Emmanuel Moseley was awarded for one of the most punishing hits of the season against Kentucky Saturday with an ejection and first half suspension against South Carolina.
The Vols' sophomore corner laid the wood on UK wide receiver Garrett Johnson with 4:14 to play in the third quarter, drawing a targeting call that ended his night. Per the targeting rules, Moseley will have to sit out the first half of the Gamecocks matchup Saturday, thinning an already-depleted cornerback unit.
"He played it about as well as you could possibly play it," coach Butch Jones said at his press conference Monday. "If there was a coaching point, you would tell him to wrap up, but he hit with his shoulder pads and did not lead with his helmet, so the one coaching point would be to wrap. That would be the big thing, but he did not launch himself into the defender."
Jones, who said he would do everything in his power to "state his case" in regards to Moseley's suspension, reached out to the SEC and has heard back from the league offices.
"We did have dialogue," Jones said. "Right now, we're trying to figure it out. I don't believe there is an appeals process, but we're trying to do anything and everything. That's a decision that they made and you have to respect that decision and move on."
Moseley's absence won't affect the starting rotation, as sophomore Justin Martin has taken over at the other corner spot across from Cameron Sutton. It does, however, strain the depth of a secondary that has experienced its fair share of injuries this season.
"I feel like it wasn't targeting," Sutton said. "But like I said, it isn't up to me. We learn from it. We move on from it and we just keep continuing to practice."
Micah Abernathy was pretty busy Saturday.
The freshman spelled Malik Foreman at the nickel position in Tennessee's 52-21 win over Kentucky and also played a major hand in the success of the Vols' banner day on special teams as the up man on Evan Berry's 100-yard kickoff return.
The Atlanta native finished the game with one tackle and a pas breakup and will compete with Foreman for the starting nickel spot this week in practice after maturing into his new role.
“You can see it in his style of play and you can really see it in his overall playing speed. It’s amazing," Butch Jones said. "We always talk about not letting the mind tie the feet up, and he’s become more and more comfortable. He’s playing at a much more higher speed level, and we’ve been really, really proud of him and his continued growth and development.”
The Vols got a good taste of star South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper last year in the team's 45-42 come-from-behind victory over the Gamecocks. Cooper threw a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and caught two more in the loss, showcasing his versatility as a dynamic threat in South Carolina's offense.
"We all know what Pharoh Cooper brings to the table," Jones said. "He is one of the most explosive and dynamic players, not only in our conference, but in the country."
Cooper comes into Saturday's game averaging 76 receiving yards a game, good for No. 3 in the SEC and No. 44 in the country. Tennessee, meanwhile, is allowing 243 yars per game in the air and will have a tough task ahead of it containing one of the nation's most explosive wideouts.
"He's just a great player," linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. "He's a football player, obviously. You put him on the field and he'll make something happen. We'll know where he's at on Saturday and have a plan to stop him."