Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Season wrap: Tennessee
By Edward Aschoff
The first year of the Butch Jones era in Knoxville, Tenn., was very up and down. While the Volunteers failed to reach a bowl game for the third straight season, it's clear that the arrival of Jones injected some much-needed energy into a program fighting to become relevant again in the SEC.
Tennessee battled back from blowout losses to Oregon and Florida and a crushing overtime loss to Georgia to upset 11th-ranked South Carolina at home in October. The final stretch of the season showed just how far Tennessee still is from the top teams in the conference, as the Vols lost four of their last five, including three to ranked opponents, each by 28 points or more.
Offensive MVP: Senior running back Rajion Neal ended his Tennessee career with his best season as a Vol. He ranked sixth in the SEC with 1,124 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) and tied for seventh with 12 touchdowns. He rushed for 100-plus yards five times and also caught 27 passes for 108 yards.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker A.J. Johnson found ways to yet again make plays all over the field for the Vols. He ranked sixth in the conference with 106 tackles and tied for fourth with 60 solo stops. Johnson didn't register any sacks, but he led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and also defended three passes.
Best moment: Without question, it was when the Vols stunned No. 11 South Carolina 23-21 at home on Oct. 19. Two weeks after falling 34-31 to Georgia in overtime, Tennessee frustrated the Gamecocks all game long before it ended on a 19-yard field goal by Michael Palardy and served as Tennessee's first win over a ranked opponent in almost four years.
Worst moment: Tennessee was blown out by nearly 50 at Oregon, but the worst moment of the season had to be that devastating 14-10 home loss to rival Vanderbilt on Nov. 23. There was a controversial first-down call and a fake jump pass that doomed the Vols, as their second straight loss to Vandy eliminated them from bowl contention.