By: Blake Ryan Hatfield
Butch Jones and his staff have finished up their first spring practice session at the University of Tennessee following the Orange and White game on April 20.
These coaches walked into an ugly situation on Rocky Top. Not only were there the normal difficulties and headaches that go along with a coaching change, Butch Jones had to deal with the majority of the offensive production from previous seasons departing. Add to that the fact that the defense returning this season was statistically the worst in Tennessee’s rich history.
Coach Jones assembled a staff he believes can correct these issues and get the Vols to “Rise To The Top”. He retained a number of coaches from Cincinnati, including Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian and Defensive Coordinator John Jancek. He accompanied these familiar faces with hires of coaches who have SEC ties prior to joining the Vols staff.
Expectations are low for this upcoming season for Coach Jones, but hope is on the horizon. The Vols are building a solid recruiting class for 2014 that is currently ranked #4th in the nation, highlighted by 5* RB Jalen Hurd and Vol legacy Todd Kelly Jr. Before these guys can get on campus though, the 2013 edition of the Vols has to play.
We’ll take a game-by-game (or brick by brick if you will) look at the Vols 2013 schedule. This is an important season for Tennessee as the Butch Jones Era begins the Rise To The Top.
On August 31 Butch Jones and the Vols lay the first brick of the season. Tennessee kicks off the 2013 campaign in Neyland Stadium against Austin Peay. This should be a good game all-around for the Vols against a weaker opponent. Hopefully this game will provide a clearer picture into the ongoing QB race moving forward into tougher games ahead. The Vols have won their past three season openers at home by scores of 50-0, 42-16, and 51-13. Expect more of the same this season. Vols win 49-6.
The second game of the season pits the undefeated (too soon?) Vols up against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. This game’s interest level was bolstered on December 11, when WKU hired former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino as their new head coach. Petrino, who was successful at Arkansas, brings a new level of excitement to that program. The Hilltoppers are coming off a season where they reached a bowl game and beat in-state rival Kentucky. Expect a closer game Vol fans. Coach Jones picks up his second win as the Vols build some momentum heading into the next 2 road games. Vols win this one 38-20.
Here is where Coach Butch Jones gets thrown in the fire or the storm of college football facing the lightning speed of the Oregon Ducks offense. The last time these two teams faced each other, the Vols held their own against the Ducks for about a quarter and a half, then the flood gates opened as Oregon pulled away for a 48-13 win. Gone is Coach Kelly (hired as the Philadelphia Eagles’ new Head Coach), enter Mark Helfrich the Ducks’ former Offensive Coordinator. The Oregon offense should look mostly the same this season. Expect a fast-paced game from both teams. The Vols should be improved after the first two games but Oregon’s offensive firepower is way too much to deal with, especially when you add the Autzen Stadium factor. That’s a tough place to play for anybody and the Vols will be playing with a relatively inexperienced QB at the helm. Oregon wins big 55-17.
Butch Jones gets his first crack at an SEC opponent on September 21 when the Vols travel to the Swamp. Welcome to the big leagues Butch. This will be the second game in a row against a top-ranked opponent on the road. Last season, the Vols led in the third quarter against the Gators before collapsing and losing 37-20. Florida has defeated the Vols 9 consecutive seasons and that streak continues through 2013. The Vols defense steps up and has a good performance vs. Jeff Driskel and the inconsistent Gator offense, but the lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and the tough task of playing in the Swamp will be too much for Tennessee to overcome. The Gators knock the Vols to 2-2 on the season with a 27-16 loss.
On September 28, the Vols welcome a new opponent and introduce a new quarterback into the starting lineup. Following two straight tough opponents and some bad performances from the starting QB, Coach Jones turns to Freshman QB Josh Dobbs to take the reigns of the Vols offense. Dobbs was a consensus 4* recruit last season who committed to the Vols on National Signing Day. Jones and Coach Bajakian look to Dobbs to spark the offense and find the perfect opportunity to against the outmanned Jaguars. Tennessee pounds South Alabama to the tune of a 45-9 drumming.
Here’s Butch Jones’ first SEC game inside the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium. Georgia was one play away from beating Alabama in last season’s SEC Championship game but they only beat the Vols by 7 in Athens. Freshly implemented QB Josh Dobbs faces a huge step-up in defensive talent with the Bulldogs. Senior QB Aaron Murray and dynamic RB combo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will prove to be too much talent and offensive prowess to top the Vols. Georgia beats Tennessee for the fourth consecutive season, 41-24.
The Vols will be coming off a much-needed bye week when Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks come to Rocky Top. Tennessee will use the bye week to get healthy and get the offense clicking on full cylinders. The matchup to watch in this game will be a head-to-head duel between two future first round draft picks in Tiny Richardson and Jadeveon Clowney. Richardson held Clowney in check for most of the game last season (I’m still trying to block that last play out of my head). The Vols have lost three straight games to South Carolina: 38-24, 14-3, 38-35. Expect another close one with the Gamecocks having the edge due to overall experience and leadership. Vols fall to 3-4 with a 28-20 loss at home.
What is there to say about this one? Back-to-back defending national champions, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Freshman QB, etc. Alabama has way too much talent for the Vols. In the last few years, the Vols have hung tough for a half or so then fallen off against the Tide. Don’t expect Coach Jones to allow the boys clad in orange to quit down the stretch, like that has happened in the past few seasons under Coach Fooley. Jones preaches effort and respecting the Power T, but the sermon can’t overcome Alabama’s skill. The Tide rolls over the Vols 44-14.
Sitting at 3-5 (0-4 in SEC), the Vols are going to be scrambling for a bowl berth. This is the time for Butch Jones to prove his merit in the final four games of the season. First up on the agenda is a trip to Missouri for the first time in history for the Vols. The Tigers escaped Knoxville with a 51-48 overtime win last season. This season James Franklin (no, not that James Franklin) will be back along with former top 5 recruit Dorial Green-Beckham for Missouri’s offense. The Vols will look to rebound following the Alabama loss and head into one of the weakest home-field advantages in the SEC. Tennessee leaves Columbia with their heads held high, following their first SEC road win in three seasons. Vols win 24-21.
Here is the most important game on the Vols 2013 schedule. These two teams are facing similar situations this offseason, new coaches trying to resurrect a program that has fallen off in recent years. The Tigers will stroll into Neyland Stadium on November 9. Auburn struggled on offense all year in 2012 and will be trying to locate playmakers in 2013 (sound familiar?). Playing in the gauntlet that is the SEC West, Auburn will be facing an extremely tough schedule and will be attempting to reach a bowl game (yet again, sound familiar?). With a win, the Vols would only need one more win to become bowl eligible. Expect an extremely close game from start to finish. The deciding factor in this one will be the 102,000 fans in Neyland. Vols walk away with a win and improve to .500 on the season with a 17-16 win.
Tennessee enters this pivotal contest vs. the in-state little brother, Vanderbilt. Coach James Franklin has done a tremendous job building the Commodores up and giving their fans false hope. Tennessee got embarrassed in Nashville last season; don’t look for the same thing to happen this year. Coach Jones seems very fired up about letting people know that the University of Tennessee is the state school of Tennessee. He emphasizes this with the hashtag on Twitter #VOLUNTEERSTATE. Look for Jones and the Vols to reclaim state supremacy with a 23-17 win. Remember folks, Vandy will always be Vandy.
Kentucky is also introducing a new head coach this season. Mark Stoops has somehow gotten Kentucky fans fired up about football, yes football. Big Blue Nation had 51,000+ paying fans at their spring game. All that said, Tennessee has too much overall skill and depth to beat the Wildcats. Vol fans just hope they don’t start a wide receiver at quarterback (I kid, I kid). Tennessee finishes the regular season with its fourth straight SEC victory, beating Kentucky 34-14.
Hats off to Butch Jones and staff. The Vols finish with a 7-5 (4-4 SEC) record in the first season under Jones. This team came close to winning several games last season but couldn’t get it done. This year under better leadership and direction the Vols get it done. This is the first step for Coach Jones and the Volunteers in Rising To The Top.