UT Martin preview

This article kicks off a four-part series profiling the non-conference opponents on Tennessee's 2010 football schedule. Today's piece takes a look at Game 1 foe UT Martin.

Playing a team from a lower classification can be hazardous to your self-esteem.

Just ask Michigan, which suffered perhaps the most humiliating defeat in the history of college football when the fifth-ranked and 27-point favorite Wolverines dropped their 2007 opener 34-32 to Appalachian State of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. 1-AA).

The Tennessee Vols should be able to avoid such a humbling fate when they host FCS member UT Martin Sept. 4 in their 2010 opener, however. The two programs faced one common foe last fall - Tennessee posting a 56-28 beat-down of a Memphis team that trounced Martin 41-14 seven weeks earlier.

Although the Vols must replace some key players from their 2009 team, so must the Skyhawks. Gone from last year's squad that went 5-6 overall and 4-4 in Ohio Valley Conference play are an All-America offensive tackle (Joe Gibbs), a record-setting quarterback (Cade Thompson), the top two rushers (Brandon Young and Miguel Barnes), the leading receiver (Dexter Anoka) and an All-OVC linebacker (Josh Bey).

Thompson, who transferred to Martin following two years at South Carolina, set UTM single-season school records last fall for passing yards (2,545), passing touchdowns (16) and completion percentage (60.9).

Young was an All-OVC pick after rushing for 682 yards and 6 touchdowns last fall. Barnes was even more productive, rushing for 845 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2009 en route to averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Anoka caught 29 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns. Also gone is third-leading receiver Mike Hicks, who reeled in 25 balls for 348 yards.

So, what does UT Martin have left on offense?

For starters, there's big-play specialist Jason McNair, who recorded a 29-yard rush and a 73-yard reception vs. Murray State as a redshirt freshman last fall. A nephew of the late Steve McNair, the 5-foot-8, 190-pounder averaged 4.8 yards on 61 carries and 20.1 yards on seven receptions last season.

Another key returnee is 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver Stephen Shiver, who reeled in 33 catches for 479 yards and three touchdowns last season.

The heir-apparent at quarterback is Derek Carr, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior. He completed 10 of 21 passes for 127 yards in mop-up duty last season. Carr was 14 of 23 passing for 150 yards in the spring game but came out on the losing end of a 13-10 score.

The No. 2 QB is Julius McNair, a cousin of the late Steve McNair. Pushing for playing time behind center is junior Bill Hardegree, younger brother of former Tennessee quarterback Bo Hardegree.

Given the holes on offense, Martin will rely heavily on a defense that returns seven 2009 starters. The best is Bey, who earned first-team All-OVC honors as a junior last fall after recording 107 stops, including 16.5 tackles for loss.

Head coach Jason Simpson is 27-20 in four years at Martin. He previously served as offensive coordinator at UT-Chattanooga.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories