KNOXVILLE — No offense to Tennessee-Martin, but even University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley said this week starts the “big-boy ball” portion of the Volunteers’ schedule.
And they’ll have to start it without one of their most important boys.
Senior wide receiver and punt return specialist Gerald Jones will miss at least two or three games with a broken bone in his hand, Dooley confirmed Sunday night.
Dooley said two more starters, senior guard Jarrod Shaw and senior wide receiver Denarius Moore, are “questionable” for Saturday’s game against No. 11 Oregon with ankle injuries.
“Some bad news,” Dooley said.
Jones, who entered this season 10 pounds lighter and faster than he’d been the previous three years, led the Vols on Saturday with 86 yards on six catches. He injured the hand on his last catch, a diving, 34-yard gain that stood after UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson challenged the call.
Dooley said he wasn’t sure who would replace Jones in the punt return game. Sophomore tailback and kick return specialist David Oku is listed behind Jones on the depth chart and replaced him Saturday night, but Dooley didn’t know who would field punts against the Ducks.
“I’m concerned about it,” Dooley said. “Oku is the guy behind him, but we’re going to probably search around. We’ve repped some other guys back there. We’ve repped Janzen (Jackson). We’ve repped Eric Gordon. We’ve repped Justin Hunter.
“We’ve got a pool of candidates, but this has been a concern of mine ... y’all remember me talking about this in spring practice. And it reared its ugly head Saturday night.”
Shaw injured himself on a fourth-down play in the second half. It’s not clear when Moore got dinged, but crashing into a wall behind Neyland Stadium’s South end zone in the first quarter probably didn’t help.
“It felt kind of bad,” Moore said. “I didn’t know the wall was that close. I knew it was over there, but not that close to the end zone. But the wall made a good play, and the touchdown didn’t count.”
Moore Tweeted on Sunday that his “body hurt.”
“I have beef with that wall,” he wrote.
UT, which lacks depth at most positions, will hope to have all available bodies ready for the explosive Ducks, who blasted New Mexico 72-0 on Saturday.
Dooley said Sunday that he’s watched film on Oregon, but he preferred to delay specific comments until today’s press conference.
“They scored 72 points and didn’t punt the ball and shut the team out,” Dooley said. “I mean ... they looked pretty awesome.”
UT had its moments, too, albeit against an opponents from the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Senior strongside linebacker LaMarcus Thompson said the Vols’ blowout win gave them “plenty of confidence.”
Senior defensive end Chris Walker didn’t disagree but added a rather large caveat.
“Anytime you shut a team out and you put 50 points on a team, that gives us a lot of confidence,” Walker said. “But we also know that Oregon’s a great team. Whenever you put up 72 points on anybody, you’ve got to take notice to it.
“Once we get this film out of the way, we’ll concentrate on (Oregon) and have a great week of practice.”
Dooley was pleased with UT’s defense, which he said “played with real good energy and ... did not have a lot of pre-snap mental errors and tackled well in space.”
“Those three things right there are why we played well, because we were obviously a more talented team,” Dooley added. “But we did not go out there and hurt ourselves. We lined up where we needed to line up, we executed what we needed to execute and we tackled well.”
But this will require more. Much, much more. That’s clear to Dooley and his players.
“It is going to be a defining moment,” senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said. “It is a defining game and a very worthy opponent. Oregon is an incredibly great team.
“Everyday we can have in practice, we are going to need to use it. We can’t take a day off.”
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