KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s defense will play the rest of the season without its leading tackler.
Sophomore free safety Brian Randolph tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the Volunteers’ 37-20 loss to No. 14 Florida, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Monday. Randolph hurt his himself Saturday while trying to make a play on Florida receiver Frankie Hammond’s 75-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
“It’s real big,” sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said. “It’s real key. He’s a real vocal guy, real smart, understands his position and understands others’ positions. (He) can help out a lot and he’s a great playmaker, and he’s a good person. You can trust him behind you.”
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Junior Byron Moore, who started each of Tennessee’s first three games at strong safety, will move to free safety Saturday when the Vols face Akron. Junior Brent Brewer, who made eight starts last year before tearing his own ACL, takes over as the Vols’ first-team strong safety. Fifth-year senior Rod Wilks remains Tennessee’s second-team free safety, while freshman LaDarrell McNeil moves into the two-deep as a backup strong safety.
Randolph had recorded a team-high 22 tackles this year to go along with two pass breakups. He had started eight games last year and collected 55 tackles, the fifth-highest total ever for a Tennessee true freshman. SEC coaches named him to the conference’s all-freshman team last year.
“We lost a good leader back there,” Moore said. “Now we’ve just got to get the next guy to step in. I’ll take a lot more ownership now back there in making sure we’re lined up. We’ve just got to keep moving on now and keep him in our prayers.”
Randolph’s injury represents one more obstacle for a defense trying to recover from its last collapse against Florida.
Tennessee allowed 302 yards and 24 unanswered points in the final 18 minutes of the Florida game. That stretch included Trey Burton’s 80-yard touchdown run, Mike Gillislee’s 45- and 33-yard carries plus Hammond’s 75-yard touchdown catch. The Gators gained 7.8 yards per carry and rushed for 336 yards, the most Tennessee had allowed to a Florida team since 1977.
Dooley said he would continue “promoting competition” in the secondary, but he also expressed confidence in his defense.
“We’re not going to go into a total panic because we’ve been playing pretty good back there,” Dooley said. “We had a stretch of bad plays. I don’t think it necessarily defines who we are. It defines what we did, and what we did poorly. Time will prove that out.”
This marks the second straight year a Tennessee starter has torn an ACL against Florida. Last year, star receiver Justin Hunter injured his left knee on Tennessee’s opening possession in a 33-23 loss to the Gators.
NOTES: Dooley said he hadn’t decided whether to use Derrick Brodus or Michael Palardy as the Vols’ main kicker against Akron. Brodus went 2-of-3 on extra-point attempts Saturday after claiming the job from Palardy, who had missed an extra point in each of Tennessee’s first two games. … Dooley noted that he probably played his starting skill-position performers on offense too much against Florida. Dooley said Hunter and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson each played over 70 snaps. “That’s my fault,” Dooley said. “It’s a classic case of you’re getting into a game, it’s a good team, things are in control and you don’t want to disrupt it. But we have to exercise trust in what we’ve been doing, rolling guys early especially so we’ve got every ounce of juice we need in the fourth quarter.”