Odds are Tennessee’s defense will never have to worry about Johnny Manziel. I’m sure all agree that’s a good thing.
Texas A&M isn’t on the schedule this year or next. The possibility is still out there for 2015, if Manziel is still around as a senior and if the SEC decides to match the Vols and Aggies by their fourth season in the league.
Never mind Johnny Football. Tennessee is in for a dose of dual-threat quarterbacks over the remaining six games.
The Vols are at the halfway point of 2013 going into an open date. Here are four opponents to watch in the second half of the season.
There’s a theme. All four are quarterbacks who can hurt you with their feet.
It’s a relevant theme because the Vols already have been hurt by mobile quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota of Oregon took it easy (running-wise) but there were problems chasing Florida’s Tyler Murphy, South Alabama’s Ross Metheny and, for one killer play, Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
Here’s a look ahead. This is chronological order but it’s also how I’d rank the four as threats:
Connor Shaw. He’s headed to Neyland Stadium on Oct. 19. In a league with Manziel, Murray and A.J. McCarron, Shaw gets overlooked. He shouldn’t.
He has a hefty pass-efficency rating of 173.92. He throws for 185 yards a game and is South Carolina’s second-leading rusher at 56.4 yards a game.
“He’s really good at avoiding bad plays,’’ South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday. “That’s why we’ve won a bunch of games. We’re not winning by dominating on defense or special teams.’’
James Franklin. Missouri’s senior is finally showing the SEC what he can do when he’s healthy. He’ll show the Vols on Nov. 2.
In Missouri’s initial SEC tour last fall, Franklin was a shadow of his sophomore self due to shoulder, knee and concussion issues.
“He had more injuries in one year,’’ said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, “than all the quarterbacks in my 21 previous years combined.’’
Mizzou is 5-0, ranked again and headed to Georgia. Franklin is passing for 281 yards a game and rushing for another 55.
“With what happened to him last year,’’ Pinkel said, “all the criticism and all the stuff when you’re a quarterback and not winning, he is a lot more mentally tough than he was before. He’s more driven than he was before.’’
Nick Marshall. Auburn’s first-year quarterback won’t threaten for the pass-efficiency title but he got better in an upset of Ole Miss.
“He’s got a quick release,’’ said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, “and he’s getting better with his timing throws. I think he’s improving.’’
While Marshall’s arm gets up to speed, his legs are doing just fine, thank you. He is Auburn’s No. 2 rusher at 57 yards a game. He carried 14 times for 140 yards and two scores against Ole Miss.
“We did a lot of zone read and he made the right decision every time,’’ Malzahn said.
Jalen Whitlow. Kentucky finally settled on a quarterback last week, giving Whitlow every snap in a 35-28 loss at South Carolina. The sophomore responded.
He was 17-of-24 passing for 178 yards and ran for 69 more. He’s Kentucky’s leading rusher.
“He showed us he gave us a better ability to create big plays,’’ said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.’’
He’ll show the Vols on Nov. 30.