When Tennessee junior left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson speaks, people listen, which is probably true anytime a 6-foot-6, 327-pound man has something he wants to say.In the aftermath of a 45-10 thumping at the hands of Alabama last week, Richardson had something to say about the Volunteers’ upcoming game against No. 10 Missouri, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Vols' Tiny Richardson: "We'll beat Missouri. I promise you that."— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) October 27, 2013
Perhaps it wasn’t the most brash guarantee in sports history. He later explained that it’s simply a reflection of his confidence in first-year coach Butch Jones’ bunch.
Vols' Tiny Richardson on why he promised a win over Mizzou: "I'm confident in my teammates. All we have is each other. That's all we need."— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) October 27, 2013
Vols' Tiny Richardson: We're playing the No. 5 team in the country on the road next week. We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) October 26, 2013
Still, for a team that is 1-19 since Christmas Eve 2009 against ranked opponents, hasn’t won a true road game against a ranked team since 2006 (a span of 18 games) and has lost 11 straight Southeastern Conference road games, it seems odd to take a jab at the Tigers.“It adds some fuel to our fire, and we’re going to come out firing this week,” MU redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk said.Obviously, Richardson couldn’t have known how last Saturday would end for Missouri, but the potential was there for the Tigers to be reeling after a double-overtime loss against South Carolina.Richardson’s guarantee gives Missouri just one more reason to refocus in an effort to get back on track by beating up on Tennessee.Is it the primary motivation? Not even close. But does it provide extra motivation for the Tigers? Absolutely.“I heard about it, but that’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this since I’ve been here,” said senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is expected to return from a two-game absence. “It just lights a fire up under us, and we’re definitely ready after last week’s loss to go.”What about Tennessee? We asked Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press to help us take the Vols’ temperature. Be sure toread his work leading up to the game here
andfollow him on Twitter
.Now, let’s get to it:• With Justin Worley out, how does Tennessee’s offense change with freshman Josh Dobbs at the helm? What are Dobbs’ strengths and weaknesses?
Worley’s injury is the latest in the saga that’s been Tennessee’s quarterback situation. He’s a junior and the only guy who entered the season having taken an actual snap in college, and he won a four-man race back in August camp. He started the first three games then lost his job to Nathan Peterman, who started at Florida.In his first start, Tennessee had 31 yards and four turnovers in the first half against the Gators. Worley threw three picks against South Alabama the next week before leading go-ahead touchdown drives against Georgia and South Carolina. Now he’s hurt.Entering the season, he was atop the pecking order and Dobbs, a true freshman, was fourth behind Worley, Peterman (who had thumb surgery after hurting it against Florida) and Riley Ferguson, another freshman. Up until last week, Ferguson was the No. 2 ahead of Dobbs, but he’s been gimpy with an undisclosed leg injury.Now to Dobbs. He was a long-time Arizona State commitment until Butch Jones and his staff swooped in late and flipped him on signing day. He’s probably the best runner of the four, but what everybody always talk about is his intelligence. The guy is an aeronautical engineering major, and his initial college interest came from a couple of Ivy League schools.Jones said this week the Vols don’t have to trim the package for Dobbs because of his smarts, and actually he gives Tennessee more options in terms of the quarterback runs in this offense. Worley didn’t keep the ball much on zone-read plays, though when he did, he had success. Dobbs, who threw it better at Alabama last week than I’ve seen in practice, brings that aspect to an offense that’s relied on running quarterbacks at Jones’ previous stops.
Tennessee’s allowed eight sacks this season after allowing eight in 450-plus pass attempts in 2012. The starting five is comprised of four seniors and one junior, left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, who's likely headed to the NFL after this season. Three of those seniors started as true freshmen back in 2010.The offensive line is the Vols’ strength, and they’ve held their own in some tough matchups this season. They don’t have weapons like Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Mychal Rivera — three NFL draft picks who have made splashes as rookies — so the line’s facing more stacked boxes and things like that.In the past, the Vols have relied on their tackles — Richardson and Ja’Wuan James, who’s started every game of his career — to handle guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones. I wouldn’t think much would change in how they’ll handle Michael Sam. Missouri’s front has the respect and attention of the Vols, that’s for sure. This is probably the matchup I’m most looking forward to seeing.• How concerned are the Volunteers about the possibility Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin might return? Has coach Butch Jones mentioned any challenges preparing for two quarterbacks?
I think Butch and Co. expect to see Maty Mauk on Saturday night, but defensive coordinator John Jancek did say on Wednesday that Missouri’s offense doesn’t change much whether it’s Mauk or Franklin back there. Any time there’s a running quarterback, Tennessee’s coaches are concerned. The Vols have really, really struggled against mobile quarterbacks this season. Take a look:• Oregon’s Marcus Mariota ran for a couple of first downs and extended some passing plays with his mobility;• Florida started 10 of 15 on third downs in that game largely due to Tyler Murphy, who ran for 84 yards;• Georgia’s Aaron Murray took a quarterback draw 57 yards to stem Tennessee’s momentum in that game;• South Alabama’s Ross Matheny ran for 67 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown on a zone-read keeper;• South Carolina’s Connor Shaw ran for 78 yards, including a 29-yarder, a key third-and-7 and a key fourth-and-8.Jones and his staff recruited Mauk at Cincinnati, so they know what he can do, and I think they’re probably looking for him to be the guy on Saturday night.• Defensively, Tennessee ranks near the bottom of the league against the run and pass, but is there one area where the Volunteers are particularly vulnerable? Or maybe an area where the stats are deceptive?
What the stats don’t show is how much better Tennessee’s defense is this year compared to 2012, when statistically they were the worst defense in program history. Every SEC team the Vols played that wasn’t Kentucky scored 37 or more points against Tennessee. They allowed around 470 yards per game.The Vols played Georgia and South Carolina pretty well and held Murray and Shaw to under 200 yards passing. Of course, Alabama and Oregon pretty much did whatever they wanted against Tennessee. It’s a better defense, but there are still plenty of weaknesses.Tennessee is at its weakest in space. For example: Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Florida’s Solomon Patton both took simple flare/bubble screens 50-plus yards for touchdowns by simply outrunning a Tennessee defender or two.I don't know why anyone ever runs up the middle against Tennessee, because that’s where two of their better defenders — big defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and middle linebacker A.J. Johnson — are waiting. Edge or perimeter runs have found success against the Vols. That’s really more about talent than anything.The lack of depth catching up to Tennessee a little bit, too. Brian Randolph, the safety who holds it all together, is banged up with a bad shoulder this week, though they expect him to play.• Tennessee hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2006 and has dropped 11 straight Southeastern Conference games on the road. Why have the Vols struggled so mightily in recent years away from Rocky Top?
Tennessee’s win against South Carolina was its first against a ranked team since 2009, so those two stats show how far the program had fallen. Jones is the Vols’ fourth coach in six years, and he’s trying to put the thing back together. The talent level has slipped off, though the Vols had a pretty talented offense last season.In its three road games this year, Tennessee’s been outscored 135-41. Now, it should be noted two of those games were against Alabama and Oregon, who have shown they’re a cut above pretty much everyone else. Still, winning on the road is the next step Jones has pointed to since the South Carolina win.To win on the road, you have to have guys that have done it before, and this team just doesn’t have that. They haven’t gotten that first big one just yet. Jones’ biggest challenge, in my opinion, was turning around the losing mentality of a program that’s lost a bunch more than it’s won in the past five seasons.I think the Vols made some progress in that area when they played Georgia close and followed that up by making the winning plays against South Carolina, but they’ll need something special to go do it in someone else’s stadium.