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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee sophomore running back Jabari Small had 21 rushes for 92 yards and a touchdown during this past Saturday's 31-26 loss to Ole Miss inside Neyland Stadium.

Ending 14 seasons of futility against Alabama will be no Small assignment for Tennessee first-year football coach Josh Heupel.

The Volunteers not only lost 31-26 to Ole Miss this past Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium but may travel to Tuscaloosa without the services of starting quarterback Hendon Hooker, leading rusher Tiyon Evans and veteran right tackle Cade Mays. Heupel labeled all three with the vague "day-to-day" during his Monday news conference, adding that he didn't think Hooker's leg would be a "long-term injury."

Given the erratic play of former starting quarterback Joe Milton, the Vols may be developing an offensive plan around sophomore running back Jabari Small. The 5-foot-11, 206-pounder out of Briarcrest Christian in Memphis rushed 21 times for 92 yards (4.4 per carry) and a touchdown against the Rebels.

"For most of the football game, he did a great job of understanding our schemes and pressing the line of scrimmage," Heupel said. "When he bounced, it was the right time to bounce, and he did a great job of making people miss at the second and third levels all night long. It was his best performance from start to finish, and it was the most football he's played at one time, too.

"He showed toughness and grit. We like what he did a bunch."

Evans and Small haven't played an entire game together since the opener against Bowling Green, when each surpassed 100 rushing yards. Each has competed in five games while missing two.

TENNESSEE FINED $250,000

The Southeastern Conference announced Monday that the University of Tennessee will be fined $250,000 for the fan behavior that was displayed with 54 seconds remaining in Saturday night’s 31-26 loss to Ole Miss in Neyland Stadium.

Fans threw debris on the field that resulted in a 20-minute delay.

“The disruption of Saturday night’s game is unacceptable and cannot be repeated on any SEC campus,” league commissioner Greg Sankey said. “We will use this opportunity to reemphasize to each SEC member the importance of providing a safe environment even with the intensity of competition that occurs every week. We will also reengage our membership in further review of the alcohol availability policy to consider additional measures for the sale and management of alcohol.”

The SEC also revealed that the individuals who threw objects on the field or at the Ole Miss bench will be prohibited from attending another Tennessee athletic event for the rest of the 2021-22 school year.

While Tennessee is 4-3 overall, 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play and showing promise in building a foundation for a successful Heupel era, the established Crimson Tide are 6-1 overall, 3-1 in league contests and ranked No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll. Alabama responded from its 41-38 loss at Texas A&M on Oct. 9 by traveling this past weekend to Mississippi State and applying a 49-9 thrashing.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban didn't find many faults with his team Saturday night, and he hopes that thorough performance is the first of many.

"If we continue to play like we did in this last game and play for 60 minutes, supporting each other and playing together as a group, I think we can develop a really positive identity," Saban said Monday. "I think we took the first step of that in this last game."

The Vols rank sixth nationally with 249.1 rushing yards per game, while Alabama is eighth against the run, yielding just 90.3 yards per contest. Mississippi State netted minus-1 rushing yard Saturday, when Alabama racked up seven sacks for 53 yards.

"They've been difficult to move the football on," Heupel said. "They have the ability to defeat blocks on the first and second level. Their linebackers are athletic and have the ability to go and tackle well in space, and their safeties do the same thing. They do it from different coverages, so you have to do a really good job on your double teams when you have them.

"You have to do a good job of engaging your man, and getting to the second level is important, too."

Recruiting takeaway

Tennessee hosted several recruits this past Saturday, and Heupel was asked what they would take away from a close game that had an ugly 20-minute delay with 54 seconds remaining due to fans throwing debris out on the field.

"They're going to take away the 59 minutes," Heupel said. "To see our student body rush down to the field level and to see the remainder of our crowd amped up for the final minute of play — that's the takeaway. I know for some people that the story is what happened, and our administration has obviously made clear that's not the stance in what we want from Volunteer Spirit.

"I"ve been in a lot of competitive arenas as a player and as a coach, and there was nothing better that I've ever been in than Saturday night."

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Monday that there were 18 arrests and 47 ejections from the incident.

 

Saban's viewpoint

Tennessee's late-game chaos occurred a week after Texas A&M fans stormed the field in College Station, and Saban was asked Monday if the SEC could take more measures concerning crowd incidents.

"I don't think that's my question to answer," Saban said. "I've said before that we're in the entertainment business and that a lot of people come to the game and have a lot of passion and excitement. Hopefully, as institutions and as fans, we will always do things in a positive way.

"I've still got a big bruise here on my arm from what happened after the Texas A&M game, and I can always look at that as a reminder to what it feels like to be in that situation and to motivate myself to try and do a better job with our players."

 

Surrendering sacks

The Vols have allowed a troubling 11 sacks the past two weekends.

"It's a little bit of everything," Heupel said. "Some of it has even been the wideouts, but the bulk of it has been our communication up front and the running back included. You adjust protections based on different things that you've seen during the course of the game.

"At the end of the day, we've got to be clean."

 

Odds and ends

Alabama's 14 straight wins over the Vols have established a 58-38-7 series advantage for the Crimson Tide. ... Tennessee's 275 points are the most through seven games since the 1915 Vols scored 303. ... Alabama and Tennessee each have a Byron Young up front defensively, but the Crimson Tide's Young may not play Saturday due to a shoulder injury.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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