KNOXVILLE — Spring football games these days in the Southeastern Conference and elsewhere are one aerial performance after another, but Jabari Small doesn't seem to mind.
Tennessee's sophomore running back rushed 12 times for 48 yards in the offensive eruption that was the Orange's 42-37 victory over the White on Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium. Small reached the end zone twice.
"I was just satisfied with the way we pushed the ball down the field," the 5-foot-11, 206-pounder from Memphis said. "I feel like the pace was great, and I was proud of the whole offense. As long as we're scoring and putting points on the board, I'm excited."
When asked about his personal performance, Small said: "I did OK. I wish I could have broken some more runs and kept my feet moving, but it's all a learning experience."
Small has been praised throughout this spring by head coach Josh Heupel, offensive coordinator Alex Golesh and position coach Jerry Mack, as well as countless teammates. He has accepted the challenge of replacing Eric Gray and Ty Chandler, last season's leading rushers who have since transferred elsewhere, and he is loving Heupel's system.
The quick pace coupled with the amount of passing has opened vertical lanes for him, which was evident Saturday, and he hopes that will even be more profound come September.
"Honestly, I think this is the best that we've performed as far as moving the ball and playing with great pace and having fun," Small said. "I think we played pretty well."
More to come
If Volunteers fans enjoyed the 39 first downs Saturday that transpired off 99 plays, there could be more good times down the road.
"We have a lot of creative plays that we didn't show today, plays that get us out in space," Small said. "We're going to be out in space as running backs, and the wide receivers are getting better shots down the field as you saw today."
Said Heupel: "We've got a lot of football left to put in. We're nowhere near our complete playbook."
Of all the receivers singled out this spring by coaches and players, whether it was Velus Jones, Cedric Tillman or somebody else, John Jancek was never mentioned. The redshirt freshman walk-on out of Knoxville Catholic is best known for being the son of former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek, but on Saturday the younger Jancek hauled in two receptions for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Jancek had the day's longest play, collecting a 73-yard scoring strike from Harrison Bailey in the first quarter.
"Jack has made some unbelievable catches this spring, so it didn't surprise me that he went out and did that," Jones said. "He's been doing that all spring, and those were exciting moments. When I see my teammates make plays, I'm more excited for them than I am myself."
Fun, fun, fun
Jones has talked this spring about how much fun it is being at Tennessee right now, and he delved into why after the Orange & White game.
"It's the bond between the players and the coaching staff," he said. "If you've got a coaching staff that doesn't have much juice and is not really excited, it probably won't be so fun, but with this coaching staff, they show up with smiles on their faces. They always tell us that if we make a mistake, like dropping a ball, just move on to the next play.
"That's what I love about this coaching staff. They are always picking us up."
Odds and ends
Sophomore defensive back Doneiko Slaughter was ejected from the game midway through the third quarter for targeting. ... Small on getting to hang out with former Vols running back and current New Orleans Saints standout Alvin Kamara: "That was special. I'm pretty sure that every young running back wants to model their game after him because he's so versatile, and he's a humble guy." .... Former Tennessee starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano had his first pass intercepted Saturday during Washington State's spring game.