Tennessee Volunteers Football: 5 Most Important Takeaways from September
The Tennessee Volunteers finished September 3-2 and now enter three of their toughest games of the season in October, a month that hasn't been kind in recent years.
Since the 2007 SEC East division championship season, the Vols are 5-15 in October, 1-11 since 2009. Tennessee either hasn't learned enough from its September games or October must feature the hardest teams.
The truth is somewhere in the middle.
While the schedule can't be changed this year, here are some key takeaways from the first month of the season that ought to guide the team throughout October and the rest of 2013.
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The headline story of September was the bad quarterback play of Justin Worley. It's nothing new in football that fans would clamor for the backup (or recently, the backup's backup) to get some playing time, but Tennessee fans have begged for it all the same.
In four starts, Worley has averaged 144 yards, 1.8 touchdowns and one interception, while completing 59 percent of his passes. That's hardly a game-winning stat line.
In one start, Nathan Peterman was limited to just five passing yards, two interceptions and one fumble, while completing just four of 11 pass attempts.
Is the answer for October to try a different freshman? Maybe. But September told us that whether it's Worley or a freshman, the Vols have problems at quarterback.
Freshmen Role Models
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Find the bright spots on the Tennessee roster, and you'll see a common theme among them: they're mostly freshmen.
While Brian Randolph's September was as good as any Vol defenseman, Cam Sutton has been just as good. After being duped on a quick screen against Western Kentucky, the true freshman jumped the route the next time he saw it, returning it for a touchdown. He has stepped up admirably in relief of Riyahd Jones.
Though he hasn't played much yet, defensive end Corey Vereen is simply tenacious. Butch Jones has said that Vereen is "hungry for greatness," which is a phrase I love. Vereen could be seen crawling after quarterback Tyler Murphy in the Florida game, doing everything he could to get a sack. This guy never quits and has plenty of talent to back it up.
And how about the wide receivers? Marquez North leads the team with 14 receptions, and Josh Smith is second with 138 yards. The touchdowns will come as soon as the quarterback(s) get fixed.
It's only been a month, but if these are the types of players that Butch Jones brings in, the future is bright.
Michael Palardy Has Settled In
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After three inconsistent seasons, Michael Palardy is off to a career year.
He's made 80 percent of his field goals and is averaging 44.1 yards per punt, both career highs. After missing five extra points in three seasons, Palardy is a perfect 21-of-21 this year.
Now that he's handling kickoff duties, we've gotten the chance to see the Florida native's leg strength. It took him a couple games, but Palardy is consistently knocking the ball three to five yards deep in the end zone.
Not having to worry about the kicker/punter is a must at the end of September in any football season.
Offensive Line Has Room to Improve
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Antonio Richardson. Ja'Wuan James. Zach Fulton. James Stone. Alex Bullard. Folks, that's as good a looking offensive line as there is in the country…on paper.
Richardson will be a first-round pick in April. James could sneak in there, too. Both Fulton and Stone should be selected, while Bullard is sure to get a chance on a roster. Each one of these players has NFL potential, and all but one is a senior.
These five should be knocking teams off the ball, especially in the running game. But it's not happening.
The last drive of the first half against South Alabama was retro Big Orange offense. Tennessee began a strong four-minute drive at their own 22 and methodically moved the ball down the field with a combination of short passes and strong runs, thanks to an offensive line that had taken over.
We've seen what these players can do in September. It's time for that to become the norm.
Right on Track
At the end of the month, the Volunteers are right where everyone thought they'd be—3-2.
The Oregon game was more brutal than even the pessimists predicted, while Florida posed a much calmer threat than was feared. Still, the outcome was the same.
And not to be the bearer of bad news, but 3-5 is what Tennessee awaits at the end of October. There's never a safe week in the SEC, but it would be a big upset for the Vols to beat Georgia, South Carolina or Alabama.
This season will come down to November, just like each of the last three. Winning three of the remaining four will send Tennessee to its first bowl game since 2010, in Butch Jones' first season.