published Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Vols face 'challenge' in defending Matthews

KNOXVILLE -- There's no dynamic running quarterback to stop for Tennessee's defense this week.

Instead, the Volunteers now get the SEC's career leader in receiving yards.

Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews broke the mark set by Georgia's Terrence Edwards (3,093 yards in 1999-2002) last month against Texas A&M, and the senior needs four catches against Tennessee on Saturday night to become the league's all-time leader in career receptions.

Former Commodore star Earl Bennett caught 236 passes, one of which was the game-winning touchdown in Vanderbilt's upset of the Vols in Knoxville in 2005, from 2005-07.

"I know our guys have a lot of respect for him, in terms of what he brings to the game and the ability that he has," Vols defensive coordinator John Jancek said after practice Wednesday.

"They know he's really good."

The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Matthews lit the Vols up in Vanderbilt's 41-18 drubbing in Nashville last season. He caught seven passes for 115 yards and scored on a 71-yard catch-and-run and a 41-yard run on a reverse. In Knoxville in 2011, Matthews caught six passes for 74 yards in the Commodores' overtime loss to Tennessee.

Matthews' 12-catch, 141-yard performance against Kentucky was his sixth 100-yard game of the season, and it was his fourth such game against an SEC defense.

"He's got great ball skills, he's tall, he's over 200 pounds," Jancek said. "He can go up and get the ball. That's the thing that you see with him. He has the ability to get off press [coverage]. He's a challenge in a lot of ways."

Despite its woes in run defense, the Vols are fifth in the SEC in pass defense, allowing only 208.4 yards per game.

"The biggest thing that we've really emphasized is knowing where he's at," Jancek said. "That's their go-to guy, so in crucial situations, he's going to get the ball. We have to all be aware of that and know where he's at."

Man on the run

Against Auburn before last week's open date, Tennessee called a couple of designed quarterback runs for freshman Josh Dobbs, who's shown in two starts he has the ability to pick up yardage with his legs.

With Nathan Peterman nearing full health following September thumb surgery, the Vols have what they were lacking for Dobbs' first two starts: a healthy backup that isn't redshirting.

Thus, Dobbs may carry the ball more than he did against either Missouri or Auburn.

"We're going out there to win football games, and we'll do what it takes to achieve that end," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "If the plays are there, we're going to call them, and that's really the bottom line. I don't think it's a factor, and I don't think it's a matter of who's healthy at quarterback and who's not.

"We're going out to win the football game, and we're going to do what we need to do schematically to try to accomplish that."

The wiry freshman -- Dobbs is listed at 193 pounds, but that's probably generous -- carried the ball seven times for 45 yards at Missouri and 10 times for 50 yards against Auburn, and he had a run of 30 or more yards in both games.

Free Vereen

Tennessee's coaching staff will rave about Corey Vereen any chance it gets, but the freshman defensive end has been quiet since registering his first career sack against Georgia last month. The 6-foot-2, 248-pounder did have 10 tackles in the past three games, and his role figures to continue to increase the rest of this season.

"He has been getting on the field more, and I when I say more, each game's different, but he's getting on [more] in what I would call normal down and distances," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. "We were just talking maturation. He's a tremendous worker, so just another year, another offseason to get bigger and more physical."

The Vols lose six seniors off the defensive line after this season, including Jacques Smith, Marlon Walls and Corey Miller at end, so Vereen figures to slide into a starting role up front heading into next season.

"I think he's young, and when you play the last four weeks, he's playing against some really, really good people that are 325 pounds," Stripling said. "He's just not at that point yet, but he will be. [He needs] a great offseason of getting bigger and stronger and being any every-down player."

Gimpy Gillespie

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie has been coaching in practice this week on crutches and using the aid of a golf cart to get around Haslam Field after hurting himself celebrating Rajion Neal's touchdown run against Auburn.

"Hurt, but ready to go," Gillespie said, providing his own injury report.

Neal's run was perhaps his best of the season, as he broke free from the grasp of two tacklers and ran through another arm tackle en route to the end zone. The run gave Tennessee a short-lived lead against the Tigers early in the second quarter, and in exuberance, Gillespie landed awkwardly after jumping to celebrate with Neal when he returned to the sideline.

"Whenever guys make good plays, you're excited for them," Gillespie said. "You just let loose. An old dog doesn't worry about what kind of car is passing his front yard. He just chases it, right? It's just in him. He just gets excited when a car passes. It's the same thing with us coaches. We get excited when the kids make plays."

Neal ran for just 8 yards on eight carries the previous week against Missouri, and he enters the final two games of the season needing just 105 yards for a 1,000-yard season.

"It was a toughness run. It was a statement run," Gillespie said. "It was one of those runs where he was just determined to make a play, and it was at a point in the game where we really needed one, so I was excited for him.

"I'm always excited for any kid that makes a play, but obviously one of the guys that's come as far as he's come, it was an exciting run and I was exciting for him."

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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