Another loss wasn’t even the end.
After closing October without a victory on Saturday, the last day of the month provided one more bit of bad news for the Tennessee football team.
Defensive lineman Jacques Smith was involved in a fight early Sunday morning after the Vols lost 38-24 at No. 18 South Carolina. It was the first arrest during the season under coach Derek Dooley in his first year with the program. Smith was issued a warrant for simple assault after an incident at RT Warehouse on Cumberland Avenue, turned himself in and was released later in the day on $2,000 bond according to a statement from the Knoxville Police Department.
And though the matter isn’t believed to be all that serious and Dooley indicated the freshman’s punishment would be handled “internally,” the issue certainly wasn’t the way the Vols wanted to turn the page into November and they surely can’t do it fast enough.
“Well, it sounded like in this latest incident that there were some emotions over a girl,” Dooley said during his weekly teleconference. “Jacques used some bad judgment and our team did the right thing to defuse the situation.
“So, I’m not sure that the incident with Jacques is a cultural issue. I think for the most part we’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress in how our players are conducting themselves off the field.”
In fact, just hours before the fight the Vols (2-6, 0-5 SEC) had been complimented separately by both the Transportation Security Administration at the airport and the flight crew bringing them home from South Carolina, and on the field they played perhaps their most complete game since Dooley took over.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray took advantage of his opportunity to relieve Matt Simms with two impressive touchdown passes, the UT defense bottled up star receiver Alshon Jeffery for most of the afternoon and collectively the inexperienced roster was close to a breakthrough victory against a ranked team on the road.
That all came undone with a big play from Jeffery in the fourth quarter to break the game open, and UT’s clean record since a brawl at Bar Knoxville in July came to an end shortly after.
According to the KPD statement, the victim, 21-year-old Allen Lewis, was dancing with a female just after 2 a.m. “when he was hit in the head from behind. The victim then fell to the ground where the suspect continued to assault the victim by kicking and punching him.”
Lewis, the statement read, required stitches to a finger and medical treatment for a concussion.
“We had an incident last night involving Jacques Smith,” UT associate athletic director for communications Jimmy Stanton said during the teleconference. “Based on what we’ve heard from both the police and Jacques, there was an altercation between Jacques and another student regarding a girl. Once the altercation started, members of our team who were present stepped in and defused the situation.
“All parties then walked out on their own accord and without major injuries. There were no further incidents, and several hours later the other student and his mother decided to press charges. Those are the facts as have been relayed to us.”
Barring further developments, that would appear to close the matter for the Vols, who can use the big-play potential Smith, who was suspended one game during the high school playoffs last season for punching a teammate, has shown as a true freshman up front as Tennessee tries to right the ship heading into the final month of the regular season.
Four straight losses during a winless October eliminated any room for error if UT is going to get to the six wins necessary to earn a bowl bid, though Dooley has never specifically addressed that as a goal during his first season at the helm. He has spoken much more often about the continuing change in culture the Vols are working on, though, and even with Smith’s hiccup there are still signs of progress.
“Coincidentally I got word from the airline that this was the most respectful, best-behaved football team that they’ve ever transported,” Dooley said. “That means a lot to me, and I think that’s a good statement about some of the progress that we’re making off the field. I’m not just saying that in light of what happened last night, but I thought that was a good positive thing from a third party.
“On the field it’s going to take some time, too. But we showed a lot of progress yesterday in competing for 60 minutes and not getting affected by adversity. We just have a lot of breakdowns in execution, and that just comes with being a better football team.”
After a brutal October, turning the calendar might provide a clean slate to work that all out.
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.