KNOXVILLE - When the Vols hit the field in Nashville on Saturday, Jay Graham will be in a familiar situation — sporting the Power T in a game against in-state foe Vanderbilt.
As a player, Graham was a perfect 4-0 as a running back for Tennessee from 1993-96. The Big Orange won those four games by an average of 38-7 as Graham piled up 450 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Vandy.
After pummeling the Commodores in his freshman and sophomore seasons (62-14 and 65-0), Graham and the Vols were in one-possession games in his final two affairs.
“I remember my junior year it came down to the last drive," Graham recalled the of the Vols' 12-7 win in 1995. "It is always a tough game."
Graham scored the game-winning touchdowns in that '95 game on a 1-yard rush with 2:59 left in regulation to avoid the upset. Graham piled up 211 rushing yards on 39 carries in that win.
The following year, Tennessee held off Vandy once again, winning 14-7 with Graham opening the scoring with a 4-yard rushing touchdown.
"My senior year it was a tough game," Graham said. "They are always going to play hard, it is going to be a good rivalry. It has always been a good rivalry.”
Graham did not have success in his lone game on the sidelines with the Vols as a graduate assistant against Vanderbilt, suffering a 28-24 defeat at Neyland Stadium in 2005 to end a 22-game win streak in the series.
“I just remember playing hard and taking the whole four quarters to win," Graham said. "Always coming down to the last drive, fourth-down plays. You have to make plays. It has always been a good game and hopefully it is this weekend as well.”
FROM BABY GIRAFFE TO ROBOCOP
Tyler Bray has always had the arm to play quarterback. His feet, however, have required some work.
Although he is working with the team’s wide receivers this season, assistant coach Darin Hinshaw has helped Bray with his footwork as much as anyone, having served as the Vols’ quarterbacks coach his first two years at Rocky Top.
When recruiting Bray, the UT coaches knew there would be a few things they would have to teach him but were confident they could mold him into the quarterback he has become today.
“You can always train a quarterback to get under center and focus on all the fundamentals to be a pro quarterback,” Hinshaw said. “When Tyler got here, he looked like a baby giraffe trying to get under center. It was embarrassing, but he worked at it and worked at it and now it is like second-hand to him.”
With at least two games still remaining on the schedule, Bray has already put together one of the best statistical seasons ever posted by a Tennessee quarterback with over 3,000 yards passing and 29 touchdowns. Hinshaw credits much of that success to the improvement he has made with his footwork.
“As a quarterback when you start seeing some different things and your feet slow down, and you start seeing some things maybe they are changing up some coverages and stuff like that, that is when you lose your rhythm,” Hinshaw said. “As a quarterback, keeping your rhythm is the whole key to the game.
“Being able to stay in rhythm, understand and focus on your reads and deliver the ball on time, he has done a great job with that. There have only been a couple of times where you go, ‘Man, I wish we had that throw back or that situation back.’ He has been doing a really good job. Your feet make your arm go at quarterback.”
Another contributing factor to his ability to put up video-game numbers has been the fact that he simply isn’t getting sacked this season. After yielding 41 sacks in 2010 and 18 a year ago, the Vols have allowed Bray to be tackled for a loss an NCAA-low five times this season.
While the offensive line certainly deserves the bulk of the credit for that remarkable stat, Bray’s ability to move around in the pocket has played a role in it as well.
“He looks like RoboCop out there with all those braces and everything but he does a good job and he has great elusiveness in the pocket,” Hinshaw said. “We have the situation with our offensive line and how well they are protecting him, but he also eludes the pass-rush really well and gets rid of the football.”
Bray even showed off a few moves outside of the pocket last Saturday against Missouri, scrambling for a season-long nine-yard gain at one point.
“It was crazy,” Hinshaw said. “We were all like, ‘What is going on?’ He did a really good job in that situation. They had everybody covered and he went and scrambled and got nine yards and got us in position right there to go get a first down. That was a good job by him and that is something that Tyler is going to have to continue to do.”
GETTING THE CALL
Last week against Missouri, Tyler Drummer took part in a moment that he, his family and friends will never forget.
The junior walk-on wide receiver turned holder, took a J.R. Carr snap, made a move to the right, tucked the ball and raced what is technically five yards, but was more like 12, into the endzone for a touchdown in the second overtime against Missouri to put the Vols up 42-35.
The gutsy call, made by head coach Derek Dooley, turned the junior’s eyes as wide as saucers.
“He didn’t have a poker face when I told him we were running that I will tell you that much,” said special teams coach Charlie Coiner. “He was like ‘Are you serious?’”
The Vols lined up for what could have been a 22-yard field goal and instead put another seven, much-needed points, up on the board.
“We saw the alignment that gave it to us,” Coiner said. “We worked on it during the week, coach made that call and I am not sure who’s eyes were bigger, me or Drummer. I looked at him and said are you sure and he was. It was a great call. It ended up good.”
Drummer, who grew up in Knoxville going to Tennessee games, lived out a childhood fantasy against Missouri, something he will never forget.
I am proud of those kids,” Coiner said. “It is really great when you coach as much as I have and you see a kid like that, get to have an experience like that which he will obviously never forget, and his family and friends will never forget. I am really happy for him.”
THROW IT TO BULLARD!
As a sophomore in 2011, Alex Bullard started six games at left guard and six games at center. Before transferring to Tennessee two years ago, he saw some time at tackle at Notre Dame. None of those hops along the offensive line, however, have been as big as his leap to tight end this year.
Bullard has played in all 10 contests in 2012, including two starts at tight end. Special teams and tight ends coach Charlie Coiner and offensive line coach Sam Pittman appreciate the junior from Franklin, Tenn., for his versatility.
“He’s done a good job,” Coiner said. “We’re happy with him. It has saved us because we’ve had tight end shortages at one time or another with guys dinged up here or there.”
“The main reason we went with Alex out at tight end this year is because he wasn’t in the starters and we knew that he’s athletic enough to handle the edge,” Pittman said.
Pittman has been pleased with the blocking consistency Bullard has maintained in his move to tight end. His edge blocking has been just as good as it was when he was working inside.
“He’s really done a nice job out there and his attitude is incredible,” Pittman said. “He’s really accepted his role and it’s a big role, but at times it’s a 20-play role instead of a 75 to 80-play role that he’d like to have had. And we’d like for him to have it. It just hasn’t worked out that way.”
Lining up as a tight end, the 6-2, 300-pound Bullard is now an eligible receiver. So, how long until he sees a pass thrown his way?
“Like I said, he’s done a really good job in the run game,” Coiner joked when asked about Bullard’s pass-catching skills. “Ha, you never know. That’s the thing. People would like to think never, but we’ve seen stranger things than that too.”
Pittman has a ringing endorsement for UT’s secret weapon.
“Yes, he has outstanding hands,” Pittman said with a grin. “He has the best hands on the team (laughs). We just want everybody to think we may throw him a pass. And by the way, we have thrown him one in practice.”
Did he catch it?
“Yes, he did.”
CP CONTINUING TO IMPROVE
When Cordarrelle Patterson has the football in his hands there are few, if any, players in college football that are more electric.
His play without the ball remains a work in-progress, however, although he has shown significant improvement in recent weeks.
“He has gotten a lot better from the first day he got here to where he is now and his development will continue to go on,” UT wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said. “He has to continue to get better at that but when you go watch him in 1-on-1s, he is hard to cover. That is the situation, he is getting that mentality now where every route is like a 1-on-1 route. Even in zone, I’m running like I am getting the ball, I’m getting the ball, I’m getting the ball and he is getting better every week.”
As his all-around game continues to improve, talk about his NFL Draft stock has naturally begun to pop up. Those discussions have remained among the media and fan base, however, as Patterson is only concerned about the task at hand and helping the Vols prepare to take on Vanderbilt on Saturday.
“That’s something we talked about before the season started and we said, ‘Guys, you just have to take every week,’ Hinshaw said. “We have not talked about that at all right now. We are focusing on this week like we do every week and focusing on doing what we have to do to go out there and prepare and give the best game that we can for Tennessee.”
VANDERBILT HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN
"If you look at the games Tennessee has won, it's been very similar to a lot of teams in this conference. Their losses have come from very good football teams. They have the advantage in the turnover battle, and we have the advantage in penalties.
"Defensively, they play hard. They have a defense similar to defenses we've struggled with at times.
"Tennessee has as good of an offense as I've seen. The game is played upfront in this league. I think one of the big reasons they've been so good is how they've been playing on the offensive line. They're massive. They've only given up five sacks all year, and I don't know if I've ever heard of something like that before. Tyler Bray is very accurate and gets rid of the ball quickly. He's a better athlete than people give him credit for and does a really good job of buying time in the pocket.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge, especially with they're offense and the challenges they pose to our defense with their size, speed and athleticism. One of the things we try to do is pressure the quarterback, and they're not allowing any pressure on the quarterback. I know our guys are excited about the opportunity and ready to play in our home stadium."
(On the video of Tennessee celebration last year and using that as motivation)
"I have matured dramatically since that game.”
"It's about Vanderbilt. It's about us getting better and doing our jobs. I have tremendous respect for the state of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee and their traditions. Our focus is on Vanderbilt. We've been trying to get better ever since the day we arrived on campus and that's our focus. If we need any other outside focus, then our focus isn't where it needs to be."
CORNERBACKS COACH DERRICK ANSLEY
(On Prentiss Waggner)
“I think anytime you get sat down a little bit and the coach is showing you that you need to step up a little bit. He made a couple plays out there on Saturday that put us in the position to score. We needed to make more. Anytime the ball is up in the air it needs to be a chance for us to make a play, not the offense. He did well last week, he can do a lot better, he has the ability to. We need him to these last two, we need his senior leadership first and foremost and but we need him make plays to help us get in better positions.”
(On how he felt the defense played)
“First half we could have played as good as we could have played with a high powered offense like Missouri. I think the kids handled the first half very well. We came out second half and gave up the long run that put a little wind in ourselves. But we didn’t alter the game plan and the kids didn’t down on themselves. They went out there and continued to compete. We went into overtime, play here and play there, and the outcome is different. You wish you could go take plays out of the tape but you can’t. You have to learn from them and continue to play.”
(On Justin Coleman’s progression)
“I think he has progressed well as far as playing physical and playing fast and playing the run. He is a really strong tackler, he is heavy handed, he is competitive. One thing we need to work on with him is getting confidence in the deep part of the field. It shows up every week that he may get disoriented and can’t get the play and the ball out of the guy’s hands. That is a fundamental that we have to continue to develop with him. He is a really good player and he has come a long way.
TIGHT ENDS/SPECIAL TEAMS COACH CHARLIE COINER
(On Mychal Rivera)
“I think he is. I have coached in the NFL. We try not to think too much about that here. We try to get ready for the next game. He has areas that he has to work on, they all do. That is what I used to do for a living, I used to evaluate guys coming out. Mych is one of those guys that probably needs to get better in the run game, nothing I didn’t tell him on Sunday, we still talk about it every week. He will probably get bigger and stronger in the weight room, which he better, because if he does make it to that level he will play against grown up SEC defensive ends every week.”
(On Vanderbilt return man Zac Stacy)
“He is a good return guy but you get numb to it a little bit in this conference. Marcus Murphy last week he was good. It is every week in this conference. We better be ready. Last week, we tried to work around him but guess what we didn’t do the right thing, we look up, and there he is 80 yards back. I said that last week. You are only as good as your last coverage and we didn’t do a good job. The kid that took it back is a good player but they don’t get back there in the SEC unless they have some talent.”
SAFETIES COACH JOSH CONKLIN
(On the defense vs. Missouri)
“It helped us out. We shifted gears and said we were going to get more pressure with our front three most of the day and front four if you had the four guys rushing. We had more zone eyes on it trying to get the football out of the quarterback’s hands which worked well for us instead of the man match concepts.”
(On coming to Tennessee from the Citadel)
“I don’t know if you can anticipate what you are going to get into, but I think everything is a learning experience and you take everything that you have learned and grow from it. Take the good, the bad and you move forward to become a better coach in the long run. As you move in your career.”
(On Dooley’s move to the defense)
“[Dooley] has a lot of experience. He has been around a lot of good coaches, defensive coaches included and he sees things from an offensive perspective which is good for you as a defensive coach to see what they are looking at on offense and what gives them issues. When he coaches guys, he has seen it from his perspective which is always good dialogue to get a different point of view.”
RUNNING BACKS COACH JAY GRAHAM
(On how the run game can be successful this weekend)
“You have to break tackles. It is the case in every SEC game, there are going to be guys hitting you at the line of scrimmage. You have to break tackles. You have to beat the safeties in open field. You have to be efficient in the run game on first down. That is one of the biggest keys.”
“This year they have been playing really well. They have played well against everyone they have played. They play together. They have done a great job offensively making plays when they have to make plays. I remember watching them last week when they played Missouri, so we watched their offense. They have come up and made some big plays, they have playmakers on that side of the ball also.”
(On Vanderbilt’s defense)
“The biggest thing is they play hard, they play so hard to get to the ball. They strain. They get three and four guys to the ball. They don’t give up big plays because they play so hard. That is the key you have to play just as hard as they do or even harder in certain situations.”
(On being a balanced offense)
“In any offense it is important to be balanced. You have to be balanced so that they are standing on their heels not knowing if you are going to run or you are going to pass. We try to do that and I think we do a good job of staying balanced. It just depends on the situation.”
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH DARIN HINSHAW
(On Vanderbilt’s secondary)
“They play a lot of coverages and they do a really good job with it. They try to make it all look the same and they will move on you, they will do a bunch of different things to try to get the quarterback’s eyes to be in the wrong area and they pressure. That is how they pressure and they do a really good job with that. They do a really good job in the secondary of disguising coverages and being able to play a lot of different looks.”
(On the development of the offense over the last three years)
“We also have guys that we are developing and are in that process. You look at Justin Worley, he has had a lot of practice snaps and he is getting better. You haven’t seen him on the field yet, but he is doing a good job and that is what happens when you develop a program. You sit there and get guys in position to be able to go make plays on Saturdays and you have the backups working really hard to get in position when it is their turn to go out there and perform.”
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH SAM PITTMAN
(On if it was disappointing not to have a time-eating drive vs. Missouri at the end of regulation)
“Sure it is. It’s very disappointing we didn’t make a first down. But we’ve got to run the ball better. If we had run the ball better, we probably would have run the ball. But we hadn’t run the ball well over the last quarter. We hadn’t run it really well and we had thrown it really well. It happened to be that we didn’t throw and catch it and we didn’t protect it as well as we should have.”
(On how much the run game keeps the UT offense in tempo)
“I think it’s really important. I think it’s important this week too. I think obviously alluded to ‘we became one dimensional. And why?’ I understand all of those things. The reason is because we were still moving the football and part of the reason is because we weren’t moving it well on the ground. There are so many explosive out wide – the tight ends, the wide receivers – that we feel like we can protect it. We feel like we can throw the football and get that done. With that said, we don’t want to see every blitz known to mankind. The only way to get away from that is being able to run the ball when you want to run the ball. That’s the whole key of winning football games. Obviously we’ve come back out here to figure out what went wrong in the fourth quarter running the football and we’re trying to fix it and get ready for Vanderbilt.
(On how the offensive linemen aren’t satisfied with their performance vs. Missouri)
“I think it’s just a sign of expectations, what the expectations are on the team, in the room and all of those things. I’ve had squads that have given up one sack and the quarterback gets hits three or four times and we threw it 54 times and you’re going, ‘Man that’s the greatest protection in America.’ Here, we give up a sack, we get the quarterback hit, it’s not acceptable. They know that. So yeah, it’s the standards you set and with these kids it’s as high as you’re going to get.”
(With Antonio Richardson playing through a knee injury)
“I think a lot of it is with the injury, there’s really not a whole lot there. It’s sore. I think it has something to do with who you are around. He’s around all of these older guys that have been through it. There’s a difference between pain and injury and I think Tiny’s just got some pain. But these older guys are kind of ‘Hey, I’ve had this. This is worse than what you’ve got…’ You know what I’m saying. Next thing you know, he’s saying, ‘Oh, I’m not hurt at all compared to all of your stories.’ So I think it has a lot to do with who you are around and how the guys around your group accept injury. And we don’t. We’ve got guys that want to go play, so we’ve done a good job with that.”
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH JOHN PALERMO
(On the defensive line’s play against Missouri)
“We did some things where we turned the guys loose a little bit and let them rush and not worry about contain and that really paid off for us. I thought we had the quarterback running around a lot during the day and got him off the spot and put some pressure on him. Brandon Staley came down and did the signals and that worked out well. It was good. Obviously, it didn’t end like we wanted it to end, but I thought for the most part the kids played good up front.”
(On dealing with outside distractions)
“All you can do is go out and do the best that you can do. You can’t worry about what other people think. I’ve been blessed through my career that I haven’t had to go through this very often, but I have had to go through it before and all you can do is stay focused on the task at hand and try to bring the kids closer together. That’s all you can do, there are only so many things you can control.”
(On coaching through outside distractions)
“To me, it’s not any different this week than what it was the first week or the second week or the third week. You go in there and you coach and try to do the best job you can and pay attention to detail. It’s like one of the kids said, ‘Coach, you yelled at me the other day and hurt my feelings.’ I said, ‘Guess what, you hurt my feelings every time you go out there and screw up.’ It’s one of those deals that I’m not going to let it go. I’m not going to say that it is ok because of the situation we are in. It’s not ok. You have to go out and coach them just like you believe you should coach them.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)