Vols primed for stiffer test with Petrino, Hilltoppers
SEP 05, 2013 4:21p ET
The new University of Tennessee football coach hopes his team follows that mantra this week. After all, visiting Western Kentucky University figures to provide a much stiffer test than last Saturday's 45-0 rout of Austin Peay, with the Volunteers easily scoring on their first six possessions.
"You know, going from week one to week two, to me, this is the biggest week in the growth and development of football teams,” Jones said earlier this week. “...Obviously, this week of preparation is absolutely critical."
Making that even more crucial is that WKU, a Sun Belt Conference member, was impressive in its 38-27 victory over Kentucky, the second straight win over the SEC team.
And the Hilltoppers are now coached by Bobby Petrino, the former Arkansas, Louisville and Atlanta Falcons head coach.
"First of all, concerning ourselves, is great improvement in our fundamentals, the small details, owning our technique, owning our conditioning, and you know we put our football identity on video," Jones said. "You know now every team is studying us. They're seeing which players they’re going to attack. They’re looking at their technique, they’re looking at their eye discipline, they’re looking at their fundamentals.
"You know so now that's when you’re really going to see game forms or the game plans really be formed and shaped to our personnel, and our players will understand that."
Western Kentucky saw a big and talented Tennessee offensive line that dominated the first half. Plus junior quarterback Justin Worley, making his first start in two years, engineered six touchdown drives. Senior running back Rajion Neal had all of his 141 rushing yards on 16 carries in the first half, while fellow back Marlon Lane, a junior, scored three TDs.
Defensively, the Volunteers allowed Austin Peay past midfield just once in each half, getting an interception by true freshman Malik Foreman to thwart a fourth-quarter drive. In all, 23 players made their UT debuts, including 10 true freshmen, as the Volunteers are in full rebuilding mode after three straight losing seasons.
"Yeah, I see confidence," Jones said of how the younger players responded. "I said it after the game. I thought we benefited from that open practice (at Neyland Stadium), you know I really do. We had 23 individuals make their Tennessee debut Saturday night.
"And I think having that experience in front of fans prior to that really helped, but you could also see the lack of discipline at times come through in the first-year players."
That is certainly an aspect the Hilltoppers would like to exploit on Saturday. From his days coaching at Arkansas from 2008-11, Petrino is familiar with many of the Volunteers.
"I know a lot of the players from either recruiting or going against them," Petrino said. "They are a big, physical offensive front. Rajion Neal is a guy I have known since (he was in) high school, that’s a very good runner and has really good instincts and good vision.
" A.J. Johnson, their middle linebacker, is a guy that is a really good football player, really understands the game. There are some that are familiar, some that are new."
In the win over Kentucky, Hilltoppers tailback Antonio Andrews had 194 all-purpose yards, including 99 rushing, while sophomore back Leon Allen added 92 rushing yards. Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty made just his second career start and completed 27 of 34 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers are led by senior linebacker Andrew Jackson, who had eight tackles against Kentucky. Xavius Boyd, another senior linebacker, had 10 stops.
"Moving forward with Western Kentucky, extremely, extremely talented football team," Jones said while assessing the Hilltoppers, who went to their first bowl game last year since moving up to the FBS level in 2008. "Knew that in the summer, and everything has been confirmed by video evidence. A lot of NFL prospects and a lot of confidence.
“They're an extremely confident football team and rightfully so. Andrew (Jackson) is as good of a linebacker as I’ve seen in a long, long time. He can impact the football game. He can change the course of a football game, and I think they feed off his energy."
All eyes this season will be watching Worley, who was named the Vols' starter prior to the opener. He beat out redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs.
"I felt comfortable out there," Worley said of his play in the season opener, "and each and every series I gained a little bit more confidence. After being in the flow of the game for a little while, you start to get in a rhythm and I felt good out there."
Two seasons ago, Worley played against the Petrino-coached Arkansas team that had its way with the visiting Volunteer, 49-7. Starting for the injured Tyler Bray, Worley completed 15 of 29 passes for 208 yards and one touchdown.
Missing in action
The Volunteers were dealt a blow this week when wide receiver and kick returner Devrin Young broke his hand during Tuesday’s practice and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.
After moving from running back to receiver during spring practice, Young caught a 9-yard touchdown pass, had a 58-yard kickoff return and gained 21 yards on two punt returns against Austin Peay.
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