KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Heading into Saturday’s match-up with Kentucky, Tennessee’s defensive coaching staff is spending plenty of time attempting to devise a game plan to slow down the Wildcats’ offense, specifically quarterback Patrick Towles.”We are going to bounce back against Kentucky,” said Jancek on the heels of allowing 42 points to South Carolina last game. “Emmanuel Moseley, (Cameron) Sutton, (Justin) Coleman, our two safeties will be challenged by the concepts these guys run.”
With Towles under center the Wildcats have various weapons to aide their offense.
“They have really good skill on the outside. I think they have good speed, but the quarterback he is the real enigma,” said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. “You really have to be on point this week. You are trying to rush the passer but you don’t want him coming through there. Same thing on the quarterback runs. I think he is an outstanding player.”
Jancek said that when watching film of the Wildcats, he has been very impressed with Towles.
“I see a team that’s improving each and every single week,” said Jancek. “I see a quarterback that has great command, that’s got a lot of confidence,” he said. “I think they’re doing some really good things with him in the running game.”
The mobile Towles, says Jancek, will present challenges both in the secondary, and up front for the Tennessee defense.
“We talk about it each and every single week – designed quarterback runs – and that’s just the wave of college football right now. To have those kinds of game plans is an advantage for an offense when you run the quarterback,” he said.
“So, we’ve got to do a great job of getting off blocks. They’re going to neutralize the extra defender when they do run him, and you’ve got to be able to make plays. Somebody’s got to beat a block.”
“And the other thing that I think Towles does a really good job of is in the throw game, if it’s not there, he takes the ball and tucks it and takes off and he’ll hurt you with his feet. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen him in third-and-longs, you know, if it’s not there, tuck the ball and go pick up a first down. So, we have a huge challenge in all areas.”
THE BENEFITS OF A GOOD BALANCE
The Vols’ wide receiver unit has witnessed a number of players have success, with five different receivers posting 20-or-more catches so far this season. Among them is freshman running back Jalen Hurd and true freshman receiver Josh Malone, providing Tennessee with two new go-to guys in the mix of an evolving young offense.
“It’s a testament to the depth and competition that exists at all of our positions,” Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian said. “It’s evidence of how our guys complement one another, support one another and how our quarterbacks distribute the football and have done a good job of making decisions.”
Hurd and Malone are just two of the many young players taking reps in practice and according to Wide Receivers Coach Zach Azzanni, it’s all by design.
“We have a lot of really good players on the perimeter, including tight ends and backs,” Azzanini said. “If we can move the ball around, we want to do that all the time. We still have a lot of playmakers out there and that’s what we’ve been trying to get done through recruiting.”
Among the benefits of having a well-balanced receiving core, Bajakian notes that the more skilled players available to make plays on the field, the more pressure Team 118 can put on their opponents’ coverages.
“When you have good depth and good competition at the positions, it affords you the opportunity to spread the ball around and as much as anything, it makes the defense have to defend more guys,” Bajakian said.
Along with creating good chemistry between each receiver and the quarterbacks group, Azzanni sees another perk to using multiple receivers through the remainder of the season. Repetitions build confidence and experience, which will be crucial as the Vols continue to develop their young talent.
“We’re going to stockpile skilled athletes and we’re going to get them each the ball as many times as we can,” Azzanni said. “The only way to utilize everybody is to give them the ball. When we recruit kids, we sell them on the fact that we want to run 90 plays a game. If there are four receivers in there and each one of them gets 10 passes, there are still 50 plays left. The benefit is more touches, more and more plays and opportunities to get each one the ball.”
HIGH PRAISE FOR HURD’S WORK ETHIC
Freshman running back Jalen Hurd has proven himself to be anything but the typical freshman. Not only has he shown the talent of a player beyond his years, he has also shown the work ethic and durability of veteran back.
Running backs Coach Robert Gillespie says Hurd’s durability has been a testament to his work ethic and the great work of Tennessee’s strength and conditioning program.
“I think Jalen has done a really good job of doing the little things after practice, you know, cold tubs, icing … he’s the last person in the weight room every day,” said Gillespie.
“So, I think he’s done a really good job. He hasn’t hit that freshman wall because he does a really good job, and (strength) Coach Lawson and those guys do a really good job of making those guys understand how to prepare for a long season, and he’s done a good job with that so far.”
Gillespie further emphasized the importance of the Tennessee strength and conditioning program put together by head coachButch Jones and strength coach Dave Lawson, saying that it has played a pivotal role in preparing Hurd, and the rest of this freshman class, for the wear and tear of SEC football.
“A lot of it’s education,” he said. “Coach Jones has a plan in place, and like I said, Coach Lawson does a really good job. From day one, when these kids get in here, we’ve talked to them about how to take care of their bodies.
“The way to eat, nutrition, all those things. So, again, some of it has to do with the kind of kid [Hurd] is, but a lot of it is a plan that we have in place. We have a lot of freshmen that really take advantage of the off the field stuff right now.”
And while the Vols’ conditioning program has already made an impact on Hurd, Gillespie said that this is only the beginning for the freshman back’s physical maturation.
“Once we get a full off-season in here, we get a chance to really work with them,” he said. “Like I said, he’s fully healthy now with his shoulder. He’ll be able to lift weights the right way, and once he puts on added pounds, it’s going to make him a premier back in this league. I think he’ll be a good player.”
VERSATILE KERBYSON IMPRESSES
It’s not every day you meet a player who has started at three different positions in the SEC. The 2014 Hammer Strength All-American and redshirt junior Kyler Kerbyson has continues to impress offensive line coach Don Mahoney with his ability to not only learn his position but to give himself every opportunity to succeed.
“When I first got here, I knew there was a guy of his size and strength and had the ability to do some things at different positions,” Mahoney said. “The part that is probably his biggest strength is his mental capacity that he has of understanding our offense and here’s something that is always important for linemen: you have to know what your deficiency is. Recognizing that and knowing how to overcome it.”
In nine starts this season, Kerbyson has started at right tackle, left tackle and left guard due to line-up changes and injuries to other members of the offensive line.
Mahoney compares Kerbyson’s game intellect to that of former Tennessee offensive lineman and current starting NFL rookie Zach Fulton.
“I’ll give a perfect example. Zach Fulton.” Mahoney said. “It’s been told to me from some of the scouts that the reason that Zach is having some of the success that he is having is because Zach is a very intelligent kid that understands some of the things that he’s not as good at and he works to overcome it. Some guys are just blind to it and just think that they’re quick and that they’re strong but they’re really not. They have to find ways of overcoming that.
“Kyler has done a good job of being able to understand the offense, reading defenses and being able to allow himself to be one step ahead or give himself a chance to execute the block at different positions. That has been his strong suit. Can he have the ball in his hand and snap? Sure he can. It hasn’t been something he has done a lot of lately but he’s the one guy that has the ability to play really every position. Tackle is one that he has fought his way. Naturally by stature you’d like your guys to be a lot taller at that position but again he finds a way to battle at that position and that’s what he has done all year.”