published Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Tennessee Vols football scrimmage report: Defense bounces back

During Thursday's practice defensive tackle Owen Williams (left) and center Mack Crowder (right) are seen in a drill. Photo by Patrick Brown.
During Thursday's practice defensive tackle Owen Williams (left) and center Mack Crowder (right) are seen in a drill. Photo by Patrick Brown.

KNOXVILLE -- With a handful of university factually and staff and a solid showing of students in the stands, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones used Saturday morning as a bit of a showcase of his second Volunteers team.

After pandering to the audience with his favored circle drill and the Vols' "Tennessee Tough" period, which features skill players working on one-on-one open-field tackling and linemen facing off in one-on-ones with a ballcarrier, Jones' team got down to business.

Tennessee's offense got the best of its defensive counterparts in last Saturday's scrimmage, but the Vols' defense started with more energy in the third scrimmage.

The first set of series started with the offense taking possession on its own 35-yard line.

After allowing quarterback Justin Worley and receiver Marquez North to hook up for a deep pass down the sideline, the first-team defense stood its ground.

Junior college transfer defensive tackle Owen Williams stopped tailback Marlin Lane for a short gain, Curt Maggitt dragged down Worley on a keeper and nickelback Justin Coleman disrupted a third-and-6 play, though he will rue missing the sack when he came free on a blitz.

George Bullock missed an ensuing 49-yard field goal wide right.

After allowing Devrin Young to take a screen pass for nearly 20 yards, Tennessee's second-team defense got the stop. LaTroy Lewis made a nice play on a sweep, and freshman defensive tackle Dimarya Mixon sacked quarterback Josh Dobbs, who then overthrew the third-down pass.

In his first team action, redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson threw late into the flat, and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin easily picked off the pass on the next series.

Tennessee's offense finally broke through on its fourth series. After freshman tailback Jalen Hurd made two impressive runs, Nathan Peterman hooked up with receiver Cody Blanc down the sideline for a long pass to put the offense inside the 5-yard line.

Yet the Vols' defense dug in and forced a field goal after Lewis made a nice play and freshman linebacker Jakob Johnson sacked Peterman when he couldn't find an open receiver on third-and-goal. Derrick Brodus was good on the short field goal.

Jones mixed in some special teams reps, and after four scrimmage series again broke his team into interpositional drills: goal-line one-on-ones between receivers and defensive backs, blocking drills between linebackers and tight ends and pass protection work for the backs and linemen.

Each drill counted for a point, and the Neyland Stadium scoreboard kept tally of the accumulated wins for the offense and defense.

The scrimmage resumed with red-zone work.

After Danny O'Brien and Corey Vereen combined for a first-down sack of Worley and an incomplete pass, Worley hit Von Pearson for a touchdown with a pass down the seam on what appeared to be a busted coverage.

Tennessee's defense forced a fourth-down stop on the second series of the segment when Ferguson, who was harassed into a scramble on third down when Lewis collapsed the pocket by beating JuCo left tackle Dontavius Blair off the ball, overthrew Josh Smith in the end zone. Riyahd Jones was in good coverage on the play.

After freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley was called for pass interference to open the third series, defensive end Jordan Williams stuffed Ferguson on a keeper, and Maggitt appeared to come up with a third-down sack.

On the sideline as Young took a sweep into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown on the fourth series, starting center Mack Crowder lit into his offensive line mates, who struggled to keep the Vols' defensive linemen out of the backfield.

On the fifth series, Cam Sutton broke up a fade pass in the end zone intended for five-star freshman Josh Malone, and even after Moseley was again flagged for interference defending Malone in the end zone, Riyahd Jones knocked a potential touchdown on a fade out of North's hands.

Bullock then clanked the short field goal off the left upright, which prompted Butch Jones to yell, "Consistency in performance!" to his redshirt sophomore kicker.

Sutton then made one of the plays of the day, taking a punt more than 70 yards to the house for touchdown.

After more individual competition periods, the offense resumed the scrimmage with the ball at the defense's 43-yard line. Pearson took a jet sweep around the corner and ran untouched to the end zone to open the first drive, but walk-on tight end Alex Ellis was called for holding to negate the score.

After A.J. Johnson broke up Ferguson's third-down pass, Bullock connected on a 45-yard field goal.

Dobbs commanded the next drive for only the offense's second touchdown of the day. Under pressure from Mixon, he hit freshman tight end Ethan Wolf for a long gain and ran the ball in from inside the 5-yard line on a zone-read keeper.

Vereen and AJ Johnson combined for a first-down sack of Worley to start the next series, and after Worley connected with Malone to make a third-and-long a more manageable fourth down, North dropped a potential first down after he'd sealed Moseley on a slant.

Freshman cornerback D'Andre Payne delivered a big hit on Johnathon Johnson on a crossing route, but the slot receiver quickly got up.

"That's a way to hop up!" Butch Jones barked on his microphone. "That's our style of play right there!"

Ferguson hooked up with Josh Smith on a long touchdown pass over the top of the defense to complete that possession.

Coleman made a nice open-field stop on Young on a screen pass on the next series, but Ferguson scrambled for the first down on third-and-long to keep the drive alive.

Hurd fumbled near the goal line, and Jordan Williams recovered it as Butch Jones yelled, "Catastrophic!"

Blanc capped the next series with his second nice play of the day, an acrobatic touchdown catch from Worley with Payne all over him.

The offense scored on all five of its first-and-goal drives. Worley and Dobbs kept zone-read option plays for touchdowns, Peterman hit Josh Smith for a touchdown across the middle and Ferguson hit Pearson on a back-shoulder throw on fourth down.

To end the scrimmage, Jones had "last play of the game" scenarios.

Malone and Pearson failed to come up with tough potential catches in tight coverage, prompting Jones to bark, "We get paid to catch the ball wideouts!" After North dropped another potential touchdown, again in tight coverage, Jones yelled his receivers had "been reading too much, getting too much love!"

After Ferguson ran out of bounds, Jones called him over and yelled, "It's the last play of the game! What do you do? Throw the ball in the end zone!" That drew a subtle cheer from the students.

The defense stopped the offense on all eight plays in that period, with the offense snapping the ball at the 18-, 12-, 6- and 3-yard lines.

More scrimmage coverage online and in Sunday's Times Free Press.

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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