Worley's name was listed as QB1 with Simms backing him up.
"I know (QB) will be the main storyline. It's just something we have to do," said Dooley. The Tennessee head coach also went on to say that he doesn't "know what it will look like on Saturday."
Neither do we, but it won't be easy against a South Carolina defense allowing less than 20 points a game and gets after the quarterback.
Still, considering that Tennessee is now 0-4 in the SEC this season and Worley's redshirt has already been burned, Dooley and the Vols might as well see what they have in the freshman. He's already seen plenty of Matt Simms the last two years, and he hasn't been enough.
Posted on: October 23, 2011 3:03 am
Edited on: October 23, 2011 3:11 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A handy recap of who (and what) really won and really lost in the SEC's Week 8.
WINNERS: Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. On the eve of the 2011 season, the LSU quarterback situation was supposed to be the team's Achilles heel. The senior Lee had spent his entire career as erratic at best and a turnover machine at worst; Jefferson was suspended and might never return; and despite intense fan interest, Zach Mettenberger hadn't been able to beat either out for so much as the backup's job. But after the Tigers' demolition of Auburn, it's time to give the Bayou Bengal quarterbacks their due: not only are they not a weakness, they're a major reason LSU is 8-0 and now preparing for an undefeated megatilt against Alabama.
The stats are argument enough: a combined 16-of-23 for 219 yards (9.5 an attempt), three touchdowns, and no interceptions. (This was LSU's fifth straight game without a turnover, by the way.) But the two touchdown throws they made in the second quarter -- one by each, both of 40-plus yards, both to the rapidly-improving Rueben Randle -- are an even better argument. On the first, Jefferson was leveled by an Auburn blitzer and stood strong in the pocket to deliver Randle a precision strike; on the second, Lee "dropped it in a bucket," as they say, allowing Randle to beat double coverage. The end result was that a quarter that began 7-3 and with Auburn in a dogfight ended with LSU up 21-3 and the game over. If those two throws are examples of what LSU can expect in two weeks, even Alabama might not be good enough to beat the Tigers. At this point, it seems obvious no one else in the SEC can.
LOSER: Houston Nutt. Honestly, this isn't entirely fair to Nutt, who just coaxed the best performance from his team all season and has nothing to hang his head about, final score-wise; losing to a legitimate top-10 outfit like the Razorbacks by five points is an accomplishment, especially when the outcome is still in doubt in the final minute. Still: a 17-0 second-quarter lead over that kind of opponent -- not only one of the best teams in the country, but an opponent whose fans enjoy needling Nutt and the Rebels about their failures -- is the kind of golden opportunity that Nutt and his team simply couldn't afford to let slip through their fingers. In the end, solid performance or not, it's just Nutt's 10th straight SEC loss ... and another few before the year's end could be the end for Nutt.
WINNER: James Franklin. On the other end of the spectrum, we've got a coach for whom beating Army isn't really that big a deal ... but beating them by a comprehensive 23 points is. The Commodores had only one week of study for the Black Knights' triple option and held them to 288 total yards anyway, forcing three turnovers in the process. The 'Dore running game racked up a stout 344 yards and Vandy may have finally found a quarterback in Jordan Rodgers, who didn't set the world on fire (10-of-27, one touchdown, two interceptions) but whose 10 completions did go for better than 18 yards a pop. In short: this was the kind of performance that suggests the 'Dores 3-3 record wasn't a fluke, and that they could go bowling in Franklin's first year. It won't be enough to win him Coach of the Year with Miles and Saban around, but it's still a heck of a job.
LOSER: Drama. Another week, another series of blowouts in the SEC. Save for Arkansas's escape from Oxford, the average score of the four Week 8 games involving SEC teams was 41-13. After another week of winning their two games by some outrageous combined score -- 66 points' worth this go-round -- LSU's and Alabama's average margin of victory has ballooned to a full 30 points. It's a good thing the Tide and Tigers have next week off; not only will it give us another week to savor the buildup to the Game of the Century of the Year, but maybe it'll give us a chance to enjoy more than a single helping of competitive SEC football.
WINNERS: Alabama's receiving corps. The Tide's wideouts were alleged to be the team's one weakness entering this season, and doubly so once Duron Carter was ruled ineligible. But Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Kenny Bell made that expectation look more ridiculous than ever in the second half Saturday night, hauling in acrobatic circus grab after acrobatic circus grab and eventually totaling 11 receptions, 213 yards, and Bell's game-clinching touchdown. AJ McCarron didn't have his best night, but Maze, Hanks, and Bell made him look awfully good all the same.
LOSERS: Auburn's special teams. The way LSU (and their quarterbacks in particular) are playing, it didn't matter what Auburn did today. But the one area where you can't show any weakness vs. Les Miles's team is in special teams, where they will kill you with field position if given the opportunity. Given the Tigers' strength in this area so far in 2011, Gene Chizik was probably expecting a draw in this phase, at least. Nope: punter Steven Clark had his worst game of the year, repeatedly failing to pin LSU deep when given the chance, and dynamic freshman kick returner Tre Mason fumbled away a second-half return to turn the game from decisive LSU advantage to full-on rout.
LOSER: Matt Simms. Ugly as Simms' final line in the box score was (8-of-17, 3.4 yards an attempt, no touchdowns, one interception), he was facing Alabama on the road; lots of quarterbacks would have looked just as bad, and Simms did play a role in getting the Vols to a 6-6 halftime tie. But Derek Dooley's decision to burn Justin Worley's redshirt late could indicate a move towards getting the freshman snaps at Simms' expense, and though he had a lot of company on the Tennessee sideline, he wasn't able to do much in preventing the Tide onslaught in the second half.
WINNER: College football. No. 1 LSU and (now consensus) No. 2 Alabama are going to meet in two weeks, both undefeated, both extremely heavy favorites to finish their regular season schedule perfect and run a way with the SEC East with a win over the other, both having established their national championship contender's bona fides weeks ago. It really, really, really shouldn't get any better than what we now know we'll see Nov. 5.
Tags: AJ McCarron, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Darius Hanks, Derek Dooley, Duron Carter, Gene Chizik, Houston Nutt, James Franklin, Jarrett Lee, Jerry Hinnen, Jordan Jefferson, Jordan Rodgers, Justin Worley, Kenny Bell, Les Miles, LSU, Marquis Maze, Matt Simms, Ole Miss, Rueben Randle, SEC, Steven Clark, Tennessee, Tre Mason, Vanderbilt, Winners and Losers
Posted on: October 18, 2011 1:28 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
TENNESSEE WILL WIN IF: Matt Simms finds and takes the Captain America serum sometime this week. Which is another way to say: it's very, very hard to construct a scenario in which the Volunteers emerge from Tuscaloosa with a victory. But it'll do Tennessee's cause an enormous amount of good if their beleaguered running game can take another step forward after last week's breakthrough vs. LSU. Entering that game the Vols were one of the worst rushing teams in the country -- and at 114th in rushing yardage, they still are -- but tailbacks Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane pounding for a shocking 111 yards on the Tigers (on a not-terrible 3.8 yards per-carry average) was a massive, massive improvement. If a presumably serum-less Simms is to have any chance at moving the chains against the Tide, that improvement has to be not only sustained, but built upon.
Too bad that ohbytheway, Alabama is the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, allowing 1.5 yards per-carry and 38 yards a game. Good luck, Vols!
ALABAMA WILL WIN IF: they do anything other than show up as Mirror Universe Tide and commit the flood of errors they've shown themselves all-but-incapable of committing through the season's first seven weeks. It's true that two years ago the Vols arrived in Tuscaloosa as heavy underdogs and came within one blocked field goal of ruining what proved to be a national championship season, but that Tennessee squad had an established running game behind Montario Hardesty, a strong and battle-tested front seven, and Eric Berry ... and still needed a series of late Tide mistakes just to come that close. These Vols have none of those advantages and will need much, much, much more help from the Tide than they got in 2009 to have a similar shot at victory.
THE X-FACTOR: Serums, and whether Simms can locate a helpful one in time. Or, more realistically, Tennessee's electric true freshman returner Devrin Young, who's averaged better than 20 yards on his three punt returns and has kickoff returns of 50 and 60 yards the past two weeks alone. Getting another huge special teamsp lay or two from Young would go a long, long way towards keeping the Vols in the game.
Posted on: October 15, 2011 7:00 pm
Edited on: October 16, 2011 12:12 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
LSU WON: The No. 1 team in the country wasn't quite as sharp as they have been in previous weeks ... and they still won by a full 31 points in one of the SEC's most hostile venues against a desperate Volunteer team. Short-field touchdown drives of 5 and 36 yards gave the Tigers a 14-0 first-half lead, and that was all the points the typically-stout LSU defense (237 total yards allowed, zero Tennessee second half points) would need.
WHY LSU WON: The usual litany of 2011 Tiger positives: no turnovers (their fourth straight game without a giveaway), 259 punishing yards on the ground, a red zone offense that scored 31 points -- four touchdowns, one field goal -- in five attempts. LSU has been a model of brutal efficiency all season, and by scoring those 31 points on just 383 total yards, they were again.
But when it comes to Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid and the rest of the LSU secondary, there's nothing "efficient" about them. As a unit, they held Matt Simms to a miserable 6-of-20, 128-yard, zero touchdown, two-interception performance. Individually, Claiborne's spectacular weaving 90-yard interception return -- taking the ball from the LSU 5 to the Volunteers' 5 -- set up the first LSU touchdown and put the Tigers in control. Alabama's secondary may have the better numbers and be closer to a total "lockdown" unit, but no set of defensive backs in the country is more explosive.
WHEN LSU WON: Already down 24-7, Tennessee took their first drive of the second half to the LSU 30. But a terrible option play on second down left the Vols in a 3rd-and-17 hole, and the drive would end in a punt ... albeit a punt that pinned the Tigers at their 1. Unfortunately for Tennessee, that punt would only be the prelude to a thumping 16-play, 99-yard drive Jordan Jefferson capped with a 3-yard option run for the score. At 31-7 and with nearly 7 minutes already gone from the fourth quarter clock, at that point a Vol comeback went from "miraculous" to "flat-out impossible."
WHAT LSU WON: As well as Tennessee played -- loss or not, this was a better outing for the Vols than their Georgia or Florida games -- a road trip like this one was almost certainly the highest hurdle remaining for the Tigers to clear before the Game of the Century of the Year against Alabama. All that remains between LSU and taking a spotless record into Tuscaloosa Nov. 5 is a home game against Auburn ... and a bye week.
WHAT TENNESSEE LOST: Not much--with Simms readjusting to being on the field, the running game still a work-in-progress, and the thin front seven bound to wear down in the face of the LSU ground attack, this was never going to end well for the Vols. Getting through this game and next week's tilt with the Tide without any other major injuries -- and the improvement in the ground game as a bonus -- would actually be something of a win.