Vols win, but injury situation becomes dire
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee needed a win Saturday. Badly.
It had been 42 days since UT had last won, and luckily for the Vols and head coach Butch Jones, they got it. Tennessee’s hopes of reaching a bowl game stay intact and Jones will keep his job for at least another week. But the win came at a cost.
The Vols came into Saturday’s game against Southern Miss already injury riddled. They walked off the field in even worse shape.
Jones announced this week that three offensive linemen — Brett Kendrick, Marcus Tatum and Drew Richmond — were questionable. All were ruled out before warmups. Kicker Brent Cimaglia didn’t dress and had a boot on his kicking foot, and corner Shawn Shamburger was in street clothes. That’s on top of the double-digit injuries Tennessee was already dealing with.
In the process of its 24-10 win over Souther Miss, Tennessee added more names to its injury report. By the end of Saturday’s win, there were 21 scholarship players that were sidelined due to injury, and there’s hardly a position group that hasn’t been impacted.
“I hate to say it, but it was kind of a normal feeling,” Robertson said. “That’s just kind of what happens.”
At quarterback, Quinten Dormady, the starter at the beginning of the season, is already out for the year after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. Saturday’s starter Jarrett Guarantano left the game after the first half, thrusting true freshman Will McBride into the lineup and burning his redshirt in the process.
At receiver, Jauan Jennings had his season cut short just a few series into the season against Georgia Tech. Latrell Williams has been hurt all season and freshman Jacquez Jones tore his ACL during camp. Redshirt senior Josh Smith injured his ankle in the loss to Kentucky last week and missed this week. Marquez Callaway had to be helped off the field in the third quarter against the Golden Eagles and wasn’t able to put weight on his right leg.
For all the injuries at the skill positions, the group that has been hit hardest by is the offensive line. Kendrick, Tatum and Richmond were ruled out this week, and the Vols were already down a couple of others. Things have gotten so dire for the offensive line, Devante Brooks, a converted tight end who hasn’t played a competitive snap of football since he was a sophomore in high school, started at right tackle.
Brooks had to go out for a series in the first half that forced freshman Riley Locklear into action, burning his redshirt as well. Coleman Thomas missed most of the second half, which brought Locklear back into play.
It has gotten so bad, when Jones was asked by a reporter who would have been next up if Locklear got hurt, Jones jokingly replied “you.”
“I don’t think there’s any coach on our staff that has been through it like this,” Jones said. “Especially when we started the season that was our best depth situation we’ve had here ever. Now we’re down to six. Give those individuals credit.”
It doesn’t get easier for the Vols moving forward. Tennessee’s patchwork offense got the win against Southern Miss but were only able to post 210 yards of offense against a Conference USA defense. Up next is Missouri, which is coming off a 45-16 win over Florida and a team Jones called one of the hottest in the country. Then, it’s LSU and Vanderbilt.
Jones said he would no longer comment on player injuries “to protect our players,” so moving forward it will be interesting to see what the Vols’ lineup will look like come game time.