NCF Nation: Gerald Jones
Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)
North Carolina take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: North Carolina, which began the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press preseason poll, had much higher hopes this season, but considering how injuries and suspensions decimated the roster, an appearance in a bowl game is not an accomplishment those within the program take lightly. Carolina is in a bowl game for the third straight season, the school’s longest streak since going to seven straight bowl games from 1992-98. UNC and Tennessee had previously agreed to play in 2011 and 2012, but Tennessee canceled the series.
UNC returned all but two starters on defense and was expected to contend for the ACC title in coach Butch Davis’ fourth season, but the Tar Heels lost 14 players for at least one game and seven for the entire season because of a two-pronged NCAA investigation. UNC started the season with back-to-back losses, but a four-game winning streak revived their bowl hopes.
Backups have played integral roles for Carolina, but veteran quarterback T.J. Yates has been one of the most improved players in the country this year and at the heart of the team’s success. He is No. 2 in the conference in passing efficiency and No. 2 in passing average per game.
Tennessee take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Tennessee was 0-for-October earlier this season and staring at a 2-6 record. Granted, the competition got a lot easier, but the Vols rebounded nicely under first-year coach Derek Dooley to earn a trip to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Tennessee’s surge here at the end of the season started with Dooley turning the keys of the offense over to true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and the cool Californian responded by throwing 12 touchdown passes in his four starts.
The Vols also have one of the better group of receivers in the SEC. Seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones have both had big seasons, but true freshmen Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers have also come on during this winning streak.
All told, Tennessee has 21 first-year players in its two-deep, and at times, had three freshmen playing on the offensive line. The Vols have also been a lot better on defense these past four games and kept teams out of the end zone.
To get to seven wins and finish a game above .500 would be a real accomplishment for this team and would match last season’s 7-6 record -- when it looked like the closest the Vols would get to a bowl game back in October was watching one on television.
Tennessee’s Gerald Jones, who missed the Vols' last three games after breaking a bone in his hand in the opener, said he’s like a “kid at a candy store” in anticipation of his return to the lineup and his matchup with Peterson.
“I watched film on them for two hours (Monday) because I was so eager,” said Jones, who led the Vols in receptions (46) and receiving yards (680) last season. “I am so ready for No. 7 (Peterson). I am ready for him. I watched him for a couple of hours (Monday).
“To be honest, I think a lot of people fear him because he’s so big. He’s 6-2, 220. He’s a pretty good athlete. He has his weaknesses, too. He’s not Superman. I’m going to give him my all, and it’s going to be a battle come Saturday.”
Actually, Peterson is closer to 6-foot than he is 6-2. He is pushing 220 pounds, and he’s a little better than a “pretty good athlete.” In fact, he might be the most explosive athlete in college football.
He’s been known to talk it up on the field, too. That’s a big part of his game.
So the Jones-Peterson matchup on Saturday at Tiger Stadium could make for some pretty good entertainment.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
This week, Tennessee’s football team gets a chance to catch its breath, and Lane Kiffin gets a chance to do one of the things he does best -- recruit.
The Vols are off this Saturday after their 45-19 thrashing of Georgia last week, and all of a sudden, those fears of going 0-for-October have been replaced with renewed hope.
|Jim Brown/US Presswire|
|Lane Kiffin and the Vols have an extra week to prepare for Alabama.|
Maybe there will be an Octoberfest for the Vols after all.
“We love this feeling we’ve got right now,” Tennessee junior receiver Gerald Jones told reporters Monday. “Not only did we beat a team like Georgia, but we beat them by a large margin. I think we love this feeling, and we’re not going to let it slip up.”
The Vols (3-3, 1-2) put it all together in their best all-around performance of the season against the Bulldogs. And if they were any better on special teams, that game would have been even more lopsided than it was.
Even in its three losses this season, Tennessee has hung around and played well enough on defense to still be in the game in the second half.
But you never got the sense that the Vols were potent enough offensively to be a threat against the upper-tier teams in this league … until that Georgia game.
Jonathan Crompton had a career day against the Bulldogs with 310 yards passing and four touchdowns. He’s not going to play like that the rest of the way, but it’s also reasonable to think that he’s not going to play as poorly as he did in September, either, when he threw eight interceptions in four games.
Ifs and buts are just that, but what would Tennessee’s record be right now had Crompton been merely serviceable in those games?
He’s played better the past two weeks and should have some momentum going to Alabama in two weeks. With a competent passing game, Tennessee becomes a team nobody wants to face the second half of the season.
Winning at Alabama is a long shot regardless of how well Crompton plays at quarterback, but that South Carolina game on Oct. 31 in Knoxville looms as large as ever.
There were four home games that were critical for the Vols coming into this season -- UCLA, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina. Splitting those four games would almost certainly mean that this team could get to at least seven wins and go to a bowl game.
The Vols could get that split by beating the Gamecocks, which would be a stark reversal from how the season ended a year ago.
It was like a funeral around Rocky Top last November. But there’s hope on the horizon as the Vols point toward the second half of the season this year.
A bowl game, any bowl game, would be huge for this team. If for nothing else, just to get the extra practice time.
We saw how Kiffin’s Vols handled that patch of adversity in September. They kept fighting and kept believing.
We’ll see now how they handle a little success.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee junior receiver Gerald Jones was like the rest of the SEC when he first met Lane Kiffin.
The Vols' first-year coach came across as cocky and downright arrogant, especially for a 33-year-old guy who'd never coached the first SEC game.
"That was my first impression," Jones admits.
But then he got to know Kiffin and says the Tennessee fans are in for a treat.
"I don't think you can judge a book by its cover, because when I got to know him, he was a really nice guy," said Jones, who led the Vols in receiving last season. "He's an understanding person. He's very smart. A lot of people come off and say negative things about people all the time because they really don't know them.
"You've just got to get to know the guy. He's a fired-up guy, and he loves competition."
Jones flashes an approving grin when the subject turns to Kiffin calling out Florida's Urban Meyer, which has already happened twice -- including the day Kiffin was introduced as Tennessee's coach.
"Oh, we were fired up. We were really fired up," said Jones, his grin growing wider. "It just makes the game that much more interesting when we get to it. A lot of people are going to be mentioning what Coach Kiffin said when we play Florida, and this is going to bring a lot of attention to the game, a lot of hype, and we want to live up to it.
"That's what we want. We want a coach who's going to be fired up and is going to speak up for us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We make the tour around the SEC to see what else they're writing and saying:
Bryan Mullen of The Tennessean has an interesting Q&A with outspoken sophomore receiver Gerald Jones, who takes a few shots at Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton.
Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana Newspapers writes that those who stayed witnessed an LSU comeback for the ages, but he wonders how in the world the Tigers got themselves in such a hole in the first place.
No. 1-ranked Alabama turns its attention to another streak, a six-game losing streak to bitter rival Auburn.
Bill Belichick has some advice for his close friend and Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Injured Mississippi State linebacker Jamar Chaney plans to return for the 2009 season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Scouring the SEC for news, notes and information, as we point toward the final Saturday of October:
- Gentry Estes of the Mobile Press-Register takes a look at where Alabama's defense goes without nose tackle Terrence Cody, who's expected to miss the next couple of games with a knee injury.
- Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom said he's not changing anything offensively, but the Bulldogs' punchless performances suggest that he should.
- The two-pronged approach is working for LSU, which changed it up on the defensive line against South Carolina and went with a quicker unit.
- Two starters for Tennessee, offensive lineman Anthony Parker and receiver Gerald Jones, are questionable this week with ankle injuries.
- Georgia gets set for its toughest stretch of the season, but the Bulldogs are thinking only about what's next ... LSU.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|J. Meric/Getty Images|
|The Gators are expecting big things from Major Wright this season.|
Now for those players in the SEC on the cusp of breaking out and becoming household names. Some of these players have already made their mark to varying degrees, while others either haven't gotten the chance or just haven't done it yet. Keep an eye on all 10 this season:
1. Major Wright, S, Florida: A punishing hitter who tied for the SEC lead in forced fumbles a year ago as a true freshman. Took his lumps along with the rest of the Gators' young secondary, but he'll be better for it this season.
2. Jeremy Jarmon, DE, Kentucky: For all intents and purposes, had a breakout season last year with nine sacks in his first full season as a starter. But with more depth and better talent around him, Jarmon will be even better in 2008.
3. Chad Jones, S, LSU: Another physical safety to watch in 2008. Jones showed his playmaking abilities in spots last season as a true freshman. At 6-foot-3 and nearly 230 pounds, he has all the tools to be a great one.
4. Tray Blackmon, LB, Auburn: A suspension his freshman season held him back, and it was an ankle injury last season. Blackman still finished seventh on the team in tackles despite playing in just nine games. This is the year he puts it all together.
5. Gerald Jones, WR, Tennessee: Was underutilized last season by the Vols as a freshman. But he's something to see in the open field, and new Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson is determined to get him the ball.
6. Al Woods, DT, LSU: Probably will back up Charles Alexander to start the season, but this is the year he puts it all together and plays like the NFL first-round draft pick he's been projected as. Think the Tigers are deep up front?
7. London Crawford, WR, Arkansas: Finally ready to live up to lofty high school credentials now that he's in Bobby Petrino's pass-happy offense. One of the Hogs' most improved players in the spring.
8. Terry Grant, RB, Alabama: Set an Alabama freshman rushing record last season with 891 yards despite being hindered by a painful sports hernia. Had offseason surgery to correct the problem and has become a more complete back.
9. Richard Murphy, RB, LSU: Even with Jacob Hester gone, the LSU backfield remains crowded. Some are fingering Keiland Williams as the breakout guy, but Murphy had the better spring with his blend of speed and pass-catching ability.
10. Mario Fannin, RB/WR, Auburn: Shoulder surgery derailed him in the spring, but the explosive Fannin is moving to the slot in Tony Franklin's spread offense. He's still going to get his touches running the ball, too.
In closing: Arkansas has a couple of tight ends to watch this season -- Andrew Davie and D.J. Willams. South Carolina tight end Jared Cook has "star" written all over him, too. Is this the year Tennessee defensive tackle Demonte Bolden puts it all together for 12 games? And for that matter, does another member of that Tennessee defensive line, senior end Robert Ayers, finally realize how good he can be?