Interim Coach Can Get Vols Into Bowl Game

Dave Link, Knoxville Sports Correspondent

Brady Hoke makes his debut as Tennessee’s interim football coach Saturday at 7 p.m. EST (ESPN) against LSU in Neyland Stadium.

Perhaps it’s an audition for the head coaching vacancy left when Butch Jones was fired on Sunday morning, hours after the Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) returned to Knoxville from a 50-17 loss at Missouri.

Hoke, who served as associate head coach/defensive line coach under Jones, spoke to media Monday at noon in Jones’ usual time slot. He wouldn’t comment when asked if Tennessee athletics director John Currie gave him any indication of his future as the Vols’ head coach.

Brady Hoke will serve as the University of Tennessee’s interim football coach after Butch Jones, pictured, was fired Sunday after the Vols’ 50-17 blowout loss at Missouri. (Andrew Bruckse / Tennessee Athletics /

“John and I, we had a good conversation,” Hoke said. “That’s really about as much of it I want to get into, or would get into. We had a great conversation. I was very honored that he entrusted this in us, so we just want to win for those seniors.”

Hoke had successful runs as head coach at Ball State (2003-08) and San Diego State (2009-10), but was fired after four seasons (2011-14) at Michigan after amassing a 31-20 record. He spent the 2016 season as Oregon’s defensive coordinator/ends coach before being hired by Jones last February.

His counterpart Saturday night will be Ed Orgeron, hired by LSU after serving as interim head coach when Les Miles was fired Sept. 25, 2016. LSU removed Orgeron’s “interim” tag and named him head coach Nov. 26, 2016, and he finished the season 6-2 as interim head coach.

LSU (7-3, 4-2 SEC) is currently ranked No. 21 by the Associated Press. Tennessee, which opened as a 14-point underdog, needs an upset against LSU and a victory over Vanderbilt on Nov. 25 to gain bowl eligibility.

The Tigers bounced back from a 24-10 loss to Alabama by beating Arkansas 33-10 last Saturday.

“We’ve got to stay, and I have to stay, in the present of what we want to accomplish for these seniors, and to me, that’s what this is all about, finishing out for them in a positive manner,” Hoke said.

Matchups to watch


LSU running back Derrius Guice was nursing a knee injury earlier in the season, but he enters Saturday’s game seemingly at full speed.

The 5-foot-11, 218-pound junior rushed for 147 yards on 21 carries (7.0-yard average) and three touchdowns in the victory over Arkansas.

In nine games this year, Guice leads the Tigers with 929 rushing yards and nine touchdowns with a 5.7-yard average. Guice suffered a knee injury in the Tigers’ third game of the season – a 37-7 loss at Mississippi State – and didn’t have a carry in the second half the next week in a 35-26 win over Syracuse. He then was held out of the Sept. 30 Troy game, a 24-21 upset loss.

Guice was chosen to the All-SEC first team (coaches, Associated Press) in 2016 when he led the SEC in rushing yards (1,387) and was second in the league in rushing yards per game (115.6). He led SEC running backs in rushing touchdowns with 15.

Senior running back Darrel Williams is having his best year with the Tigers. He’s rushed for 602 yards with six touchdowns and a 5.1-yard average.

Tennessee’s run defense got shredded by Missouri for 433 yards and an 8.2-yard average. Ish Witter ran for 216 yards and a touchdown and averaged 9 yards per carry; Larry Rountree had 155 yards and a touchdown with an 8.6-yard average.

The Vols are last in the SEC and 126th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 256.9 yards per game. LSU is fifth in the SEC and 29th nationally in rushing offense (209).


Senior Danny Etling is in his second season as LSU’s starting quarterback and has started the past 20 games, tied for fifth-most consecutive starts in school history with Tommy Hodson (1986-89).

Etling was 11-of-16 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns in LSU’s balanced offensive attack against Arkansas.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound native of Terra Haute, Indiana, played his first two seasons (2013-14) at Purdue and started 12 games. After sitting out the 2015 season under NCAA transfer rules, Etling entered as the Tigers’ quarterback in the second game of 2016 against Jacksonville State and went 7-3 the rest of the year as the starter.

This season, Etling has thrown for 1,806 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He’s completing 58.9 percent of his passes.

Missouri’s Drew Lock didn’t have his best passing day against the Vols – he was 13-of-28 for 217 yards with an interception returned for TD – but threw four touchdown passes and averaged 16.1 yards per completion.

Tennessee leads the SEC and is fifth in the nation in pass defense (157.6 yards allowed per game), a statistic skewed by the Vols’ poor run defense. LSU is eighth in the SEC and 88th nationally in passing offense (198.4 yards per game).


True freshman Will McBride got his first start for the Vols against Missouri and the results were as expected: 16-of-32 passing for 139 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

McBride was the Vols’ leading rusher against Missouri with 63 yards on 14 carries (4.5-yard average), which includes minus-28 yards rushing.

Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano will be Tennessee’s other option as the starter against LSU.

Guarantano started the previous four games before leaving the Southern Miss game with an ankle injury. McBride entered and got his first playing time – ending a potential redshirt season – and was 1-of-8 for 13 yards with a couple of dropped passes.

UT junior quarterback Quinten Dormady is out for season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, leaving the Vols with just two scholarship QBs (Guarantano and McBride).


Tennessee quickly lost two commitments from the 2018 class when Jones was fired Sunday: wide receiver Alontae Taylor of Coffee County High (Manchester), and wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Jones of Dunbar High in Fort Myers, Florida.

Taylor is a four-star prospect by 247Sports and is rated the nation’s No. 29 wide receiver and No. 4 prospect in Tennessee. Jacques-Jones is a three-star prospect and the nation’s No. 94 receiver and No. 84 prospect in Florida.

UT’s 2018 class took the biggest hit when five-star offensive lineman Cade Mays of Knoxville Catholic High de-committed from the Vols.

Mays, a senior at Catholic, removed mention of Tennessee on his Twitter profile after the Vols lost to Georgia 41-0. When he announced his de-commitment, Mays was UT’s fourth departure from the 2018 class since October, joining running back Lyn-J Dixon, receiver Jatavious Harris, and safety Brendon Harris.

Mays was Tennessee’s only five-star recruit and considered the pillar of the 2018 class. His father, Kevin, played for the Vols in the 1990s, and Cade grew up a Vols fan. The 6-foot-6, 318-pound tackle visited Clemson and Georgia after de-committing from Tennessee.

Hoke said he and his staff will do their best to keep the 2018 class together before the Dec. 20-22 early signing period.

“It’s always a concern and we’re going to work our tails off,” Hoke explained. “We’re going to stay committed to the kids who are committed. We’re going to stay out there recruiting. We’re going to make the calls. We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do. This is a job, and it’s a job that we have to finish.”

Orgeron returns

Tennessee fans will recall Orgeron, and maybe not in the best of light.

Orgeron spent the 2009 season as Tennessee’s assistant head coach/defensive line coach under former coach Lane Kiffin. He left for USC after the 2009 season when Kiffin was hired as USC’s head coach.

Orgeron was an assistant at Miami (1988-92), Nicholls State (1994), Syracuse (1995-97), USC (1998-04), USC again (2010-13) and LSU (2015-16). He was also interim head coach at USC in 2013 when Kiffin was fired.

An ugly streak

The Vols have now lost the last game they’ve played against every SEC team. They’re 0-6 this year against SEC opponents, lost to Vanderbilt and Texas A&M when they played last year and lost to each SEC West team the last time they played: Arkansas in 2015, Ole Miss in 2014, Auburn in 2013, Mississippi State in 2012, and LSU in 2011.

Tennessee also needs to win their last two games against LSU and Vanderbilt not only to reach a bowl but to avoid another low point for the program. UT is one of two FBS teams to never lose eight games in a season. Ohio State is the other one.


LSU is 16th in the nation and fifth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 317.1 yards per game.

The Tigers were right on par last Saturday when Arkansas mustered 318 yards – 142 on the ground and 176 in the air.

Linebacker Devin White had 14 tackles and has the team-high 103 tackles in 10 games. He also leads in tackles for loss (8.5) and has three sacks.

Senior defensive end Christian LaCouture is second in tackles (55) and tied for second in tackles for loss (7.0) and tied for team-high in sacks (5.5).

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.