VOL. 8 | NO. 47 | Saturday, November 14, 2015
Link on UT
North Texas Could Never Upset the Vols, Right?
By DAVE LINK
No way Tennessee’s football team can lose Saturday’s homecoming game against North Texas, one of the worst teams in college football.
Tennessee (5-4) was a 40.5-point favorite early in the week coming off a 27-24 victory over South Carolina last Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
North Texas (1-8) lost at Louisiana Tech 56-13 Saturday and has been outscored 101-6 in the first quarter of its games this year.
But in honor of the Mean Green of North Texas, let’s take a look back at some teams that have pulled off big upsets in the history of Tennessee football.
Right near the top is North Texas, one of 10 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with an undefeated record against the Vols.
North Texas is 1-0 against Tennessee. The Mean Green beat the Vols 21-14 on Oct. 25, 1975, in the only game between the schools until their rematch Saturday.
The win by North Texas ranks as one of the top five most memorable moments in program history by the school’s athletic website.
As for UT, it was a forgettable day.
UT was ranked in the Associated Press Top 20 the first five weeks of the 1975 season before a 30-7 loss to Alabama dropped the Vols out of the polls.
Still, UT was 3-2 overall and a heavy favorite against North Texas, which was 3-4 after a 15-12 loss to Mississippi State.
Bill Battle was in his sixth season as UT’s coach, and Hayden Fry was in his third year as North Texas’ coach.
It was not a good day for Battle, the Vols or quarterback was Randy Wallace.
North Texas intercepted two passes and forced seven fumbles, three recovered by the Mean Green.
Sears Woods scored two rushing touchdowns for North Texas, the second giving it a 14-7 lead.
Tennessee tied it on Wallace’s 2-yard pass to tight end John Murphy with 4:39 left in the game.
Then the real stunner: Woods caught the kickoff and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, and a few minutes later, the Mean Green was in celebration mode.
Not so for the Vols, who had 198 more passing yards, 41 more rushing yards, and 11 more first downs than the Mean Green.
UT went 4-2 the rest of the season and finished with a 7-5 record. Battle resigned under pressure after his 1976 team finished 6-5, 2-4 in the SEC.
Here are four other UT losses fans would love to forget.
Nov. 9, 1996
Memphis 21, Tennessee 17
Quarterback Quinten Dormady, seen here during the game against the Western Carolina Catamounts is rumored to be considering a transfer.
(Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com)
Peyton Manning was in his third season as Tennessee’s quarterback, and Phillip Fulmer was in his fourth year as the Vols’ coach.
UT was 6-1 and ranked No. 6 nationally with only a 35-29 loss to Florida in the third game of the year.
Memphis was a 26-point underdog despite playing on its home field in the Liberty Bowl in front of its largest home crowd ever.
The Vols were 15-0 against Memphis and appeared on their way to No. 16 with a 17-14 lead late in the game.
The Tigers had managed just 83 yards of offense when they got possession at their 30-yard line with just less than 6 minutes to play.
They drove 70 yards for the winning touchdown, a 3-yard pass from Qadry Anderson to Chris Powers with 34 seconds to play.
Yet the most memorable play of the game was the kickoff return by Memphis’ Kevin Cobb with UT leading 14-7 in the third quarter.
Cobb was able to elude UT’s Craig King on the play, but replays show Cobb’s elbow and forearm hit the ground as he avoided King at the 25-yard line. Vols kicker Jeff Hall, thinking the play was dead, watched as Cobb ran by him for the touchdown. There was no instant replay back then.
Manning completed 23 of 40 passes for 298 yards but had two interceptions. Memphis had 16 tackles for loss, and Anderson led the Tigers on the winning drive with a bad ankle.
Manning summed it up by saying, “They just flat whipped us.”
Oct. 10, 1992
Arkansas 25, Tennessee 24
This was a season of a UT coaching controversy that lingers to this day, and the Arkansas loss adds to the history.
UT coach Johnny Majors missed the first three games of the ’92 season while recovering from heart surgery, and offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer served as interim coach in Majors’ absence.
The Vols went 3-0 under Fulmer before Majors returned for victories against Cincinnati and LSU.
Tennessee was ranked No. 4 in the nation entering the home game against Arkansas, which was 1-4 and playing its first season in the SEC.
Heath Shuler was UT’s quarterback and played behind an imposing line that included center Brian Spivey, tackles Mike Stowell and Rodney Gordon, and guards Bubba Miller and Jeff Smith. Charlie Garner was the Vols’ tailback and Marion Brunson the fullback.
But it was the Razorbacks and freshman quarterback Barry Lunney, Jr., who stole the show.
Tennessee led 24-16 in the fourth quarter when Arkansas’ Orlando Waters returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown. The Hogs went for the two-point conversion and failed.
Arkansas’ Darwin Ireland recovered an on-side kick, and Todd Wright booted a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Perhaps it started the demise of Majors.
The Vols lost their next two games to Alabama (17-10) and South Carolina (24-23). They won their last three, but it wasn’t enough to save Majors, who was forced to resign after the 9-3 season.
Tennessee hired Fulmer as its next head coach in what many thought was his coup to take over from Majors.
Nov. 3, 1979
Rutgers 13, Tennessee 7
Majors was in his third year as the Vols’ coach. UT was 4-2, ranked No. 17 nationally, and coming off a 27-17 loss to top-ranked Alabama in Birmingham.
Rutgers was 5-2 with victories over Holy Cross, Bucknell, Princeton, Connecticut, and William & Mary, and losses to Penn State and Temple.
The Scarlet Knights were supposed to be lightweights against the Vols.
Ben Byrd, sports columnist for the old Knoxville Journal, penned a piece that would come back to haunt UT for years.
It was titled, “What’s a Rutgers?” and included this line: “One housewife told me she bought a pound of them (Rutgers) at the supermarket last week for 59 cents, but they must have been on sale because she normally pays 89 cents a pound.”
Turns out, the joke was on the Vols.
It started well for UT, which took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on James Berry’s 1-yard run. Nobody imagined it would be UT’s only time reaching the end zone.
Ed McMichael threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Dave Dorn and tied the game at 7-7 at halftime. Ken Startzell booted two field goals in the second half, and the Rutgers defense shut down the Vols’ offense led by quarterback Jimmy Streater.
Streater earned All-SEC honors that year, along with tight end Reggie Harper, defensive back Roland James, linebacker Craig Puki, and offensive tackle Tim Irwin.
But that November day belonged to the Scarlet Knights.
Nov. 8, 1958
Chattanooga 14, Tennessee 6
This loss caused a near riot after the game inside Neyland Stadium with Chattanooga fans reveling in a wild celebration amid angry UT fans.
Fights broke out. Fans were arrested. Goalposts were torn down.
It was the most improbable of victories for the Mocs and an unheard of loss for the Vols.
UT was 2-4 entering the game, but had four players bound for the NFL: Bill Majors, Joe Schaffer, Lebron Shields and Carl Smith.
Chattanooga had a 4-3 record, was ranked No. 11 in the small college poll, and also had players destined for pro football: Johnny Green, Dan Sheehan, Bill Butler, and Charley Long.
Green scored on a quarterback sneak, and Bob Waller’s PAT kick gave Chattanooga a 7-0 halftime lead. Don Hill’s 1-yard run and Waller’s kick gave the Mocs a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee didn’t score until 5 seconds left when Gene Etter threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Don Stephens. Soon after Etter’s PAT kick was blocked, fans stormed the field and things turned ugly.
Matchups to watch
Butch Jones vs. Mike Canales:
Tennessee is playing its second consecutive game against an opponent with an interim coach.
Last week, Shawn Elliott served as interim coach for South Carolina after Steve Spurrier resigned earlier in the season.
North Texas fired head coach Dan McCarney after a 66-7 homecoming loss to Portland State left the Mean Green 0-5 for the season.
Offensive coordinator Mike Canales is serving as North Texas’ interim coach. He’s 1-3 as interim coach with losses to Western Kentucky, Marshall, and Louisiana Tech and a victory over Texas-San Antonio (30-23 on Oct. 31).
It’s his second stint as the Mean Green’s interim coach, a position he held for the last five games of the 2010 season after Todd Dodge was fired. North Texas went 2-3 under Canales in 2010.
UT coach Butch Jones says Canales is “a great friend of mine.”
“I’ve known Mike for a very, very long period of time,” Jones said during his Monday press conference. “I’ve admired him as a play caller, as a quarterback coach, as an offensive coordinator, and he’s done a great job in a difficult situation, and you can see their offense now starting to take on his personality.”
You’ve got to wonder if Jones will keep putting up points Saturday, if possible.
Dobbs vs. North Texas ‘D’:
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs could put up some big numbers – assuming he stays in the game long enough.
The Mean Green ranks 123rd out of 127 FBS teams in total defense, allowing 541.3 total yards per game.
North Texas is 117th in passing yards allowed per game (286.9) and 120th in rushing yards allowed per game (254.4).
Tennessee is 48th nationally in total offense per game (422.3 yards).
It’s a mismatch in UT’s favor.
Wilson vs. UT’s defense:
North Texas’ best offensive player is sophomore tailback Jeffrey Wilson, who’s rushed for 683 yards in seven games this year. He’s averaging 97.6 yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry.
Wilson missed the first two games of the season due to injury and returned for the loss to Iowa by rushing for 74 yards on 14 carries. He has three 100-yard rushing games this season.
However, Wilson has struggled to fine end zone. He’s scored one TD.
The native of Elkhart, Texas, was the Mean Green’s third-leading rusher last season with 224 yards and one touchdown.
Five things to watch
When does Dormady play?
Rumors are circulating again true freshman Quinten Dormady is considering a transfer as the Vols continue stockpiling quarterbacks for the future.
Dormady, a four-star prospect from Boerne (Texas) High, has played in three games and thrown nine passes (six completions), but hasn’t been on the field for meaningful snaps.
Jones said he’d like for that to change against North Texas.
“That’s our plan, but that’s our plan every week (to play Dormady),” Jones said. “This game is a very, very big game for us because it’s the next game, and that’s not coach speak. It’s hard to win in college football. …
“Quinten continues to grow and develop and mature. Obviously you learn through game-live repetitions and your repetitions in practice. We would like for him to gain some of those repetitions, but we’ll see how the game goes. But we do have faith and we do have confidence in him because we do see the progress.”
Butch’s Post-Game Presser
You never know what Jones might say after the North Texas game.
Jones got testy with media during the post-game press conference after the victory over South Carolina, at one point saying, “But we need to be more positive around here because we’ve got kids that are giving it their all every single day.”
Jones was responding to a seemingly harmless question about what South Carolina did to slow down Tennessee’s offense after the first two drives.
Here was Jones’ response to the question from Brent Hubbs of Volquest:
“They started a lot of movement up front, bringing the nickel a lot, and just being able to block movement, we were limited in some of the quarterback run packages.
“But I’m never going to apologize for winning. This is a hard-fought game. We’re playing a good football team, and I give South Carolina all the credit in the world. They’re on scholarship, they’re going to have success.
“We’re still building. I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of our program. But we need to start being more positive around here, because we’ve got kids that are giving it their all every single day, and I’m not picking on you (the reporter). I’ve just been waiting for everything.
“These kids are giving everything that they have. We’ve got kids battling that I don’t talk about with injuries that are giving everything that they have.
“Our offensive line was gritty today. They kept going down and down and down, and they want to go back in. It’s my job to protect these young men and protect our program. We’re building something special here, and I think we all need to realize that. I love y’all, I love Tennessee, but I want positivity because recruits want to be here, everybody wants to be here, and we’re going to build something special.”
There was speculation Jones may have been heckled, or heard some of his players being heckled, as they left the field after the South Carolina game.
UT led 17-0 and survived a rally by the Gamecocks, who lost a fumble at the Vols’ 18-yard line with 32 seconds left while driving for the potential winning or tying drive.
Many Tennessee fans left Neyland Stadium grumbling about the Vols almost blowing another game.
How Many Fans?
Jones praised Vol Nation for its support in the first five home games of the season.
Will the fans show up for a game against North Texas?
“When you look at five games this season of over 100,000 plus in attendance, that has not been done here since 2007,” Jones said. “We still have two home games left and we’re going to continue to need them to make Neyland Stadium a home-field advantage.
“They have been remarkable, and I think it shows the commitment and support and hunger that they have and it just drives you to give them everything that they covet and we covet together as a football program and a football family.”
Let’s face it: the playing surface in Neyland Stadium is a mess.
Players were constantly slipping and sliding during the Vols’ game against South Carolina, and divots were left all over the field.
Jones said he met Monday with UT officials about the problems with the field.
“It is difficult when you’re slipping, and I think sometimes it creates hesitation amongst your players, but I also think it’s been an unusual season in terms of grass,” Jones said.
“I’m not a grass expert or a field expert, so I think the unusual season with the rye grass and all of that goes into it. I can tell you this: We’re well aware of it. We’re taking every precaution. Everything we can, we’re doing.”
Dobbs’ foot, other injuries
This will be a good time for UT’s starters to play a few snaps and take a breather, starting with Dobbs.
Against South Carolina, Dobbs was hampered by a gimpy foot and managed just 35 yards on 13 carries (yardage includes two sacks for minus-9 yards).
“He was banged up a little bit but gutted through it, but nothing he hasn’t been doing all year,” Jones said.
“He’ll be fine for the game (against North Texas). He’ll practice (Monday). Josh Dobbs is a very tough minded individual.”
Offensive linemen Brett Kendrick and Jashon Robertson missed the South Carolina game due to injuries along with receivers Marquez North and Preston Williams.
Jones said he expected all to return to practice for North Texas with a chance of playing Saturday.
Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.