There was no shortage of compliments dished out to the Gamecocks Tuesday evening.
As there shouldn’t be. The Gamecocks come storming into Neyland Stadium, bringing with them their potent rushing attack, dual-threat quarterback and stifling defense.
Tennessee has been burnt by it all before – stalled by Florida’s thick-necked defense and diced by Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Jones doesn’t have a magic solution to stop South Carolina, but he knows where the efforts must start.
“It all starts with Connor Shaw,” Jones said.
With a defensive line short on depth and a secondary short on experience, the Vols are focused on making Shaw throw the football.
“We have to make him play quarterback, not running back,” defensive lineman Corey Miller said.
Tennessee needs to limit improv scrambles that turn into big yardage. It starts by refocusing on fundamentals.
“We can’t be worried about what he’s doing,” linebacker Dontavis Sapp told InsideTennessee. “We just got to play our game.”
Shaw will make his plays, but when he does, the Vols need to draw on the mental-toughness mantra that’s been drilled into them since Jones and Co. arrived in Knoxville.
“Snap and clear,” Sapp said. “No reason to let the past hurt the next play. Players are gonna make plays. You know, they’re on scholarship, too.”
While much of the post-practice talk Tuesday surrounded Shaw’s scrambling abilities which has proven to be Tennessee’s kryptonite, there was no overlooking Gamecocks running back Mike Davis.
Davis leads the Southeastern Conference with 742 rushing yards and averages 6.7 yards per carry. Davis is a hard-nosed runner, who makes his impact trashing defenses between the tackles.
“He’s very explosive,” Jones said.
Added Sapp: “He’s up there with the best of them. We can’t arm tackle him, he’ll run through those easy. It’ll be a challenge.”
But the defense isn’t the only group facing a test.
South Carolina’s defense smothered Arkansas’ passing attack, allowing the Razorbacks just 37 yards through the air. Injury updates
Jones finally shed light on Curt Maggitt’s redshirt or return debacle, saying he doesn’t expect the junior linebacker to play this season and will likely be redshirted.
Jones also said running back Marlin Lane will play Saturday and is not limited from a lower leg injury.
Devrin Young and Trevarris Saulsberry returned to the practice field. Both are day-to-day.
Clowney is coming
A nationally-followed recruitment. Sixty-four tackles as a freshman. A vicious hit turned viral video.
The legend of Jadeveon Clowney grows with each passing snap and sack.
Justin Worley remembers “The Freak” before all the fame, sacks and YouTube hits.
Tennessee’s quarterback, a Rock Hill, S.C., native, was first exposed to the potential first-overall NFL draft pick during his Pop Warner days.
Not much has changed.
“He played running back for his elementary school team and was an animal back then – taller than the rest of the kids and all that,” Worley said. “I played against him in middle school and he ran all over the place. And in high school, I guess the rest is history now.”
Attention is a constant companion for Clowney – whether it be from media, fans or opposing offensives.
But Ju’Wuan James insists that won’t be the case Saturday. Clowney won’t garner extra attention from Tennessee.
“We’re just going to run our offense,” James said. “It’s just another game.”
Jalen Reeves-Maybin close to contributing
Sapp knows what Jalen Reeves-Maybin is going through. He too made the transition from safety to linebacker.
The senior has given the freshman countless pieces of advice, among them is: “always be in attack mode.”
Reeves-Maybin has certainly attacked his special teams opportunities, resulting in six tackles and a blocked punt.
But Sapp is confident the newcomer is close to bringing his big-play abilities to the defensive side of the ball.
“That’s my little brother, you know, I got to know him a lot during the summer and fall camp, so I think he’s very close. You know, he wants to do it,” Sapp said. “He works hard. He works his butt off. He needs to gain a little weight obviously, he knows that. But I think he can contribute a lot. He’s right on the brink.”
Not hung up on homecoming
Worley and Miller, both South Carolina natives, downplayed the upcoming contest against their hometown teams.
“I think it would be a big win just because it’s the No. 9 team,” said Worley, adding that both his parents were North Carolina grads and he grew up a Tar Heels fan.
Bye week blues
The phrase “it’s a bye week, not an off week” rang throughout Neyland Stadium, Haslam Field and the greater University of Tennessee campus again and again.
It was Jones’ favorite sound bite last week. p> But as much as you push and drill a team during an off-week, a game-less Saturday can result in a sluggish return to the practice field. That was the case for Tennessee Tuesday.
“No, not,” Jones said when asked if he was pleased with the practice energy. “We had a great bye week, but now this is game week. … It was not up to our standard and our expectation and I place that on our upperclassmen, our seniors and them understanding our standards week in and week out.”