Season recap: Tennessee

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
6:30
AM ET
TENNESSEE

Record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC

The second year of the Derek Dooley era wasn’t exactly pretty to look at. There was promise at the beginning of the season with playmakers returning on offense, but struggles were expected with the youth and inexperience on defense. To make matters worse, the Vols dismissed troubled star safety Janzen Jackson before the season. But getting back to a bowl seemed in reach with players like quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers.

Tennessee outscored its first two opponents 87-39, with Bray averaging 349 yards and throwing for seven touchdowns. Hunter and Rogers also combined for 504 yards and four touchdowns on 31 catches in those games. However, Tennessee was dealt another crushing blow in Week 3 against Florida when Hunter tore the ACL in his left knee. The Vols lost the game — and Hunter for the season.

Tennessee then suffered arguably its biggest blow when Bray went down with a thumb injury in the loss to Georgia in Week 6. Tennessee lost four of the five games Bray missed, scoring double digits just once, as it went from Matt Simms to true freshman Justin Worley at quarterback.

Defensively, there was improvement and freshmen linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt appear to be stars in the making, but the Vols just couldn’t overcome their offensive woes. Tennessee hit rock bottom with a 10-7 loss to Kentucky that ended a 26-year winning streak over the Wildcats and eliminated the Vols from the postseason.

Offensive MVP: Rogers. Because Rogers played the entire year, he gets the nod over Bray. Without Rogers, Tennessee’s offensive numbers would have been a lot worse. He finished the year first in the SEC in receptions (67) and second in yards (1,040) and touchdowns (9).

Defensive MVP: Defensive tackle Malik Jackson. Jackson was one of Tennessee’s best overall players and maybe the Vols' best leader. He was the heart of Tennessee’s defense and was extremely productive, recording 56 tackles, including 11 for loss, and had 10 quarterback hurries.

Turning point: When Bray went down in the Georgia game, it seemed like Tennessee’s spirit was crushed. Cycling among quarterbacks didn’t help and some wondered if this team quit or not. Tennessee lost five of its final seven games after Bray’s injury.

What’s next: Tennessee isn’t headed to a bowl game, so Dooley and his staff will have more time to hit the road and recruit. Tennessee is in desperate need of depth, especially on defense. It’s also time for Dooley to take his team back and find a way to motivate players before spring practice.

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