Tennessee eager to snap 3-game losing streak
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s three-game losing streak has left the Volunteers hungry for victories.
Vols coach Butch Jones wants to make sure that attitude is apparent when his team takes the field Saturday against Football Championship Subdivision program Chattanooga.
“Everyone wants the prize, but no one wants the process,” Jones said. “We’re going through the process right now. What’s our overall appetite to win?”
Tennessee (2-3) can’t afford to slip up against Chattanooga (3-2) with a trip to No. 3 Ole Miss, a home game with No. 7 Alabama and a trip to South Carolina looming in the three weeks after this game. The Vols know they must improve their pass protection and rushing attack before entering that gauntlet. Tennessee ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in rushing and has allowed a league-high 18 sacks.
The Vols also must avoid dwelling on missed opportunities after blowing a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 10-9 loss to Florida last week. They insist that won’t be an issue.
“Last year you’d see at times we’d kind of get down on ourselves because things didn’t go the way we wanted at times,” Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton said. “This year, we’re very motivated. We’re an inspired team. We believe in each other, believe in everything this coaching staff is doing for us.”
This marks the 42nd meeting between Tennessee and Chattanooga, but it’s the first time they’ve faced each other since 1969. Tennessee leads the series 37-2-2, and Chattanooga’s lone victory at Neyland Stadium came in 1958.
Chattanooga, which is receiving $450,000 for making the trip, is ranked 12th in the FCS coaches’ poll and owns a three-game losing streak. In its only game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season, Chattanooga squandered a 16-0 lead in a 20-16 loss to Central Michigan.
“We’ve been waiting on this one for a while now,” Chattanooga offensive guard Corey Levin said. “I think any time you see a big SEC school on your schedule, you kind of gear up for it and can’t wait to get up there. We’re just happy we’re starting to have success now right before the game. Why not go up there and compete?”
Here are some things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts Chattanooga.
HURT RUNNING BACKS: Chattanooga running back Keon Williams, who has a team-high 314 yards rushing, won’t play Saturday due to a hand injury that required surgery. Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd spent this week wearing a green jersey given to players who should have limited contact in practice, but he’s expected to play. Tennessee’s Marlin Lane also has been limited with an ankle injury this week.
TULL’S HOMECOMING: This game means plenty to Chattanooga defensive end and two-time Southern Conference defensive player of the year Davis Tull, a Knoxville native with 31 ½ career sacks. “It’s usually on the news when an FCS school upsets an FBS school,” Tull said. “Would it be incredible if we did it? Absolutely. We’re going up there to play a football game. We’re going up there to win. That is our goal. We’re not just going to lie down because they’re a division higher than us. Everyone has a shot to win. Everyone deserves that. With that being said, it’s going to be a huge challenge.”
VOLS’ RED-ZONE WOES: Tennessee’s offense is seeking to improve its red-zone performance after struggling in that area against Florida. Tennessee got inside Florida’s 20-yard line four times last week and ended up with three field goals and one interception.
GILLIAM’S POTENTIAL RETURN: Jones announced after Tennessee’s season opener that offensive tackle Jacob Gilliam had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and would miss the rest of the season, but the fifth-year senior hasn’t undergone surgery yet and started practicing again over the last couple of weeks. Jones indicated this week there’s a chance Gilliam could be available Saturday.
HANDLING HUESMAN: Tennessee’s biggest challenge on defense involves Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman’s versatility. Huesman, the son of Mocs coach Russ Huesman, has rushed for 258 yards on 61 carries and also has thrown for 681 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four touchdown passes and two touchdown runs last week in a 55-6 blowout of VMI.