Indiana State at Tennessee

Sports Xchange

September 06, 2017 at 5:37 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
SITE: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Tennessee No. 25

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Volunteers

–LB Daniel Bituli, making his first career start, led all defensive players with 23 tackles. That was five more than the next closest player in the SEC, fellow Vols linebacker Colton Jumper. Bituli, playing out of the SAM linebacker position, also forced the first fumble of his career.

–RB John Kelly’s 128 yards against Georgia Tech were a career high. The junior’s previous best came last year after rushing for 104 yards against Tennessee Tech. Kelly’s 4 touchdowns versus the Yellow Jackets were one shy of equaling the five scores he posted for the entire 2016 season.

–LB Rashaan Gaulden came up with a big forced fumble to keep Tennessee in the game. The junior cornerback stripped J.J. Green at the Georgia Tech 7-yard line to set up the Vols to tie the game late. Gaulden finished with 6 tackles and has the potential to be a much-needed playmaker for the Vols defense.

–SS Nigel Warrior drew praise from Butch Jones for his play. The sophomore strong safety netted 13 tackles, but was caught out of position at times and failed to wrap up a tackle that led to a 27-yard Yellow Jacket gain.

Sycamores

–RB LeMonte Booker missed all of the 2016 season because of injury and celebrated his return by rushing for 154 yards against Eastern Illinois. That was a career high for the senior and the most for and Indiana State player since Shakir Bell ran for 201 at Tennessee Tech in 2013.

–WR Bob Pugh is Indiana State’s leading returning receiver after recording 17 receptions for 276 yards last year. He had two catches for 47 yards in the opener to match teammates Lee Curtis and Jacq McClendon for team highs in receptions and Curtis for receiving yardage.

–DT Rex Mosley batted down two passes against Eastern Illinois in his first career start for the Sycamores. He is a transfer from Northern Illinois.
–LB Katrell Moss tied Jonas Griffith for the team high in tackles with 13 in the opener. Moss is the Sycamores’ leading returning tackler with 46 stops in 2016.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

With the exception of UCLA, which overcame a late 34-point deficit to beat Texas A&M 45-44, no team worked any harder for its opening win than No. 25 Tennessee. The Vols pulled out a 42-41 double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech on Labor Day night.

“I think this football team showed our grit, but we’re continuing to evolve,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said after the Volunteers scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to send the game to overtime and didn’t lead until scoring first in the second extra period.

“We talked about three games in 13 days. We have to turn around now with a short work week and get into Neyland Saturday afternoon. We have to get a lot better and make tremendous progress, but just really proud of our players.”

The win over the Yellow Jackets came at a big cost, though.

Big-play receiver Jauan Jennings suffered a dislocated wrist and will miss up to 12 weeks. Jennings had only three receptions for 17 yards against Tech, but seemingly made all the big catches for the Vols last season. He was the clear-cut leader of a young receiving corps.

They likely won’t need him Saturday, when Indiana State visits Neyland Stadium for the Vols’ home opener. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville with the SEC Network doing the television honors.

But with a trip to The Swamp to take on the Gators coming in two weeks, Jennings will be missed.

Indiana State is coming off a 22-20 loss to Eastern Illinois. The Sycamores went 4-7 last season and will be overmatched talent-wise against the Vols.

It is, however, a short week, after an emotional, physically taxing, win over the Jackets. And to be clear, the Vols have plenty to work on, after getting off to a sluggish start offensively and surrendering 535 yards rushing to Georgia Tech. The Jackets had 655 yards of total offense.

“The good thing is we don’t have to play a triple option football team,” Jones said.

“We need to spend a lot of time on this video, but tackling, being able to — we had way too many missed tackles. A lot of it is they do some different things where the defensive ends have to spill the football to similar things, and some of the lead option stuff, we didn’t particularly do a very good job.”

Tennessee junior quarterback Quinten Dormady started and played the entire game. He threw two second-half touchdown passes to emerging receiver Marquez Callaway, including a 50-yard connection early in the fourth quarter that kept the Vols in the game.

Dormady, in his first start, finished 20 of 37 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He led five scoring drives in the second half and overtime. Callaway caught four passes for 115 yards, and junior running back John Kelly rushed for 128 yards and four touchdowns, including both of the Vols’ scores in overtime.

While the offense showed promise, especially in the second half, the defense has holes.

“We need to spend a lot of time on this video, but tackling, being able to — we had way too many missed tackles,” Jones said.

Luckily for the Vols’ defense, Indiana State doesn’t possess Georgia Tech’s patented option attack, but the Sycamores do have a dangerous running threat in senior LeMonte Booker.

Booker rushed for 165 yards on 31 carries and gave Indiana State a 20-16 lead with a 6-yard touchdown run with five minutes to play. But the Sycamores couldn’t hold the lead and suffered a disappointing loss in their first game under new coach Curt Mallory.
“I thought Booker ran the ball extremely well with 165 yards with some good blocking up front,” Mallory said. “I thought defensively, we flew around. Did some good things.”

Mallory said he saw some things to build on for the future.

“There’s a lot of positives,” he said. “We’re more encouraged than discouraged. We feel we have the opportunity to be a real good football team.”

Mallory is well aware of the task facing his team.

“You hear the old cliche that a team makes its biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2,” Mallory said. “That’s our main focus right now, that we make that big improvement from the Eastern Illinois game to Tennessee.

“It’s about us.”