Montori Hughes on academic suspension
A season that started with great expectations for Montori Hughes will end with him on the sideline.
The sophomore defensive tackle, who's struggled with injuries and never really delivered on the preseason attention he received this year, will miss the regular-season finale against Kentucky on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.) due to an academic suspension.
Vols coach Derek Dooley announced the decision on Monday during his weekly press conference, and no matter how Hughes has played to this point, his absence could be a significant issue for a team already short on depth in the middle of the defensive line as UT tries to earn a bowl bid against the Wildcats.
"We suspended Montori Hughes for academic reasons, an academic suspension similar to what (fullback) Kevin Cooper went through early in the year," Dooley said. "He won't be playing in the game.
"I do (think it's big), because we're so thin and unproductive at defensive tackle. Anybody we lose there, it hurts the team - there's no question. But we have an academic accountability system that they understand and they know the consequences. I've told them, it's the same old line that everybody can do what they want. Everybody has freedom of choice, but nobody has freedom of consequence and at some point, you can't play."
The Vols (5-6, 2-5 SEC) reached that point with Hughes heading into the last week of the regular season, though his impact statistically has been minimal throughout the second half of the schedule.
He was a handful in the trenches early in the season, looking every bit like the unblockable force UT hoped he would become will logging multiple tackles in each of the first five games. But since then, Hughes has limped through practices and only tallied three total tackles over the last six games - and he wasn't credited with any over the last two weeks.
Hughes could possibly return for a bowl game if the Vols beat Kentucky, but his regular season will end with 16 total tackles, 3.5 of them for a loss, along with a sack and two passes defended.
"I thought that there were some unreasonable and unfair expectations on Montori, like there are a lot of high school guys," Dooley said. "That's why I don't get caught up in the stars.
"There are so many things that go into playing to your capacity and being a good player, and there was really no history of Montori playing well."
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.