Vols’ 2018 National Signing Day: Pruitt signs multiple defenders

Tennessee has finished up its 2018 National Signing Day recruiting cycle and the Vols landed themselves the No. 20 overall ranked recruiting class according to 247sports.com.

Head coach Jeremy Pruitt and his assistants are proud of where they went with this class, regardless of where they are ranked.

“We’re excited about the 20 young men we’ve added to this class,” Pruitt said. “These guys are going to lay the foundation for the next four to five years.”

The Vols finished the official signing day with six total signees, and five of the six came on defense.

3-Star Trevon Flowers, freshman, safety, 6-1, 185 lbs.

From: Tucker HS, Georgia.

A former baseball player who only played one year of high school football, Flowers chose to come to school and forego playing major league baseball.

“He played shortstop on his high school team and he’d possibly be getting drafted but wants to go to school,” Pruitt said. “He wants to play football and he’s going to be really good at it,”

Flowers is a versatile defensive player and will most likely be used as Pruitt’s prototypical “Minkah Fitzpatrick” type of player, otherwise known as the “star” position in Pruitt’s 3-4 style defense.

Pruitt sees Flowers playing a large role in the defense down the road.

“The good thing is he’s only done it for a year so he doesn’t have any bad habits. He could come play corner for us, he could play star, he could play safety. When we get him here we’ll see what he’s best suited for.”

He is expected to play everywhere on the defensive side of the ball, and Pruitt doesn’t see him having a problem with that.

“(Flowers is) a very unique individual, has a very good skill set as a defensive back and could probably play all six positions back there,”Pruitt said. “I think this guy’s going to be a very good player for us one day.”

3-Star Kurott Garland, freshman, defensive lineman, 6-3, 250 lbs. 

From: Heritage HS, Georgia.

Garland was a player the staff was looking at in between preparing for the playoffs and getting settled in at Tennessee.

“(Garland) was a young man that we found kind of over the break … looking through all the all-state teams just trying to find guys that possibly were under the radar,” Pruitt said. “He fits a need as far as a guy that can play defensive tackle for us … he’s going to be a really good football player.”

Garland, an undersized defensive tackle in Pruitt’s defense, would have to bulk up in order to receive significant playing time this upcoming season. Pruitt’s prototypical defensive tackle is roughly 285 pounds and takes up a lot of space in the middle of the defense.

4-Star Emmit Gooden, junior, defensive lineman, 6-4, 305 lbs.

From: Haywood HS/ Independence C.C. – JUCO.

Gooden is a transfer from junior college that has been trying to get to the university for a couple years now. After a stint at Independence Community College, Gooden is close to returning to his dream school.

“He’s going to finish up in May,” Pruitt said. “He has a little bit of work to do, but he’s a big man … really good motor, and another guys that fits for us inside with what we’re trying to do defensively.”

Gooden chose to return to Tennessee over Mississippi State, West Virginia and Arkansas. He also had offers from Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

3-Star John Mincey, freshman, defensive lineman, 6-4, 255 lbs. 

From: Clinch County HS, Georgia.

Mincey is a player that the staff has had their eyes on for a couple of years, and Pruitt is glad he decided to choose the Vols over South Carolina.

“Probably all of our guys on staff have had him in camp at some point in time,” Pruitt said. “He’s very athletic, plays basketball, and that’s another guy on the defensive front.”

Although he fits the frame of an ideal 3-4 defensive tackle, Pruitt believes he needs to put on some weight and fill out to compete for playing time this upcoming season – as Mincey sits at 255 pounds.

Mincey chose the Vols over South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn and Florida.

4-Star, JJ Peterson, freshman, linebacker, 6-2, 230 lbs. 

Colquitt County HS, Georgia.

Peterson is the crown and jewel of the class, plain and simple. Peterson was thought late to be considering flipping his commitment from Pruitt and the Vols to Alabama, but made himself a household name by sticking with his commitment on a patchy signing day for the big orange.

Peterson received high praise from his new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, and rightfully so. Peterson is the No. 48 overall player in the class, and one that Nick Saban pushed hard for, which left the Tide short of a coveted outside linebacker.

“We would have liked to have two inside linebackers but we got one,” Saban said in his press conference after the Tide wrapped up their 2018 recruiting cycle.

Pruitt is very optimistic about Peterson and his on-field ability.

“(JJ Peterson) has a very unique skill set at linebacker and can actually play all four positions, inside or outside,” Pruitt said. “He’s a guy that can play man-to-man on third down, he can rush the quarterback, but he’s a guy that can make plays in space also.”

Pruitt held on tight to his highest rated target, and wants the fan base to know it won’t be that way next spring.

“Give this staff a full year,” Pruitt said. “When you look at the rankings next year on National Signing Day, we’re gonna be right at the top.”

Edited by Seth Raborn

Former Vol Tennys Sandgren makes dreams come true in Australian Open

All eyes were on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the men’s draw of the 2018 Australian Open. But former Tennessee tennis star Tennys Sandgren flew fearlessly under the radar in his first appearance at the Australian Open held annually in Melbourne, Australia. Sandgren competed for the Tennessee men’s tennis team from 2010-2011.

The un-seeded American made a historic run in this year’s Australian Open, defeating two ATP top 10 ranked opponents along the way. By the time the Gallatin, Tennessee native lost, he was the last American standing in the tournament. He is the first former Tennessee player to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open since 2000, when current Tennessee men’s tennis head coach Chris Woodruff’s run ended in a loss to tennis great Pete Sampras.

In the first round, Sandgren defeated Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 7(7)-6(2), 6-2 in straight sets. The former Vol moved on to the second round where he defeated 2014 Australian Open winner and No. 9 ranked Swiss, Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in straight sets.

“It’s something going into a tournament like this, you don’t know if you’ll get an opportunity or a look or even be able to take advantage of it,” Sandgren said after his second-round win. “So, to come out of it with a victory, it’s a huge deal for me.”

Many pundits attributed Wawrinka’s loss to rust from his recovery due to an off-season knee surgery, but it was Sandgren who would move on to the third round where he would face 22-year-old German, Maximilian Marterer. The former Vol defeated Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7(7)-6(5) in four sets.

Sandgren finally turned heads and received international media attention when he defeated No. 5 ranked Dominic Thiem 6-2, 4-6, 7(7)-6(4), 6(7)-7(9), 6-3 in a thrilling five-set round of 16 match. Thiem, who is widely considered to be an up-and-coming tennis star, was a heavy favorite coming into the Australian Open.

“It’s taken a lot of time going into it, but to get all your wins in one sitting is strange,” Sandgren said after defeating Thiem which allowed him to move on to the second week of the tournament.

Sandgren’s debut Australian Open run ended in the quarterfinals where he would lose to Hyeon Chung. Although the former Vol kept the match close and even saved four match points, Chung would defeat Sandgren 6-4, 7(7)-6(5), 6-3 in straight sets.

Chung – the highest ranked South Korean tennis player in the world – made headlines defeating No. 4 ranked Alexander Zverev and six-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic in the previous rounds.

Tennys Sandgren who is currently ranked No. 97 in the world will look to build on an impressive Australian Open campaign, as he continues with the remainder of the 2018 ATP calendar season.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 20 Tennessee loses heartbreaker to Washington State

No. 20 Tennessee lost to the Washington State Cougars 2-2 (1-4, PKs) on Friday afternoon in a Round of 32 NCAA Tournament matchup at the Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The game marks the first meeting between the two teams since a 2005 regular season matchup when Washington State defeated Tennessee 3-2 in overtime.

In last week’s NCAA Tournament first round play, Tennessee defeated Murray St. 2-0 while Washington St. upset the No. 2 seed UCF 1-0 en-route to the second round.

In the first half, both teams battled back-and-forth as they settled into the game. Tennessee had an early opportunity in the 10th minute when redshirt freshman Erin Gilroy had a shot-on-goal, but the shot was blocked by a Washington St. defender. Freshman Wrenne French’s rebound attempt was easily saved by the Cougar goalkeeper.

In the 13th minute, Washington St.’s Morgan Weaver would score near-post past the outstretched hand of goalie Shae Yanez. Weaver’s seventh goal of the season put Washington St. up 1-0.

Tennessee would tie the game 1-1 in the 20th minute when junior Danielle Marcano headed the ball in the back-of-the-net off a corner kick from redshirt sophomore Katie Cousins. Marcano wouldn’t be done scoring as she added a second goal in the 30th minute to put Tennessee up 2-1. The score remained 2-1 heading into the break.

Similar to the start of the first half, the second half opened with more back-and-forth action between the two sides. Marcano had the opportunity for a hat-trick in 62nd minute, but her shot narrowly missed wide of the goal.

The Cougars wouldn’t go away as Kelsee Crenshaw scored a goal off an impressive long range shot in the 79th minute to tie the game at 2-2.

Washington St. would have the best opportunity at a game-winning goal in the 88th minute when Weaver delivered a long-range shot-on-goal. Yanez made the crucial save to keep the score at 2-2 as the game headed into overtime.

Per NCAA Tournament rules, one “golden goal” is needed for a team to win the game. The game would end the second a goal is scored, but neither team was able to score in two ten-minute overtimes. The game would go into penalty kicks.

Prior to the penalty kicks, Tennessee made a switch in-goal putting in freshman Ashley Orkus. Tennessee would be outscored 4-1 with Washington St. goalie Ella Dederick making three crucial saves to help the Cougars win.

Washington St. will now move on to the round of 16 and will await the winner of between No. 3 Florida and South Florida. The round of 16 game is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. ET in Gainesville.

Tennessee was without junior Khadija Shaw who suffered an apparent head injury in the game against Murray State last weekend. Shaw leads the team in goal with 14 goals on the season.

The Lady Vols will conclude an impressive 2017 season with a record of 15-4-2. The team will say goodbye to seniors Ariel Kupritz and Michele Christy leaving behind a strong, core group to build on for the 2018 season.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of UT Sports

Five things Tennessee needs to do to beat Missouri

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

The Tennessee Volunteers are coming off a homecoming win over Southern Mississippi, snapping a five-game losing skid. The Vols have not won a conference game since beating the Missouri last season. Looking to get back on track in conference play and pick up a win, here are five things Tennessee will have to accomplish to beat the Tigers once again on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Keep Trey Smith planted at left tackle

Photo courtesy of Adrien Terricabras

Trey Smith is an absolute dog. After surrendering seven sacks against Kentucky last Saturday, along with tons of injuries on the offensive line, Vols head coach Butch Jones finally decided to move Smith back to left tackle.

This was the best decision Jones has made all-year long, as this is Smith’s natural position. Smith makes the offensive line better as a whole, as Tennessee only gave up two sacks against Southern Mississippi with a backup quarterback. Smith plays to the whistle every play and has been one of the grittiest players in all of college football this season.

Contain the Missouri passing game

Drew Lock has been carving up defenses the past three weeks. Lock leads the NCAA with 31 passing touchdowns on the year, and has thrown 14 touchdowns through his last three games. In order to have success, the Vols do not necessarily even have to sack Lock.

In a 35-3 loss to Purdue earlier in the year, Lock only completed 12 of 28 passes and threw for a lackluster 133 yards. The odd statistic here is that Lock was never sacked against Purdue.

Purdue contained vertical passes and made sure they weren’t beat deep in the game. Lock threw two interceptions, and as long as Shawn Shamburger, Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley can go Saturday, the Vols could have the same success Purdue did.

Let John Kelly loose 

Getting John Kelly the football in several different ways will be important for Tennessee. Kelly is the most explosive player Tennessee has, and instead of running him 20-25 times-per-game, Tennessee needs to get Kelly the ball in various ways.

One way to get Kelly the ball in open space could be to motion him to the slot and match him up with a linebacker. The Tennessee coaching staff could take a page out of Penn State’s book.

Penn State has a Heisman front-runner in Saquon Barkley, and he is in that situation because James Franklin lets his star running back loose.

With Evan Berry out for the year, putting John Kelly on kickoff return wouldn’t be the worst decision for the team if they are looking to make a bowl game. Barkley lines up for kickoff returns, and it proves to NFL teams how durable he is. Especially when he doesn’t even get touched.

Control the ball

The more the Missouri offense gets the ball, the more vertical passes the Volunteers will face. Tigers head coach Barry Odom has dedicated himself to running a run-and-gun offense since week one.

Tennessee needs to move the ball three- or four-yards at a time and make sure it controls tempo in this game. There was a lot of under center as well as pro-style offense versus Southern Mississippi, and the Vols were able to control the tempo and let the defense rest because of this.

Force turnovers

In order to control the tempo and keep Missouri from scoring points, the Vols need to log several interceptions against Lock.

Missouri only has two games all season where they scored under 30 points. Even in losses this year, Lock has performed well. In order to beat the Tigers, Tennessee must force turnovers to shake Drew Lock.

Missouri will throw the ball up and down the field all game long. This falls right into Tennessee’s lap, as they ranked No. 1 against the pass in the SEC and dead last against the run.

Featured image courtesy of UT Sports

Edited by Seth Raborn

Tennessee handles Southern Miss in 101st homecoming game

Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC) needed all the defensive help they could get to stretch open their lead against the Golden Eagles of Southern Miss. With two third quarter forced turnovers, the Volunteers were able to edge past Southern Miss by a score of 24-10. Junior running back John Kelly led the team with two touchdowns on the ground.

The 94,000 fans who embraced Neyland Stadium for the Volunteers annual homecoming game where treated to an exceptional game to say the least.

Tennessee got off to a quick start after Evan Berry’s 46-yard return from the opening kick-off. With Jarrett Guarantano under-center, the Vols marched right down the field with several huge plays from wide receiver Marquez Calloway and Kelly. Nine plays later, Guarantano found the checkerboard with a 3-yard scramble.

The score would remain 7-0 until the middle of the second quarter when the Golden Eagles would get on the scoreboard with a Parker Shaunfield 27-yard field goal, finishing off a 10 play, 77-yard drive.

Tennessee would extend its lead to 10-3 going into halftime with a 38-yard Aaron Medley field goal. The 12 play, 68-yard scoring drive featured two quarterbacks after Guarantano went down with an apparent lower body injury, forcing true freshman Will McBride to lose his redshirt status and go under center for the Volunteers.

Although McBride only took three snaps on the drive, the young quarterback would get his chance to lead Tennessee out of the tunnel in the second half. With Guarantano sidelined for the second half and a true freshman under center, the Volunteers defense needed to deliver some good field position—and they did.

The first turnover of the night would come from senior cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who intercepted Southern Miss quarterback Keon Howard’s errant pass. Moseley would take the ball 19-yards the other way, setting up a 20-yard sprint on the first play from scrimmage from Kelly.

Tennessee’s defense would strike again on the very next Southern Miss drive. Darrell Taylor came up with a huge strip-sack, forcing Howard to put the ball on the ground. Raashaan Gaulden of the Vols would eventually recover the fumble on the Southern Miss 24-yard line, giving Tennessee quarterback Will McBride solid field positioning to stretch out the lead.

After an unsportsmanlike penalty on a 30-yard Medley field-goal attempt, Kelly would punch it into the end-zone from the three yards out. This extended the Vols to a commanding 24-3 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Golden Eagles would finally add seven points to the scoreboard after true-freshman quarterback Kwadra Griggs found the end-zone with a one-yard scramble. The 10 play, 90-yard drive gave the Golden Eagles life with 6:42 remaining in the fourth.

The Volunteer defense would lock it down for the remainder of the game. After the offense stalled out with five three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, the Volunteers defense was able to hold off the Southern Miss to seal Tennessee’s homecoming victory.

The Volunteers will hit the road next week, traveling to Columbia to take on the Tigers of Missouri at Memorial Stadium. The game is set to kick at 7:30 ET and can be viewed on the SEC Network.

Edited by Seth Raborn 

Featured image courtesy of UT Sports 

Rocky Topics: Can a change at quarterback change the direction of the season?

Photo by Ben Proffitt.

As Tennessee prepares for this weekends matchup against South Carolina, Caleb Souders and Gray LaRose discuss what Butch Jones’ decision to name Jarrett Guarantano the starter means for the state of Tennessee’s program going forward.

Souders: I think this is the best decision Butch Jones has made all year long. This is very reminiscent of when Jones sent Worley to the bench in place of Josh Dobbs in 2014, and I’m not sure whether that is good-or-bad news for Jones.

Without Dobbs at quarterback, Jones is 11-13 in his career at Tennessee. Sure, that includes Jones’ first year when he went 5-7, but what has he done without Dobbs to prove that he can be a successful coach at Tennessee? At what point does this offense prove it is incapable of working in the SEC? Sure, Tennessee had lots of success last year with the offense, but in crucial, must-win games, the offense sputtered. Dobbs masked a lot of flaws of this Butch Jones led offense last year, but can Guarantano do the same this year?

Will Guarantano step in on Saturday at noon to prove he can be the face of the program moving forward? I sure hope he can show flashes of success, because up until this point of the season, the coaching staff has done nothing to help the young quarterback progress. Guarantano has had several drives this year that could be thrown up as flukes due to playcalling.

Since Gurantano’s emotional debacle on the sideline at the Georgia Tech game to open the year, offensive coordinator Larry Scott admitted to the media this week Guarantano has done a great job “understanding how to focus, how to be a great teammate … to be a great quarterback.”

LaRose: I agree with Caleb that this weekend’s matchup is the right time for Jones to make the swap to Guarantano. As much as I believed in Dormady’s ability to be a SEC quarterback, he just hasn’t had that breakthrough moment yet, where it all just clicks together.

For Guarantano, this weekend’s game is the time to show all of Vol Nation that he is more than a highly touted recruit, but that he is capable of being a great teammate and quarterback. With the unstable and ever changing state of Tennessee football resting on this weekend’s game against South Carolina, this fan base could use a stellar performance from the freshman as he receives his first start under center. A big win from Guarantano could help mend the fanbase and unite the University behind Jones and this staff.

As for what it means for the future of Tennessee’s program? That will have to wait until after Saturday’s game. I’d like to believe that Guarantano will be this staff’s “saving grace,” similar to the way Dobbs was last season. However, I just am not sure if the young quarterback is quite ready for the spotlight and the pressure of carrying an SEC program on his shoulders.

Souders: Butch Jones’ decision to move forward with Guarantano almost guarantees he will start the entire first half. Jones is known to stick with a guy and give him the opportunity to earn the starting role going forward, as everybody saw how stubborn he was with Dormady the first half of the season.

As for the remainder of the season, Jones will need to show he is capable of making strides on the offensive side of the ball in particular. The Vols were shutout in their last home game against the Georgia Bulldogs, and it was their worst deficit in program history. Jones is at the helm for the Volunteers and nobody will be blamed more for failure the rest of the season going forward than he will. If Jones wants to attempt to salvage what could be the inevitable, he will need Guarantano to have a huge game on Saturday versus South Carolina.

LaRose: As for the decision to replace Dormady with Guarantano, it’s a last ditch effort for this offense to create a spark. We all knew the Volunteers had to replace several key players on the offensive side of the ball heading into the season, which has been some of the reason the offense has struggle to this point. But nobody expected it to be this bad.

With the emergence of John Kelly, the Tennessee has a solid rushing attack to assist whoever is under center. The Vols also have an array of talent at receiver, even with the season-ending injury to Jennings. With a little spark, I believe this Volunteers offense can turn it around this season and maybe finish out the year 8-4. If so, the future of Tennessee’s program will be in good hands with Guarantano going forward.

All-in-all, this weekend will determine a lot for Guarantano and this Tennessee program. A big win could propel team 121’s turn-around, hopefully changing the future of the program. A loss, and who knows what the future could hold for the fans on Rocky Top.