KNOXVILLE— Tennessee’s second major football scrimmage this past week presented a flipped script.
Coach Derek Dooley said the Volunteers’ defense, which was placed firmly on its heels early Tuesday night, came out Saturday night in Neyland Stadium and controlled the tempo early. The offense, like the defense did Tuesday, rallied toward the end.
“I was pleased with the energy and the attitude and the competitive fire that the team came out with today,” Dooley said. “It was more what I expected from a competitive standpoint, so that was a good sign. There were a lot of good things in the scrimmage, and a lot of things we’ve got to work on.
“The defense came a lot better prepared mentally, and they competed harder, and they really put it to the offense early. But then we gave up a few big plays. When you kind of look at the big picture, we missed a lot of tackles but we made a lot of big plays on offense. The quarterbacks played pretty good.”
Junior quarterback Matt Simms completed 11 of 22 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns despite spending most of the early part of the scrimmage throwing balls away to avoid sacks. Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray completed 16 of 28 passes for 245 yards. Neither threw an interception, but senior linebacker Savion Frazier dropped three potential ones in 135 plays.
“I should have had those,” Frazier said. “Those are plays I’ve got to make, just to help the team out. I’ll be on the Juggs machine come tomorrow.”
Frazier laughed as he walked out of the stadium, with offensive and defensive teammates taunting him.
“I’ve made a lot of fun at Savion Frazier, and that will continue until he learns how to catch the ball,” junior defensive end Malik Jackson said. “The balls he dropped ... come on, man, they hit him right in the hands. You can’t drop those. Those are big plays.
“We (defensive lineman) would all catch those.”
Photo by Adam Brimer/Knoxville News Sentinel Head coach Derek Dooley talks to the media after the Vols' first official practice of the season at Haslam Field on the University of Tennessee Campus Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010.
Sophomore tailback David Oku gained 65 yards on seven runs and turned a simple screen pass from Simms into a 34-yard touchdown. Freshman wide receiver Justin Hunter caught five passes for 128 yards and a 64-yard touchdown from Simms.
“He’s just a ‘wow’ athlete, and he made some ‘wow’ plays tonight,” Simms said of Hunter.
Dooley said Hunter “really made some incredible plays.”
“He’s got a lot of ability,” Dooley added. “I was real pleased to see him kind of step up and make some big plays.”
Junior tailback Tauren Poole ran eight times for 44 yards and caught three passes for 49 yards and touchdown. Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones didn’t catch a pass but gained 33 yards on a run. Freshman wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, a former Calhoun (Ga.) High School star, caught five passes for 63 yards. Sophomore Zach Rogers had 49 yards on four catches. Freshman wide receiver Matt Milton, a 6-foot-6 target, caught a 66-yard pass from Bray.
Junior linebacker Daryl Vereen led the Vols with seven tackles, two stops for loss and a sack. Senior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson added four tackles, one for a loss. Sophomore linebacker Herman Lathers had four tackles and a sack. Three of walk-on senior safety Tyler Wolf’s four tackles came behind the line of scrimmage.
The defense was pleased with its strong start but upset with the offense’s strong finish. Dooley continued citing lack of defensive depth as a likely culprit.
“I’m just concerned with our depth,” Dooley said. “It was a long scrimmage, and we’re depleted in the secondary right now, and that showed, because (the offense) made some big plays and we missed some tackles in space. I think that contributed to it.”
Junior middle linebacker Austin Johnson recovered the night’s only fumble, which freshman defensive end Corey Miller forced from redshirt freshman tailback Toney Williams.
“I think that was just a little bit of luck on my part,” Johnson conceded. “It kind of just fell right in my hands, and I acted like I was back on offense there for a little bit.”
Johnson and fellow middle linebacker Nick Reveiz were both clearly frustrated with the defense’s finish, though.
“It went better tonight,” Reveiz said. “We improved on a lot of things, but the biggest thing tonight is we didn’t finish. Last scrimmage, we finished well. But tonight we didn’t do that ... and that’s not good enough.”
Specialists struggled after performing well Tuesday. Senior Daniel Lincoln made field goals from 30 and 25 yards but missed from 37 and 41. Freshman Michael Palardy connected from 39 yards but missed from 31 and 47. He also had a 32-yard attempt blocked.
Senior Chad Cunningham averaged 34 yards on three punts, while freshman Matt Darr averaged 32.7 yards on three attempts. Palardy had a nice punting night, averaging 43 yards on two attempts.
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