Although freshmen Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone were household names prior to the season, who has lived up to the hype, and who else has stepped up?
Living Up to the Hype- Jalen Hurd, RB
Why: Hurd is the obvious answer here, and at this point it’s not even close. He ran for 119 yards at #12 Georgia on Saturday, matching Heisman candidate Todd Gurley nearly yard for yard for over half the game. Although Butch Jones wants to split carries between Hurd and senior Marlin Lane, it’s been impossible to ignore Hurd’s level of play. His ability to create big plays and churn out yardage has been even more impressive behind an extremely struggling offensive line.
Emerging From the Shadows- Derek Barnett, DE
Why: Derek Barnett has been dominant as a freshman on arguably the second-youngest area of Tennessee’s team. He has 19 tackles and has been extremely disruptive in every game so far. Although the defensive line as a whole has failed to put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Barnett has consistently ended up in opponents’ backfields and has drawn a lot of attention. He was talked about more and more throughout training camp and fall practices due to his effort and ability, and his play on the field has certainly backed that up.
Flying Under the Radar: Todd Kelly Jr, S and Jashon Robertson, OG
Why: Todd Kelly Jr would have won this one outright if he wouldn’t have picked off Hutson Mason Saturday against Georgia (The interception moved him more into the spotlight). Kelly has stepped into the safety role and provided a much needed athletic and energetic presence alongside LaDarrel McNeil. Jashon Robertson, like Derek Barnett, has been performing admirably in a young and inexperienced position group. Robertson has been the most consistent offensive lineman in pass protection for Justin Worley. This isn’t something to be taken lightly given that he’s faced two of the more menacing defensive fronts in college football in Oklahoma and Georgia. Both he and Todd Kelly Jr will need to keep up their impressive play in order for Tennessee to play well and have a chance to make a bowl game.
Edited by Will Lomas