Watching with Ward
Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee’s media contingent is dishing out assists at a Ramar Smith-like pace this season.
UT’s football players once again credited the media with spurring their team to victory, beating Arkansas 34-13 in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Amid a season of questions and criticism, it’s the third time the Vols have said media coverage played a role. It happened after win against South Carolina and Georgia, too.
“None of you guys in here thought we could have won this game,” UT linebacker Jerod Mayo told reporters during post-game interviews. “I heard all the things. The coaches heard all the things.”
Mayo and company heard all week about Arkansas, a favorite over UT following its 48-36 demolition of South Carolina just a week before. The headliner coming into the Saturday’s game was Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and fellow tailback Felix Jones.
Most members of the media said the duo was due for another big day against UT’s hapless defense.
“I definitely heard about them enough,” linebacker Rico McCoy said of Arkansas’ tailbacks. “That gets to you. That bites you … That just pissed everyone off.”
Against UT, McFadden and Jones rushed for only 123 yards on 25 carries.
“I definitely got tired of hearing about them,” Mayo said.
UT’s receivers also heard how Arkansas’ press coverage would play to their weaknesses, an inability to get off the line of scrimmage versus physical defensive backs.
“Anytime guys walk up in your face and can press you across the board, that means they have no respect for you,” receiver coach Trooper Taylor said.
Arkansas’ press coverage ended up flat, according to Taylor, who said the Razorbacks played more soft man and zone coverage in the second half.
It all came down to preparation, running back Arian Foster said.
“Since I’ve been here this has been the best week of practice ever since I’ve been on this campus,” he said.
Said UT linebacker Ryan Karl: “I think we play our best when everyone counts us out.”
That could be bad news for the Vols going forward. They could be favored in their remaining regular-season games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
If the Vols win those two games, the media will have their back once again, likely picking against them in the SEC Championship Game.
Brad’s Back: Tight end Brad Cottam returned to action with just under 12 minutes remaining in the first quarter. On his first play, the senior was targeted for a short pass by quarterback Erik Ainge on second-and-1. The pass was deflected.
Saturday was the first time Cottam has played this season after suffering a wrist injury during a preseason scrimmage. Cottam, who estimated he played 15 snaps against Arkansas, wasn’t dismayed by not recording a reception.
“It felt amazing,” he said. “It’s so much better to actually get in the game than to sit on the sideline and watch.”
UT had hoped to secure a sixth year of eligibility for Cottam, who has been sidelined with several injuries in his career. By playing this season, the Vols conceded the chance of a sixth season, which the SEC deemed unlikely to be granted by the NCAA.
Fortuitous False Starts: The Vols were called for a false start penalty twice on consecutive third-and-goals late in the second quarter inside the Arkansas 11. Both plays appeared to be well defended.
On their third opportunity, the Vols took a 20-3 lead when Erik Ainge found sophomore Josh Briscoe for a 14-yard touchdown.
That’s not the first time UT has benefited from its own mistake. The Vols were called for a false start in the waning moments of regulation against South Carolina just before a game-tying field goal attempt sailed wide.
On the ensuing play, Lincoln made the field goal to send the game into overtime. The Vols went on to win 27-24 in overtime.
Coming up Long: The Vols were one-for-one on fourth down against Arkansas converting on a quarterback dive by Erik Ainge. UT used the same play to convert twice on third-and-short.
“We felt like we matched up better (in the interior lines),” Ainge said. “That kind of hypes you up a little bit.”
The short yardage push had just the opposite affect on the other sideline.
“It’s got to be deflating, thinking you’re about to get off the field,” offensive guard Anthony Parker said of the Razorbacks’ defense.
Long Gone: Arian Foster’s 59-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the second-longest of his career. The longest, 66 yards, came against Vanderbilt in 2005. The dash against Arkansas was the longest run of the season for UT.
“As soon as I passed two yards, nobody was going to catch me,” Foster said.
Honest Lincoln: Lincoln’s second-quarter field goal broke the UT freshman record of 17 made in a season, set by James Wilhoit in 2003.
“I just kick the ball,” Lincoln said of the record. “I let everybody else worry about that stuff.”
Lincoln made two of three field-goal attempts on Saturday and all three of his extra points. That gives Lincoln 95 points this season, which matches another freshman mark, set by Jeff Hall in 1995.
Recruiting Rap: Quarterback Casey Kelley from Sarasota (Fla.) High School took an unofficial visit to Knoxville this weekend. The Vols are thought to be in strong position with Kelley as long as he doesn’t pursue a professional baseball career immediately after high school.
UT hosted one official visitor this weekend, defensive tackle Lawrence Guy from Western High School in Las Vegas.
Berry Good: Freshman safety Erik Berry has 207 interception return yards this season, breaking Bobby Majors’ all-time record of 177 in 1970. Berry had two interceptions for 98 return yards against Arkansas.
Novembers to Remember: Since 1985, the Vols are 30-1 at home against SEC foes in November. The only team to beat them in the stretch was Vanderbilt in 2005.
G-Whiz: The Vols ran the G-Gun package once against Arkansas. Receiver Gerald Jones lined up at quarterback and lost 2 yards running off right guard.
Bowling: Representatives from the Capital One (Orlando, Fla.), Outback (Tampa, Fla.), Music City (Nashville) and Liberty (Memphis) Bowls were in attendance for Saturday’s game.
Injury Report: Receiver Austin Rogers was able to play the entire game despite a sore shoulder injured last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Early in the week, I really didn’t think I would be able to play.” said Rogers, who led the Vols with six receptions and 62 yards and a touchdown.
Taylor’s Troupe: Taylor said his receivers had at least nine knockdown blocks to clear the way for UT’s tailbacks.