You might hear the faintest of howls rise up from certain sections of Neyland Stadium when No. 82 snags the ball out of the air. On game days in Knoxville when he storms up the seam to haul in a Josh Dobbs strike, it’s pretty easy to realize the most popular wolf isn’t at the zoo.
It’s a safe bet Tennessee tight end Ethan Wolf would even catch that bad pun before most people, seeing as how there isn’t much the sophomore hasn’t caught this season in the Vols’ first six games of the year.
Wolf leads the team in total receiving yards (213), receiving yards per game (35.5) and receiving touchdowns (tied with two), solidifying himself as one of Dobbs’ top targets in the passing game.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end helped spark Tennessee’s furious 21-point comeback rally against No. 19 Georgia with a 34-yard catch over the middle and ended the game with five receptions for 56 yards.
With his help, the Vols raced back from a 24-3 deficit to beat their SEC Eastern Division rival for the first time in five years heading into a much-needed bye.
“It feels great. That was great for the team,” Wolf said. “We are going to work on improving as individuals and regaining some of the health of our team. It’s just another week, we just don’t have a game. We’re going to do all we can this week to get better and start preparing for Alabama.”
The bye week came at a perfect time both for Wolf and his team. Tennessee climbed back to .500 with the Georgia win and now has two weeks to prepare for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, a program that’s beaten Tennessee eight straight times. Wolf hopes to use the time to work on his fundamentals and rest up after a physically draining first six weeks of football.
“Personally for me, footwork, technique can always improve, stuff like that,” Wolf said of his bye week plans. “Getting a jumpstart on film for next week and any install we may put in is something I’m looking to improve on and, personally, starting to regain some of the body issues you get through six games. Nothing major, just extra cold tub and extra stretching, getting to the training room, just little stuff like that.”
Tennessee ran 90 plays against Georgia last week, something the offense wants to accomplish to find a rhythm and put opposing defenses on their heels. The 312 passing yards for the Vols was the most the team has put up this season and serves as a blueprint for their identity on offense moving forward.
“We definitely did get in a rhythm,” Wolf said. “We were moving fast, executing and that’s something we work on every day and every week on practice. I wouldn’t say it’s the first time (we showed our identity), no, but it’s definitely a good feeling to be able to go fast, have the defense on their toes and execute while moving fast.”
Tennessee hopes to duplicate a balanced approach that netted more than 300 passing yards and 165 on the ground against Georgia on an stingy Alabama defense ranked No. 1 in the SEC. An extra week to prepare never hurts when playing the Crimson Tide, and Wolf knows he’ll have to continue his howling start in Tuscaloosa next week for Tennessee to have a chance at the upset.
“We’re just trying to take this week here to improve as players and get a little head start on next week,” he said. “We’re not going to treat this game any differently. It’s business as usual. I don’t think Alabama brings any different preparation to us as a team. We’re going to go at it like we do every week.”