KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's secondary shakeup continued into Saturday night's game against pass-happy Akron.
After losing safety Brian Randolph for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament the week before against Florida and replacing Marsalis Teague with Justin Coleman at one cornerback spot, the Volunteers moved pieces around again.
After Akron gashed Tennessee for 76 second-quarter passing yards, the Vols held the Zips to 120 in the second half.
"We played it real simple," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "We weren't getting a lot of pressure, but what we didn't want to do was sell the house up and give up the cheap one. We kept it real simple in the second half.
"Just played a couple of zone coverages and tackled and covered and did a good job. That was the biggest thing. We ran a lot of different stuff in the first half, but that wasn't really the issue."
Fifth-year senior Prentiss Waggner moved from corner to safety in place of Brent Brewer, who entered the starting lineup this week to replace Randolph, in Tennessee's six-defensive back package, which left Coleman and Teague to play corner. Eric Gordon played his usual nickelback position and made a key interception. The other unchanged starter, Byron Moore, intercepted two passes.
"It's definitely good when we can win the turnover ," Moore said. "The plays that we do give up, if they do catch it, we just try to get them down as quick as possible. We didn't really give up any big pass plays and tightened down the coverage."
Akron entered the game averaging more than 50 passes and threw for 600 yards a week earlier against Morgan State.
"I don't think we struggled that bad," Dooley said. "We knew they were going to complete some passes. We wanted to make them earn it the hard way."
Big night for Neal
Despite turnovers and missed red-zone opportunities, tailback Rajion Neal again was a bright spot for Tennessee's offense. The junior had his first career 100-yard game and reached 151 yards on 22 carries.
Quenshaun Watson was the second tailback into the game, but the diminutive freshman struggled to make any impact. He had 6 yards on eight carries. Marlin Lane, who had just one carry against Florida, finished with 47 yards on nine carries and added 49 yards on two catches, including a 35-yarder that featured a nifty juke along the sideline.
The Vols used three different wildcat packages in the first half alone. Freshman receiver Alton "Pig" Howard debuted the direct-snap formation with a 3-yard carry and also made his first career catch, and freshman Justin King and linebacker A.J. Johnson made return appearances in the package.
A former linebacker, King ran 18 yards on a keeper in the first quarter to set up a field goal. Johnson scored from 2 yards out on his first carry in the first quarter, but the sophomore star linebacker was stopped short on a fourth-and-1 with Tennessee up 20-16 in the second quarter. Both players ran the formation in high school.
Tennessee hosted four official visitors for the weekend: Ben Bradley, a 6-foot-2, 310-pound three-star defensive lineman from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College who committed to the Vols in June; 6-5, 224-pound three-star linebacker De'Vondre Campbell from Hutchinson who pledged to Tennessee in May; 6-10, 290-pound three-star offensive tackle Dan Skipper from suburban Denver's Ralston Valley High School who committed on the same day as Bradley in June; and 6-5, 215-pound four-star receiver Jonathan Rumphfrom Holmes Community College in Mississippi who has scholarship offers from Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, among others.
Bradley Central offensive lineman and Tennessee commitment Austin Sanders again attended as an unofficial visitor.
Tennessee safeties coach Josh Conklin was at Ridgeland's home game against Cedartown Friday night to see safety target Vonn Bell. The five-star prospect, who's down to the Vols, Alabama and Ohio State, did not make it in for his unofficial visit for the Florida game last week, and Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis told the Times Free Press this past week that Bell rescheduled the visit for the Alabama game on Oct. 20.
Point guard Travon Landry was the only official visitor for Tennessee's basketball program this weekend. The three-star point guard committed to the Vols last December. The 6-foot, 175-pound prospect transferred to Huntington (W.Va.) Prep from Bob Jones High School in Alabama.
Alex Bullard played at right tackle for a good bit of Saturday night's game in place of three-year starter Ja'Wuan James, who missed two days of practice this past week with a head injury. ... Tight end Brendan Downs, a little more than a month removed from a dislocated kneecap in an August scrimmage, had his first career touchdown catch in the second quarter. ... The Vols began the game in their nickel package, so different players earned starting nods. Steven Fowlkes (first career start) and Corey Miller (third) started at defensive end, and linebacker Dontavis Sapp made his second start this season and third overall. ... Tennessee's captains were right guard Zach Fulton, linebacker Curt Maggitt, reserve linebacker/special-teamer Channing Fugate and receiver Zach Rogers. ... Ooltewah High School's marching band performed before Tennessee's band at halftime.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...