Head coach Derek Dooley took an interesting approach after the 49-7 beat down at the hands of Arkansas last week. Instead of watching film to learn from mistakes they threw it out to set their focus to oncoming Vanderbilt. In their last five games the Vols have been outscored 138-23, notably missing the presence of Bray. Bray is 116-of-176 for 1,579 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. Since his injury the Vols have had just one passing touchdown and six interceptions. Many would assume that a Tyler Bray at 75% would get the start over Justin Worley who is 48-of-87 for 604 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
If the Volunteers had one area that needs a major overhaul it would the run game. Tennessee ranks dead last in the SEC and 116th in the country rushing for a paltry (91 ypg.). Leading rusher Tauren Poole tops the Vols with 554 yards and four touchdowns. Last week at Arkansas, freshmen Marlin Lane broke a 45-yard run in the third quarter but was unable to find little else. Lane rushed for just 13 yards on eight carries for the rest of the night. Rajion Neal and Jaron Toney also had a combined 15 rushes for 46 yards. Neal scored the Vols only touchdown of the night.
The Tennessee receiving corps was dealt a major blow in their third game this season when sophomore Justin Hunter tore the anterior cruciate ligament. Hunter averaged (104 ypg.) and had two touchdowns on the year. The receivers are led by Da' Rick Rogers who has 55 catches for 886 yards and seven touchdowns. Rogers has led the Vols in receptions in five games this season. Tight end Mychal Rivera is second on the team with 315 yards and a touchdown. Freshmen DeAnthony Arnett is third on the team with 21 catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns. The Vols are second in the conference in passing yards averaging (250 ypg.), trailing only Arkansas.
True freshmen Devrin Young returns kicks and punts for the Vols with a (24.3 avg.) on kicks with a long of 60, and a (13.1 avg.) on punts with a long of 43 yards.
Defensively true freshmen linebacker A.J. Johnson leads the team in tackles with 67, 3.5 for a loss. With two games remaining Johnson already has the second-most tackles by a true freshmen in UT history behind Eric Berry in 2007. Senior linebacker Austin Johnson is second on the team with 65 tackles, 4.0 for a loss. Austin has recorded three interceptions in his last four games.
Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson is a vacuum at defensive tackle with 43 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and two sacks. Linebacker Curt Maggitt ranks second among SEC freshmen recording 4.5 tackles per game. Last week against Arkansas Maggitt tied the team for most tackles with six, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. Tennessee's rushing defense ranks 68th nationally allowing opponents (166 ypg.). Prentiss Waggner leads the defensive backs with 40 tackles, two for a loss, two sacks and an interception. Waggner started the first six games at free safety and has since been moved to cornerback for the Vols. He also leads the team in passes broken up and passes defended. True freshmen Brian Randolph has started six games this year and is second among the secondary with 40 tackles and two pass break-ups. Red shirt sophomore cornerback Izauea Lanier led the team in tackles for the first time last week against Arkansas with six, and a pass break-up. In the last six outings Lanier has averaged five tackles per game and is seventh on the team with 36 tackles. The Vols secondary has six interceptions on the year and ranks 23rd nationally in yards allowed.
The Volunteers played 12 true freshmen in their opener this year which was tied for third nationally and are still in a rebuilding year. After losing recruiting battles to Vanderbilt, and with bowl eligibility on the line this game is a must win for the Vols to keep pace with a Commodore program on the rise. Look for coach Dooley to open up the playbook, take risks, and pull out all the stops against the 'Dores. While the Tennessee roster will be filled with players with extended playing time in the next two years, now it is an extremely young team still looking for its identity.