Takeaways from No. 15 Tennessee’s win at Rupp Arena

Rick Barnes and No. 15 Tennessee went into Rupp Arena on Tuesday night and knock off No. 24 Kentucky for the first time in 19 years on Tuesday evening. Tennessee basketball has been a rollercoaster ride in Barnes’ first couple of seasons, but it seems he has the team on track. Many would even say he’s ahead of schedule.

Here is what to take away from Tuesday’s win over the Wildcats.

Lamonté Turner is the go-to guy down the stretch

Turner was the reason Tennessee upended No. 3 Purdue earlier in the season, and he put the dagger in the Wildcats with only seconds remaining on the clock in Tuesday’s win over Kentucky.

Turner finished the game with 16 points and drilled four 3-pointers on his way to logging 31 minutes on the night. The redshirt-sophomore has now scored 15 or more points off of the bench seven times and has scored 20 or more points four times this season.

The Vols have needed a consistent closer and Turner has become that down this crucial stretch in conference play.

The Vols are back

The stat that will be thrown around until Tennessee plays Kentucky next season is that the Vols swept the Wildcats for the first time in 19 years.

Rick Barnes has Tennessee back in national contention in only his third year with the program, and Knoxville owes him a big pat on the back.

Tennessee, who has been knocked for its low recruiting rankings, has itself a coach that can not only bring quality and underrated players to campus, but can develop those players into some of the best players and teammates in the SEC.

Tennessee is being talked about for its chances of grabbing a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament – something that has never happened in Knoxville. Tennessee owes that solely to Barnes.

Bench play the deepest in the conference

Tennessee has seven players who log at least six points per game. Out of those seven players, all of them average over 20 minutes of game play per contest.

The Vols have not only the deepest roster in the conference, but the deepest bench as well. This is a team that has grown together tremendously since a tough 0-2 start to conference play in January.

This team relied heavily on Grant Williams throughout its tough stretches, but the depth on the roster has finally caught up to where the team wants to go – whether that is due to the development of those players by Barnes, or the unselfishness of the players, this will be a tough team to beat down the stretch if it can continue to close out games with key role players playing like they did tonight.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee prepares for SEC rival Kentucky

Tennessee will travel north of the border to Kroger field for an SEC rivalry, in hopes to continue its five-game winning streak against the Wildcats. Kickoff will be televised on the SEC Network at 7:30 p.m.

Teams are coming off huge SEC losses in which they both lost 45-7. Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC) lost to Mississippi State, and Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) lost to Alabama last Saturday.

The Vols have had a hard season, but Butch Jones and his team are still confident in themselves. “Tennessee it not okay with being 3-4, and definitely, Butch Jones is not okay with being 3-4,” Jones said in Monday’s press conference. “We have to keep working, and work our way through this, and work our way out of this.”

Scoring has been a struggle this season for Tennessee’s offense, but Jones is well-aware of the necessity of scoring in the SEC. “It all starts with running the football. When you have the ability to run the football, display the ability to run the football, it opens everything up,” Jones said. “It opens passing lanes, it opens up play action passing, it even opens up drop-back passing as well, so it all goes hand in hand, and we need to run the football.”

Tennessee needs to improve up front, but they’ll have to do so without offensive lineman Jack Jones. The Murfreesboro native will not return to the field due to recurring neck and shoulder injuries. “After meeting with doctors, everyone agreed that it may be in his best interest and that he should no longer play football,” Jones said. “We hurt for Jack. We hurt for his great family. We will be here for support and he will continue to be a member of this team moving forward.”

After Quinten Dormady started the first five games of the season, Jarrett Guarantano took over the starting job against South Carolina. Guarantano will continue as the starting quarterback for Tennessee heading into the Kentucky game. “One thing you can’t question is his toughness,” Jones said. ““He’s learning, and he’s learning quickly. Again I see a young man who is confident and believes in his team.”

Despite the Vols loss to Alabama, Jones was still impressed with Guarantano’s performance. “He stood firm in the pocket, he didn’t flinch, he delivered some throws, he took some shots, and he kept battling.”

Mark Stoops, the head football coach for Kentucky, is still aware of Tennessee’s potential. “I expect Tennessee to come in and play exceptionally hard just like they did this past week against the exceptional Alabama team,” Stoops said. “We expect them to come in with great pride and play very well just like we did a year ago.”

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of UT Sports

Tennessee takes down No. 20 Kentucky in dramatic fashion

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Tennessee overcame a 21-point first half deficit to defeat the No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats, 84-77.

This year, Tennessee has been a team that has jumped out to big leads yet struggled to finish games. Tuesday night, the opposite happened as the Vols struggled early while Kentucky came out firing on all cylinders.

The Vols missed seven of their first eight shots and Armani Moore was the only player to score after five minutes into the action. At one time, Alex Poythress, Tyler Ulis and the entire Tennessee team each had six points. Tennessee was struggling to score the ball and to defend Kentucky on the break, resulting in an early double-digit deficit.

Then, the run happened. The Vols were down 34-13 late in the first half when they exploded. Tennessee embarked on a 23-8 run to finish off the first half, cutting what was once a 21-point lead to just six points.

What was interesting about the run is that it wasn’t ended by the halftime break. It continued through the second half.

Poythress and Isaiah Briscoe were both forced to the bench early in the second half because of foul trouble, leaving Ulis to work without two of his biggest threats. He was able to keep the game close until inside the five minute mark, when Tennessee really took momentum and rode it out to the finish.

Detrick Mostella made a reverse layup on one end and that was followed up by a Kevin Punter steal and three pointer, giving the Vols a seven point lead, their largest of the game and just enough to finish off the Wildcats.

“I just though our guys really deserve all the credit in the world, the way they hung in and hustled,” said coach Rick Barnes. “They weren’t playing very well early, but they stayed with it. They really did.”

Tennessee had four scorers who were in double digits including Punter, who was the lead scorer with 27 points on 7-of-19 shooting. He also went 10-of-11 from the free throw line. Armani Moore had a big time game with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting and hauled in 13 rebounds.

Tennessee outscored Kentucky by 13 and shot 48 percent from the field in the second half after a miserable 33 percent in the first half. Tennessee also won the rebound battle 37-to-36, even though it was easily out-sized.

Kentucky had four players in double digits. Ulis had 20 points and Jamal Murray chipped in with 23 points. The depth was exposed tonight, as UK’s reserves totaled for only four points.

The Vols are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.

Featured image by Ben Ozburn

Edited by Cody McClure

Takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Kentucky

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There was a lot for Vols fans to smile about after Tennessee rode quarterback Josh Dobbs to 482 total offensive yards and a dominant 52-21 win over host Kentucky on Halloween night.

Josh Dobbs is in full control of Tennessee’s offense. There were miniature Batmans, Supermans and wizards alike running around Lexington, but the Volunteer offense was the scariest sight for the men in blue. Dobbs threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing attempts and was pinpoint accurate for much of the game.

Early on, Dobbs was mobile in the pocket and stepped up to make crucial late down passes and get Tennessee’s offense moving. He hit Josh Malone out of the break on third-and-six and then fit a ball through a tight space to Ethan Wolf to convert a fourth-and-eight.  Dobbs later hit Malone on a 75-yard touchdown bomb, the Vols’ longest pass play since 2011. Butch Jones and Mike DeBord have loosened the reigns on Josh Dobbs’ arm, and he has responded in kind with some impressive throws.

When Dobbs was not beating the Wildcats with his arm, he was doing it with his legs. He rushed for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns and kept Kentucky’s defense off-balance all night. His first touchdown, a 28-yard, multiple tackle-breaking run, was as impressive as any other explosive play Tennessee had all night. If Dobbs continues to manage the offense like he has the past three weeks, Tennessee will be unbeatable as the Vols close out the regular season.

Tennessee’s defense has not worn down any, yet. Some national and local analysts were worried that the Vols’ defense would be tired or gassed after playing Alabama last week.

Not so much.

Tennessee’s defense was a prime example of “bend, but don’t break” against Kentucky.  The Wildcats only managed two offensive touchdowns. Towles and the rest of Kentucky’s offense looked out of sorts all night. Whether it was rhythm issues or pocket pressure, the Wildcats could never get any momentum on offense.

Speaking of pocket pressure, Tennessee’s defensive line finally looks to be playing up to some of the hype that it got in the offseason. The re-emergence of Corey Vereen has freed up Derek Barnett, who sacked Towles twice, to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.  Tennessee’s defense will be continue to give offensive coordinators nightmares as long as Vereen and Barnett keep up their high level of play.

Evan Berry and Cam Sutton are the best returning duo in the country. After last night’s 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, Berry is now averaging 42.6 yards per kickoff return. That is insanity. If Berry catches the kickoff and decides to take it out, he has a good chance of getting nearly half of the field behind him before he goes down. His three kickoff return touchdowns are the most of anyone in the nation, and another one would give him the most single-season kickoff return touchdowns in the history of Tennessee’s program.

Not to be outdone, Cam Sutton’s 84-yard punt return touchdown raised his average to 20.2 yards per punt return, good for third in the nation. It was only his second career punt return touchdown, but it shows why teams have gone out of their way to kick away from Sutton when it is time to punt. Teams should consider kicking out of bounds on kickoffs and punts to avoid giving away any special teams touchdowns.

Butch Jones and Mike DeBord have heard the criticism. Not only have they heard it, they got a small taste of what Knoxville would be like if the Vols kept losing. After the Arkansas loss, talk shows were littered with fans calling for Jones’ head. Fans were impatient, furious and knew that the coaching staff had cost the Vols some wins. After Tennessee went down 24-3 late in the first half against Georgia, Jones and DeBord have been coaching to win.

Whether it has been going for more fourth down conversions, calling less conservative drives or letting Josh Dobbs do more in the passing game, the team has responded well to the change. It has been clear that the Volunteer players have expected to win the past three games. Dobbs is clicking with Malone, Wolf, Von Pearson and Ethan Wolf, and the offense has only benefited from the mentality change. Jones loves to use “Vol Nation,” the Tennessee fanbase, as a focal point for the program’s growth, and it looks like he is right back in the fans’ good graces after trouncing the rivals from the north.

Featured image by Kevan Elkins

Edited by Cody McClure

Rocky Topics: Will Tennessee survive the month of October?

This week on Rocky Topics, Sam Forman and Cody McClure discuss which game on the Vols’ 2015 football schedule has the makings of a trap game.

Forman: There is really one game on the 2015 schedule that Tennessee fans should be scared of, and that is the Oct. 31 meeting between the Vols and Kentucky in Lexington. The Wildcats have been a team on the rise since Mark Stoops took over the program two years ago. Despite Tennessee winning 29 of the last 30 meetings, it always seems that the Vols play bad enough to let Kentucky hang around. Although, to give the Cats their due, they have played well enough to win in the last 30 years. To top it all off, the Vols do not always play well in Lexington. This is not your grandfather’s Kentucky.

McClure: This one is easy for me. It’s the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hogs will be loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball. They return their veteran quarterback, Brandon Allen, two stud running backs ,Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, and all but one starter on the offensive line. Their power running game will be a nightmare for Tennessee’s young defensive line early in the year. To make matters worse, the game is sandwiched in between two pivotal SEC East games against rivals Florida and Georgia. If the Hogs establish the pace in the game, Tennessee could be in trouble.

Forman: While Arkansas does bring back a strong offense and two great running backs, the Vols get the Hogs at home in Neyland. Now I am not saying Lexington is the hardest place to play, but it has become a bigger environment, literally and figuratively. Tennessee has struggled there historically, even when the stadium was smaller. It will never be ‘The Swamp,’ but if Kentucky gets off to a great start like last year, Commonwealth Stadium will be a strong home field advantage. You mentioned that Arkansas falls between a road game at Florida and a massive home game against Georgia. However, the Kentucky game falls in between a road trip to Alabama and a home game against the ‘head ball coach’ and South Carolina. The Crimson Tide and Gamecocks will be two of the Vols’ hardest games in 2015.

McClure: Lexington is a fairly reasonable place to play in terms of noise level. Sure, it is getting better, and Stoops has them trending upward, but is anyone really afraid of going to Kentucky? Next to Vanderbilt, it is the least intimidating place to play in the SEC. Let’s be honest. Kentucky will always have a ceiling, and on a good year, that ceiling comes in the form of the Music City Bowl. Derek Dooley is not in charge in Knoxville anymore, hence last year’s 50-16 beat down. Tennessee will manhandle the Wildcats again. But a game against a team that shut out LSU and Ole Miss to end the 2014 season? That’s a hefty challenge, and it comes early. Oct. 3 could be an eye-opener for Vol fans.

Edited by Maggie Jones

Mascot March Madness: One winner to rule them all

March Madness is upon us.  Because the Round of 64 games started Thursday, I decided to fill out my own bracket.

Simple, right?  I just pick Kentucky to win it all, pick a few upsets (*ahem* Eastern Washington) and I should be in good shape. Not quite.  My match-up winners are based on mascots alone.

The guidelines:

– One of each mascot (i.e. a wildcat for Kentucky and a pirate for Hampton) are hypothetically placed in a gladiator arena.

– The winner is the chosen victor of a hypothetical fight-to-the-death.

– This winner moves on to the next round, same as in a regular bracket and is a completely healed person/animal/mascot thing.

– For match-ups that include animals bound to the water, the non-aquatic challenger will hypothetically be placed in water against the aquatic animal.

Round of 64 highlights:

(1) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (16) Hampton Pirates: Ironically, a pirate wouldn’t have much trouble defeat a wildcat in combat.  Wildcats aren’t very big.  The largest prey they usually kill are small deer.  Throw a wildcat up against a foe twice a small deer’s size and give the opponent a sword?  The Hampton Pirates become the first ever 16 seed to defeat a 1 seed in the NCAA Mascot Fight to the Death Tournament and also the first lower seed to defeat a higher seed and the first winner of any mascot match-up ever.

(1) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (16) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers: The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers were named after a character named Chanticleer from a Geoffrey Chaucer story.  Chanticleer was a proud rooster whose voice was the loudest at his farm.  A badger would waste no time tearing him to shreds. On, Wisconsin.

(5) Northern Iowa Panthers vs. (12) Wyoming Cowboys: A panther facing off against a cowboy?  Where’s Clint Eastwood when you need him? Probably sitting on his couch, watching actual March Madness games.  Given that the cowboy has at least one gun and a lasso, I’m picking Wyoming.

(2) Virginia Cavaliers vs. (15) Belmont Bruins: A cavalier is basically a dressed-down knight.  A bruin is a brown bear.  A ferocious, angry, cavalier-pummeling brown bear.  If any readers wish to fight a brown bear, I hope you wear something more than tights.

(3) Iowa State Cyclones vs. (14) UAB Blazers: This was a tough one to lay out.  Because a cyclone and a dragon can’t really “fight,” I decided to base the match-up off of whether a dragon could survive a powerful cyclone or not.  And it can.  It’s a dragon, like, a real dragon.  Is it possible to call a dragon my Cinderella story? Heck, I’m doing it anyway.  UAB moves on.

Round of 32 Highlights

(11) Texas Longhorns vs. (3) Notre Dame Fighting Irish: After spending a long time trying to figure out what kind of weapon an Irishman would have, I decided to go with a glass.  A drinking glass.  Appropriate? In some ways. Helpful whilst fighting a 1,300 pound Longhorn? No. 11 Texas nabs a Sweet 16 appearance.

(1) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (9) Oklahoma State Cowboys: This cowboy has at least six bullets in his gun along with a lasso, knife and the legacy of the Wild West on his side.  He takes down the badger in a tough fight.

(7) Michigan State Spartans vs. (15) Belmont Bruins: Earlier, I pitted a cavalier against a bruin and picked the bear.  With better armor and more impressive swordsmanship, Sparty is moving on.

(1) Duke Blue Devils vs. (9) St. John’s Red Storm: Duke’s nickname, the Blue Devils, originated from a French military unit that impressed some Duke students.  They may have impressed during wartime, but they won’t be defeating any red storms.  St. John’s eliminates the final No. 1 seed.

Sweet 16 Highlights: 

(16) Hampton Pirates vs. (13) Valparaiso Crusaders: There aren’t many things scarier than a man with a sword inflamed with religion, but a pirate who specializes in sword fighting is one of them.  The Pirates are one step closer to the glory they normally wouldn’t deserve.

(3) Baylor Bears vs. (15) Texas Southern Tigers: And now the cream of the predator crop start to face off.  Size and strength versus speed and slashing.  Wait a minute, isn’t this a Big 10 vs. SEC football storyline? The Big 10 has a lot of size and a nasty swipe, but the SEC is able to strike quickly and often to wear the Big 1o down to defeat.  I mean tiger and bear.  Baylor doesn’t get left out of this playoff.

Elite Eight Highlights:

(9) Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. (3) Baylor Bears: I’ve picked these cowboys and the Wyoming cowboys in every match.  That stops now.  The cowboy will have some firepower, but nothing strong enough to take down the bear.  That big ol’ boy will have the cowboy pinned in a corner in short order.

(9) St. John’s Red Storm vs. (14) UAB Blazers: The same situation applies here as it did in the Blazer’s Round of 64 match-up with the Cyclones.  The UAB dragon survives another storm to take on the Wyoming Cowboy.

Final Four:

(16) Hampton Pirates vs. (3) Baylor Bears: The streak ends here for play-in game winner Hampton.  As skilled as a pirate is,  he cannot get close enough to the bear to consistently attack without getting mauled.  On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Baylor.

(12) Wyoming Cowboys vs. (14) UAB Blazers: Sorry, cowboy.  You aren’t gonna be shooting down any dragons with your magnums anytime soon. Cinderella dances on.

Championship Game:

(3) Baylor Bears vs. (14) UAB Blazers: Baylor’s bear can hope for midnight all it wants to, but Cinderella is going to be dancing all night long.  The dragon cooks its meal by torching the bear in one breath, then gulps it down in one bite. UAB wins the National Championship.  The athletic department raises so much money that they have no choice but to resurrect the football program.  Everyone wins.

Edited by Maggie Jones