Loss of Justin Hunter a blow to offense

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, right, comes onto field to check on an injured Justin Hunter during first half action against the Florida Gators in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the University of Florida campus Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2011

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, right, comes onto field to check on an injured Justin Hunter during first half action against the Florida Gators in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the University of Florida campus Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Game recap: Florida 33, Tennessee 23

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The grand debut the Tennessee offense had planned only lasted a handful of plays.

An unexpected change in the cast for the Vols altered the script.

UT came out firing in its first real chance to make an impact on the national scene against No. 16 Florida on Saturday, and on the fourth snap the attack looked strikingly similar to the one that had carved up two opponents to set up a high-profile showdown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Tyler Bray stood in the pocket, fired a rope to Justin Hunter and the receiver turned to make a cut upfield for extra yardage like he'd been piling up early in the season. But in the process, something apparently went wrong in his knee — and the problems compounded from there in a 33-23 loss to the Gators.

"When we lost Justin, that obviously hurt," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "We didn't handle the environment well, we didn't handle it when Justin went down very well, just emotionally, and we made a ton of mistakes.

"I think it was clear it was a break in your spirit when you saw it happen. The whole team sees it happen, and you've got to move on. It's part of it," he said. "I could tell right when he went down, I saw Tyler walk over there and our whole offense looking. It affected them, and you have to play out of it because it's part of the game. It's very unfortunate, but that's the way it is and we had to play left-handed the rest of the game."

Exactly how long the Vols (2-1, 0-1 SEC) might have to play without Bray's right-hand man won't be known until further tests are done, and Dooley indicated the knee is likely not "OK."

Hunter left the stadium on crutches with just the one catch for 12 yards, and the rest of the Vols on offense didn't leave with what they were hoping for either against the Gators (3-0, 1-0).

Bray had his first significant error of the season on the first snap of the second half, an interception that led directly to points for Florida.

Center James Stone struggled throughout the game to deliver the ball to Bray in shotgun, rolling numerous snaps back to him.

And while Da'Rick Rogers was able to add another receiving touchdown, tight end Mychal Rivera had another productive outing and Bray posted 288 more yards with three touchdowns, the Vols weren't quite the same home-run offense without Hunter.

"Justin is an impact player," Rivera said. "He's probably good for at least 14 points out there, he's good for taking away the safety and the corner. It's a huge impact, but we've just got to overcome that and continue to grow as an offense even without him.

"I feel it lingered a little bit, but we've just got to overcome that and not worry about just one player, even though he's a huge part of our offense."

No player had been bigger for the Vols in those early victories, and even across the conference Hunter stood alone as the top receiver after two weeks with 302 yards on 16 catches with a pair of touchdowns.

But without him in the formation, more attention was shifted to Rogers, the pressure from an aggressive Florida defense was dialed up on Bray and the weaknesses in the running game were exposed.

"I mean, it's tough losing one of your go-to guys as a quarterback," Bray said. "But, hey, we still had a whole three quarters to make plays — which we failed to do.

"It wasn't necessarily (lack of) focus, we just had to get our heads into it. We played, not scared, but like we didn't really know what we were doing."

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 63

LADAWG writes:

Tough loss. He is the best player on UT. Losing him makes the offense bottom of Sec.

cloudodust writes:

I think the plan was to get to Bray with pressure and when Hunter went down, that scheme didn't change. Florida was firing off and knocking Tennessee's OL backwards today and if Tennessee is gonna be a passing team, that can not happen. A tip of the cap to the gator but your secondary has been exposed. See ya'll next year...

agohn writes:

Get well soon Justin. Step up freshman.

tennrich1 writes:

in response to LADAWG:

Tough loss. He is the best player on UT. Losing him makes the offense bottom of Sec.

Don't get carried away now...I agree...he was in top 2 athletes on the field for either side...but we still have other weapons to develop...thought Arnett showed the underneath routes we can exploit some...we just got to figure out how to run the ball...offense is FAR from the bottom of the SEC without Hunter...that's just "sky is falling mentality"...IMO...just relax...

rtrchatt writes:

Get well young man, Virginians are tough.

volfan1971 writes:

in response to tennrich1:

Don't get carried away now...I agree...he was in top 2 athletes on the field for either side...but we still have other weapons to develop...thought Arnett showed the underneath routes we can exploit some...we just got to figure out how to run the ball...offense is FAR from the bottom of the SEC without Hunter...that's just "sky is falling mentality"...IMO...just relax...

You are right on TRich! Kentucky is worse than ever this year. The streak will live one with these guys this year.

RxVol2010 writes:

in response to tennrich1:

Don't get carried away now...I agree...he was in top 2 athletes on the field for either side...but we still have other weapons to develop...thought Arnett showed the underneath routes we can exploit some...we just got to figure out how to run the ball...offense is FAR from the bottom of the SEC without Hunter...that's just "sky is falling mentality"...IMO...just relax...

Agree completely

willblitz4bacon writes:

in response to volfan1971:

You are right on TRich! Kentucky is worse than ever this year. The streak will live one with these guys this year.

Agree..kensucky is worse

bamavol82 writes:

in response to LADAWG:

Tough loss. He is the best player on UT. Losing him makes the offense bottom of Sec.

UT's offense is no where near the bottom of the sec, thats crazy!JH is our best player but this gives the other wr's a chance to develope and make some plays. With the talent at wr getting extra snaps can only help.Arnett is going to be a playmaker maybe sooner than later. This was only one game alot of football left. Get well soon JH. (hopefully this season) Oh yea we need a running game. GO VOLS!!!!

BigVolinCarolina writes:

Hope Hunter has a full, healthy recovery. Time for other guys to step up.

Injuries are part of the game. I don't recall any UF players in the past ever letting an injury during the UT game demoralize them to the point to where they poorly executed (like UT did today).

On another note: our special teams play is horrible. Different coach, same story. Did a curse get put on our special teams play sometime during the 2002 season? We've been horrendous (overall) in that since.

smokies_old_soul writes:

our supposedly talented offensive line look like they are firing off the line of scrimmage out of quicksand - it's painful to watch them waddle around trying to run-block. they constantly are beaten to the punch by the defense.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Well, I was encouraged about Hunter's injury when he left the field under his own power! But now, everyone seems to think he has a torn ligament! He'll be gone for the year if that is the case! This reminds me of Jerry Colquitt going down in the first quarter against UCLA!...Chuck Webb against Pacific! Adversity strikes early and often! Not making excuses, just recalling some facts!

To the rest of the team: Where do you go from HERE? GBO!

VolSkins writes:

Matt Milton anyone?

Shake_Bake writes:

in response to VolSkins:

Matt Milton anyone?

When we recruited Milton, I had high hopes for him. Thought he would be an impact player! But for some reason, he just hasn't developed. Not sure why, but it is time for him, and all the other backup receivers to really step now and do everything they can to help this offsense.

Let's put the Florida game behind us and move on. It's only one loss, not the end of the world.

flatrock writes:

in response to BigVolinCarolina:

Hope Hunter has a full, healthy recovery. Time for other guys to step up.

Injuries are part of the game. I don't recall any UF players in the past ever letting an injury during the UT game demoralize them to the point to where they poorly executed (like UT did today).

On another note: our special teams play is horrible. Different coach, same story. Did a curse get put on our special teams play sometime during the 2002 season? We've been horrendous (overall) in that since.

Special team play is often a direct reflection of depth. Quality depth is still an issue with Vols.
Rainey's block was result of poor execution by Vols' No. 47 and slower-than-smoke punter. Go Vols!

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Why hasn't anyone commented on Dooley going for two when down by 17. The extra point made it a 16 point game and a two possesion game. By going for two Dooley left it a three possesion game. What a blunder for a coach in the SEC. Needing the ball three times with scores is much more difficult than a two score game. And how was a 15 point deficit going to be any better than a 16 point deficit? This was a Horrible decision with no up side and a terrible downside. It really blew my mind a College Coach at this level would make such a stupid call. Can't he count?

HtownVol writes:

I am so upset at the way UT played yesterday.
Hunter is the UT Offense and that was obvious today.

The BIGGEST issue though was James Stone!!!

Does everyone realize that Stone caused us at least 7-10 points. How is Bray supposed to deliver the ball to the open WT when he has to spend half of the time in the pocket watching the ball roll to him.

COME ON!!! This is a issue that a High School JV team can fix (in a game).

Our O-Line could not make a hole for the run game at all so why not put someone in who can snap the ball?

Anyone that calls himself a "athlete" can snap a ball, it takes a great O-Lineman to play after the snap. We get the kid who cant snap and 5 O-Linemen who cant make a path for a RB.

Maybe UT can start giving some other WR's some practice on this bye week. I thought we had a deep WR group, I guess Hunter is all we have.

How about D Rogers showing his fear in catching a ball in traffic? Man that is a big boy but he sure is scared.

Bray had a few horrible throws but I was very impressed with Bray. Most of his passes were exactly where he had to put them. There was a lot of times when Bray hit the WR right in the hands but our WRs could not catch like Hunter can.

Sad to see the way the team played at half speed for most of the game. Especially on Special Teams, that was so sad. Punt we let a man run in unblocked, on kickoff returns how many times did Lane catch the ball and literallt walk with the ball?

I hope I do not see UT give up in a game again, that was a game that I never want to remember. UF was NOT a good team yesterday, we just played scared to death!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BigVolinCarolina:

Hope Hunter has a full, healthy recovery. Time for other guys to step up.

Injuries are part of the game. I don't recall any UF players in the past ever letting an injury during the UT game demoralize them to the point to where they poorly executed (like UT did today).

On another note: our special teams play is horrible. Different coach, same story. Did a curse get put on our special teams play sometime during the 2002 season? We've been horrendous (overall) in that since.

Agree completely about the special teams, BViC. There are three major aspects to football: offense, defense, and special teams. In fairness, most coaches spend much more time on the first two than they do the third, but if that phase of the game is not at least competent, the other two are made correspondingly harder. The "hidden yardage" in special teams play is no myth; it is ESSENTIAL in sound, winning football. How different would yesterday's game have been if the special teams stats had been flipped between the Vols and the Gators?

I know it is hard with NCAA restrictions on practice time and numbers on squads to work as much as the coaches would like on all phases of the game. I'm sure many of us thought that Palardy and Darr would be difference-makers. So far, we haven't seen it; rather the opposite in fact. Hopefully, we will have a chance to see what Devrin Young can do to improve our return game. Still, improvement in that so-far neglected phase of the game might have more of a payoff going forward than jazzing up the fizzling ground game, for example.

JohnnyUtah3 writes:

My prayers for a speedy recovery.

Hard fought game Vols!

We'll see you in Knox next year! Go gators!

hueypilot writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Why hasn't anyone commented on Dooley going for two when down by 17. The extra point made it a 16 point game and a two possesion game. By going for two Dooley left it a three possesion game. What a blunder for a coach in the SEC. Needing the ball three times with scores is much more difficult than a two score game. And how was a 15 point deficit going to be any better than a 16 point deficit? This was a Horrible decision with no up side and a terrible downside. It really blew my mind a College Coach at this level would make such a stupid call. Can't he count?

It really breaks my heart that gamblers who gave the 9 and a half lost by a smidgen. Here's a tip for you. Don't bet on football. It's a sucker bet with the house stacked against you. Better odds at craps.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to HtownVol:

I am so upset at the way UT played yesterday.
Hunter is the UT Offense and that was obvious today.

The BIGGEST issue though was James Stone!!!

Does everyone realize that Stone caused us at least 7-10 points. How is Bray supposed to deliver the ball to the open WT when he has to spend half of the time in the pocket watching the ball roll to him.

COME ON!!! This is a issue that a High School JV team can fix (in a game).

Our O-Line could not make a hole for the run game at all so why not put someone in who can snap the ball?

Anyone that calls himself a "athlete" can snap a ball, it takes a great O-Lineman to play after the snap. We get the kid who cant snap and 5 O-Linemen who cant make a path for a RB.

Maybe UT can start giving some other WR's some practice on this bye week. I thought we had a deep WR group, I guess Hunter is all we have.

How about D Rogers showing his fear in catching a ball in traffic? Man that is a big boy but he sure is scared.

Bray had a few horrible throws but I was very impressed with Bray. Most of his passes were exactly where he had to put them. There was a lot of times when Bray hit the WR right in the hands but our WRs could not catch like Hunter can.

Sad to see the way the team played at half speed for most of the game. Especially on Special Teams, that was so sad. Punt we let a man run in unblocked, on kickoff returns how many times did Lane catch the ball and literallt walk with the ball?

I hope I do not see UT give up in a game again, that was a game that I never want to remember. UF was NOT a good team yesterday, we just played scared to death!

Certainly some valid points here, but I didn't really see any "give up" in the team yesterday; it was more a matter of "playing scared to death" as you said at the end. Rogers has had drops before; that may be one reason why they didn't throw to him much last year. However, after that catch he made between two defenders in the Cincy game, I'm not sure his courage is the issue, though he did "short-arm" a couple in the Florida game. Bray's last interception came because Z. Rogers wasn't tall enough to make that catch over the deep middle; Hunter would have had that one.

Also agree that something has to be done about Stone's snapping. And, as I said at some length on another thread, the special teams need some URGENT fixing, even at the expense of work on offense and defense. Hopefully, Devrin Young can help some on our return game.

Luckily, the bye week gives them time to work on some of this, including resetting their mental attitude. There is much more football to play this year and they can still have a decent season.

johnlg00 writes:

Oops, guess I made my main remarks about special teams on THIS thread, for all that THAT matters.

GONAVY writes:

Very surprised at the total dominance by Florida. Didn't see that coming. Hunter or no Hunter, Florida is better. Now UT needs to stand back up and get on with the rest of the season. Lots of football to be played...

gortrtt writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Why hasn't anyone commented on Dooley going for two when down by 17. The extra point made it a 16 point game and a two possesion game. By going for two Dooley left it a three possesion game. What a blunder for a coach in the SEC. Needing the ball three times with scores is much more difficult than a two score game. And how was a 15 point deficit going to be any better than a 16 point deficit? This was a Horrible decision with no up side and a terrible downside. It really blew my mind a College Coach at this level would make such a stupid call. Can't he count?

Blah blah blah...

jack_2222#231746 writes:

in response to GONAVY:

Very surprised at the total dominance by Florida. Didn't see that coming. Hunter or no Hunter, Florida is better. Now UT needs to stand back up and get on with the rest of the season. Lots of football to be played...

Oh, would have been interesting had florida lost rainey on the 4th play of the game and Hunter stayed healthy.

Rebelsfball2008 writes:

3 flordia offensive players touched the ball all day...

i still think if hunter was in UT wins..

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to JohnnyUtah3:

My prayers for a speedy recovery.

Hard fought game Vols!

We'll see you in Knox next year! Go gators!

Thank you,sir..At least there are A FEW CLASSY GATOR FANS..Most of them don't know the meaning of the word and question the word class and really don't care.

On topic, Get Well, Mr.Hunter and make a speedy recovery..You are needed.

Smokey says hopefully he is a fast healer!!

willblitz4bacon writes:

I think the loss of the running game will have a bigger impact than the loss of hunter..we ran for over1000 yards last season I don't know what the problem is..

jobrando#216494 writes:

Should it now be known if it's a season ending injury? I have heard the wood ACL but hoping for the best.

jobrando#216494 writes:

I think Arnett just replaced Zach but who will step up for Hunter?

Bigger_Al writes:

I think Hunter is the best player on the Vols, and he is a matchup nightmare for the defense. Equivalent to UF losing Rainey on their first series, which would have also altered the game.

I didn't like Mushchomp being such a baby at halftime. Should have gotten an Unsportsmanship flag. Gosh, there were at least as many questionable calls that went his way. Frankly, with the replay, looked like the officials basically got it right.

GBOEngineer writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Why hasn't anyone commented on Dooley going for two when down by 17. The extra point made it a 16 point game and a two possesion game. By going for two Dooley left it a three possesion game. What a blunder for a coach in the SEC. Needing the ball three times with scores is much more difficult than a two score game. And how was a 15 point deficit going to be any better than a 16 point deficit? This was a Horrible decision with no up side and a terrible downside. It really blew my mind a College Coach at this level would make such a stupid call. Can't he count?

You are overreacting. Given the score, you have to go for 2 point conversions twice. Doesn't really matter if it's after TDs 1 and 2, 2 and 3, or 1 and 3. Chill.

willblitz4bacon writes:

Im gonna buy stock in jack daniels among other liquor brands. The lack off a running game should drive the price up

writer#358485 writes:

We had tough breaks, losing Hunter being the worst. However, even though the game plan didn't work without Hunter, no one gave up--lost their concentration occasionally, yes, but give up, no.

With Hunter we win that game. Florida wasn't better, just more fortunate. Hope Hunter isn't out for the season, but even if he is, this team is going to give a lot of people a lot of trouble this year.

We're only in the second year of a rebuilding that was expected to last awhile. I'd say we're ahead of schedule. The future looks bright and this season doesn't look that bad.

Dooley and our great assistants are going to put the Vols back where they belong, in the championship hunt. If it doesn't happen this year, it will soon. Meanwhile, we're putting a good (not great, but very good), and still very young, team on the field that will be heard from before this season is over. Beyond that, the sky is the limit!

Go Vols!

asleep#212036 writes:

in response to willblitz4bacon:

I think the loss of the running game will have a bigger impact than the loss of hunter..we ran for over1000 yards last season I don't know what the problem is..

Thank you. Seven yards net rushing? SEVEN?!!! Hunter is a great player but with or without him, in the SEC, if you can't run the ball at least a little you will not win - period. I had a feeling the coach-speak after we couldn't run on Montana or Cincinnati was a harbinger of bad things and I was right. Florida's front seven are really good but so are Alabama's, LSU's, South Carolina's, etc.... If Chaney doesn't figure out some way to move the ball on the ground, especially with the likely loss of Hunter, we are going to struggle to win 6 games. On the up-side, I did think the defense did all they could. Sure they blew some assignments and missed some tackles but all in all, a good effort. And the best thing was they never gave up which may be the most important thing of all. Go Vols!!!

arkyvol writes:

if the team plays like they did yesterday, and the coaching staff coaches like it did, you can mark a big 'L' next to vandy.

writer#358485 writes:

in response to arkyvol:

if the team plays like they did yesterday, and the coaching staff coaches like it did, you can mark a big 'L' next to vandy.

I don't gamble, but if I did, I'd take that bet.

UTSmokey04 writes:

Tennessee was shell shocked by the Hunter loss. Before that, Florida took the ball and drove it right down the field, like Cincinnati before and Montana before that. I don't know that UT's biggest concern should be who replaces Hunter. UT proved they could score without him in the second half, albeit incredibly easier with him. The biggest concern is what defensive game plan is DC Wilcox coming up with week in and week out? There are many guys on this thread that are probably high school, or lower level college coaches, as am I. I tried for two straight quarters to figure out what UT's defensive game plan was against a Charlie Weis offense and am still baffled. Did Brantley throw more than two balls over 15 yards the entire game? Weis is known for quick hitters, screens, plays out of the backfield. UT looked like they had no idea it was coming. Highly disappointing...

willblitz4bacon writes:

in response to asleep#212036:

Thank you. Seven yards net rushing? SEVEN?!!! Hunter is a great player but with or without him, in the SEC, if you can't run the ball at least a little you will not win - period. I had a feeling the coach-speak after we couldn't run on Montana or Cincinnati was a harbinger of bad things and I was right. Florida's front seven are really good but so are Alabama's, LSU's, South Carolina's, etc.... If Chaney doesn't figure out some way to move the ball on the ground, especially with the likely loss of Hunter, we are going to struggle to win 6 games. On the up-side, I did think the defense did all they could. Sure they blew some assignments and missed some tackles but all in all, a good effort. And the best thing was they never gave up which may be the most important thing of all. Go Vols!!!

Im only asking for 80-100 yards per game. We are in dire need of some productivity at the HB pos. One of my favorite backs was charlie garner..i NEVER seen a running back hit a hole that hard in a long time..boy I miss him. When cdd talks about poole not being committed he just needs to pop in a tape of charlie garner..our running game has to improved dramatically for us to win any sec games...

willblitz4bacon writes:

Just enough to keep the defense honest

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

Still think our OL is overrated as well as Poole being overrated. We are still an average team and will have to overachieve for 7-6. We have a tough row to hoe in Oct!! Will be 3-5 by then before the Nov. lull. Vandy and Ky will be a toss-up game for us.

TKO writes:

in response to mountainViews:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Could be, but until Tennessee can recruit what was needed when the line was deminished to no depth the last few years, it will be tough on anyone playing QB. I believe Bray witnessed the carnage that Simms went through last year. I believe the depth and talent will be there, but not over night. Young lineman take a while to develop and understand blocking schemes. Once the first group has it, you hope that the 2nd and third string are in place to learn from it. Recently, UT just has not had that depth to teach and the young men now are learning "on-the-job" Hopefully, the next two classes "beef "up the depth chart.

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to Rebelsfball2008:

3 flordia offensive players touched the ball all day...

i still think if hunter was in UT wins..

Wow that really shows how pathetic Wilcox is.

brokendownoldvol writes:

Dooley needs to call in a couple of good Pop Warner coaches who can teach basic blocking and tackling and start over from there.

VOLliven2it writes:

Terrible blow but does not blow out our season. If we don't run the ball better somehow, the season will be blown. It was salt in a bitter wound, lose Justin and the game but we are the TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS and unlike many naysayers we have seen and will see over the next two weeks, I believe we are on the way back just a long climb still to go. GO BIG ORANGE!

OrangeCounsel writes:

in response to LADAWG:

Tough loss. He is the best player on UT. Losing him makes the offense bottom of Sec.

It makes the offense awful, but not the bottom of the SEC. That's what we keep Kentucky and Ole Miss around for.

willblitz4bacon writes:

in response to brokendownoldvol:

Wow that really shows how pathetic Wilcox is.

The wilcox defense is what kept Tennessee in the ball game. This is a VERY young defense..I don't care if Gen.Neyland himself was the coach ..CDD will restore Tennessee Football..GBO!!!!!!

willblitz4bacon writes:

in response to willblitz4bacon:

The wilcox defense is what kept Tennessee in the ball game. This is a VERY young defense..I don't care if Gen.Neyland himself was the coach ..CDD will restore Tennessee Football..GBO!!!!!!

Look for Dooley to get a top 15 maybe better recruiting class..I agree with cdd last year was year 0; this is year. 1

cooper65#432178 writes:

in response to GBOEngineer:

You are overreacting. Given the score, you have to go for 2 point conversions twice. Doesn't really matter if it's after TDs 1 and 2, 2 and 3, or 1 and 3. Chill.

You are correct and Handicapper is an idiot. The decision to go for two at that point was a nonfactor. Maybe if we only needed one 2-point conversion, but we needed two. At some point we were going to have to get 2 2-pointers.

tennrich1 writes:

After having a while to think about it I can sum it up for me like this...Its still #16 ranked Florida in the swamp and we were right in the middle of that game especially at the end having lost argueable our best offensive player in 10 plus years...we completely redid our game plan and it dang near worked...granted Florida has serious issues in there secondary and trouble scoring in the red zone...but STILL..we didnt give up....and D.Arnett is a player, no doubt about it and Milton can step up now, hopefully...LETS JUST FIND A RUNNING GAME SOMEWHERE...hey if Devrin Young is healthy give him a shot...

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features