Vols hit 9-3 projection

The 2005 season put a hole in my crystal ball. After picking the Vols to finish in the top 25, they went 5-6 – the program's first losing season since 1988. I didn't see it coming. The offense was awful, the attitude was poor, the off-the-field issues were too plentiful to mention.

Three coaching changes were made, all on offense. Not one offensive position had the same assistant as in 2005.

Would that cure all the ills? It came close.

David Cutcliffe did a terrific job as offensive coordinator. Trooper Taylor got more mileage out of the receivers that did Pat Washington, spurring Robert Meachem to a record-braking season. The running backs and offensive line weren't any better, but the overall offense was.

On defense, the staff stayed the same, but the personnel did not. UT lost six of its starting front seven from 2005, then lost its best defensive lineman to a ruptured bicep. Tackle Justin Harrell played just three games. Inky Johnson, the team's best cover corner, played just two games before suffering a career-threatening injury.

A decimated defense allowed almost 145 rushing yards per game – about 70 more per game than a year ago – and recorded only 17 sacks, the lowest figure ever under defensive coordinator John Chavis.

But with all that happened, my crystal ball wasn't the blur it was the year before. Here's a look:

THE HITS

The Vols will go 5-2 at home, 4-1 on the road and finish the regular season 9-3. An exacta. UT lost at home to Florida and LSU at home and to Arkansas on the road to finish 9-3.

(I picked UT to lose the bowl and go 9-4 and finish No. 23 in the AP poll. If UT loses, that's close to where the Vols will finish.)

Ainge will pass for 2,700 yards with 24 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. He will complete 55 percent of his passes. Ainge passed for 2,722 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes.

Robert Meachem will lead the team in yards per catch. He did, averaging 18.9 yards on 67 catches for a school-record 1,265 yards.

The tight ends will combine to catch over 40 passes. Tight ends caught 37 passes.

UT will have at least 10 gains of 10 yards or more on screen or bubble screen passes. They did, although I don't know an exact count.

Montario Hardesty will be the second-leading rusher with about 500 yards. Hardesty was UT's No. 2 rusher with 382 yards.

UT will averaged 390 total yards of offense – 64 more per game than a year ago – to rank fourth in the SEC. The Vols averaged 374.3 total yards to rank fifth.

The Vols will average 27 points per game. They averaged 29.3.

UT will score at least 30 points in six games compared to none in regulation last year. The Vols will be held to 20 or fewer points three times. UT scored at least 30 points in seven games and were held to 20 or fewer in four.

On defense, the Vols will allow 120 rushing yards per game this year (after giving up only 82.5). The Vols allowed 143.7 rushing yards.

The secondary will give up 190 yards passing. The secondary gave up 179.5.

Opponents will average 310 total yards. Opponents averaged 323.2.

UT will record 18 interceptions. The Vols had 16.

Jonathan Wade will lead the team with five picks. He had four to rank second to Jonathan Hefney, who had five.

Demetrice Morley will score two touchdowns – one via interception return and one on special teams. Morley will also block at least two kicks. Morley had an interception return for a touchdown but none on special teams and he didn't block a kick.

Jerod Mayo, if he stays healthy, will lead the team in tackles with 88. Marvin Mitchell will be second in tackles. Mayo was third on the team with 82 tackles. Mitchell was second with 92. Hefney led with 93.

Opponents will average just under 20 points per game. Two teams will score at least 30. Three teams will score no more than 10. Opponents averaged 19.5 points. Three teams scored at least 30 points (Air Force, Georgia and Arkansas). Three teams scored no more than 10 (Marshall, Memphis, Vanderbilt).

James Wilhoit will make 16 of 22 field-goal attempts with two game winners. Wilhoit hit 17 of 20 but no game winners.

Britton Colquitt will average 43.5 yards per punt. He averaged 45.0. Only twice in UT history has a punter had a higher average.

UT will improve its punt return average from 8.4 to 11.0. UT averaged 11.9.

THE MISSES

Most of the misses were because of UT's run game. Here are the picks:

Arian Foster will rush for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Foster rushed for 257 yards after suffering an ankle sprain in the second game.

The fullbacks will catch 20 passes. They caught five.

Jayson Swain will lead the team in receiving with 50 catches – the first Vol to surpass 50 since 2001. Swain was second to Meachem with 42 catches.

Tennessee will average 160 rushing yards per game and 230 passing. The Vols averaged 110.1 rushing yards per game and 264.2 passing.

UT will record 38 sacks. The Vols had 17.

Robert Ayers will lead the team with seven sacks. Ayers had just one sack. Jerod Mayo led the team with five.

Justin Harrell will top the team in tackles for loss. Harrell was injured and played just three games. Mayo led the team in tackles for loss with 12.5.

The kickoff return average will improve from 19.8 to 24.0 with two returns of over 50 yards. UT averaged 15.9 on kick returns, none over 50 yards.


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