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Tennessee to open spring without safety Micah Abernathy, seven others

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The Tennessee Volunteers may need to start asking for volunteers to get through the spring if the start of the offseason practice schedule is any suggestion. On Monday, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced eight players on Tennessee’s roster will be ruled out for the start of spring practices. A handful of others will be limited as well.

According to Saturday Down South, those players are safety Micah Abernathy, defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, defensive linemen Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle and Kendal Vickers, wide receivers Josh Smith and Brandon Johnson, and offensive lineman Brett Kendrick. The reason for those players being listed as out is not reported, but Jones suggested they are simply not in shape to go all in this spring at this point.

“We need to get them back at full strength,” Jones said. “I do think there will be competition.”

While these players may be down and out for the spring, there is no reason to fear they may be unavailable in the fall. Jones seems optimistic all players will be back and ready to go over the summer, which should be an encouraging sign. Abernathy also tied for the team lead in interceptions with two.

Abernathy was Tennessee’s second-leading tackler in 2016 with 69 tackles, including a team-high 52 solo tackles.

Tennessee fumbles away upset bid; No. 8 Alabama wins for 9th straight time vs. Vols

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Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 SEC) gave No. 8 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) a respectable fight, but when it came time to make a big play in the clutch, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs lost control of the football and fumbled away the football to Alabama’s defense as time was winding down in the game. In the end, Alabama held on to avoid a serious upset bid by Tennessee, winning 19-14 to hand the Vols their ninth straight defeat against Alabama.

Tennessee seemed to stun Alabama midway through the fourth quarter when Jalen Hurd maneuvered through the Alabama defense for a 12-yard touchdown. The score gave the Vols a 14-13 lead quickly after Alabama took a 13-7 lead. Tennessee’s scoring drive needed just four plays to a 75-yard touchdown drive that included a pair of big passes from Joshua Dobbs to Josh Smith and Josh Malone. Like a prized champion fighter though, Alabama got the last punch in. Derrick Henry scored on a 14-yard touchdown run to put Alabama up 19-14. The situation called for a two-point conversion attempt, but a pass attempt fell incomplete to keep the score a five-point differential.

Alabama quarterback Jake Coker completed 21 of 27 pass attempts for 247 yards, but he was without a touchdown pass. Henry took care of that on the ground, running for 143 yards and two scores to continue padding his Heisman Trophy candidate profile. though not the case for much of the game, Alabama did end the game with more total offensive yards (364-303).

Alabama will be off next week. The next time we see the Crimson Tide take the field, they will face a likely undefeated LSU team. The Tigers take on Western Kentucky in soggy Baton Rouge tonight and should enter their bye week with a clean 7-0 record. Like Alabama, LSU will be off next week as well before the big SEC West showdown in Tuscaloosa. The game could very well provide more clarity to the SEC West race, although LSU still has games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M to play before the end of the regular season.

Tennessee will return home next week for a primetime matchup with Kentucky in an SEC East battle. Tennessee still has a favorable schedule ahead of them to finish on a hot streak in the regular season. Tennessee must visit Missouri, but the back end of the schedule also features games against Vanderbilt, North Texas and South Carolina. That should lead to some nice momentum heading to a bowl game.

 

Vols looking for upset at No. 8 Alabama, tied 7-7 at halftime

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Alabama has had a knack for getting off to some slow starts this season, giving their opponents some confidence. It may juts be a matter of time before Alabama starts flexing some muscle against the Vols, but at halftime this SEC rivalry is all tied at 7-7 in a defensive battle.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry ran 20 yards for the first score of the game midway through the first quarter, but the Vols answered. Tennessee went 75 yards on 10 plays to even the score at 7-7 with Joshua Dobbs finding Josh Smith for an 11-yard touchdown inside the red zone.

Tennessee owns the upper hand in total yardage, 177-133, and the Vols have limited Alabama’s running game to just 40 yards so far. Tennessee has also done a decent job getting off the field, holding Alabama to two-of-six on third-down opportunities while the offense has converted five of nine. Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is a bit upset at the officiating, having seen his Vols called for five penalties in the first half. Regardless, Tennessee has more than held their own in Bryant-Denny and will be in position to win this one in the second half if it continues to hold Alabama down.

The Crimson Tide got a bit banged up in the first half as well. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Ronnie Harrison were each injured in the first half.

Vols’ receiving corps takes yet another hit

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If it wasn’t for bad luck, Tennessee’s receiving corps would’ve had no luck at all in 2014.

Josh Smith is out for the year with a severe ankle injury sustained in early September, while Marquez North won’t play again this season because of a shoulder injury.  Little-used Cody Blanc also sustained a season-ending Achilles injury, while Von Pearson missed games earlier in the year because of a high-ankle sprain.

Wes Rucker of GoVols.com is reporting that, according to UT receivers coach Zach Azzanni, Jason Croom will not play in the Gator Bowl against Iowa.  Croom sustained a knee injury during practice earlier this week.

It’s unclear if it’s the same knee Croom injured late last month.  What’s also unclear is the specific nature of the injury.

It’s very disappointing,” Azzanni said. “I feel sorry for him. Here’s a guy that’s busted his tail and gotten better all season long and done everything I asked of him. Just doesn’t say a word and works his tail off. The game gets taken away here at the end, one he’d love to play in. First bowl game.”

Among receivers with 10 or more catches, Croom leads the team in yards per catch at 14.5, while he’s fourth in receiving yards (305) and tied for sixth in receptions (21).  His four receiving touchdowns are tied for first on the team.

Vols’ receiving corps may have taken another hit

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When it comes to injury luck, Tennessee wide receivers have had little of it in 2014.  Josh Smith is out for the year with a severe ankle injury sustained in early September, while Marquez North (missed the Mizzou game last week) and Von Pearson (missed games earlier in the year) have battled health issues as well.

Tuesday, that unit may have taken yet another hit as Jason Croom went down with what appeared to be a knee injury.  The severity and specific nature, however, remains a matter of debate.

Head coach Butch Jones described it as a cramp in his hamstring and hip.  The Chattanooga Times Free-Press wrote “it looked much worse [than a hamstring] when he went down” after “grabbing his left knee,” while 247Sports.com‘s Wes Rucker noted that Croom grabbed his knee when he dropped to the turf in pain and that Jones’ injury reports are “a bit … shall we say … questionable from time to time” — with a video clip of the GEICO “Pinocchio is a bad motivational speaker” to drive home that latter point.

Regardless, Croom didn’t practice Wednesday and his availability for the in-state rivalry game against Vanderbilt Saturday is unknown.

Among receivers with 10 or more catches, Croom leads the team in yards per catch at 14.5, while he’s fourth in receiving yards (305) and tied for sixth in receptions (21).  His four receiving touchdowns are tied for first on the team, and he’s caught at least one scoring pass in each of the last three games.