Reunion weekend for No. 25 Tennessee, visiting Indiana State
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s home opener with Indiana State represents a bit of a reunion for the two coaching staffs.
Indiana State coach Curt Mallory was a secondary coach on Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ Central Michigan staff in 2001. More recently, Mallory and three of his assistants worked at Michigan from 2011-14 for Brady Hoke, who is now Tennessee’s defensive line coach .
Sycamores offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski, offensive line coach Darrell Funk and defensive line coach Mark Smith worked for Hoke at Ball State and San Diego State as well as Michigan. Indiana State wide receivers coach Roy Roundtree played for Hoke at Michigan. Hoke will be on the opposite sideline from his former assistants Saturday when the 25th-ranked Volunteers (1-0) host Indiana State (0-1).
“In talking about Brady Hoke, there’s not a man in our profession that’s regarded as a higher-character individual,” said Mallory, the son of former Indiana, Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Northern Illinois coach Bill Mallory. “We all think the world of Coach Hoke and the opportunity he gave us at the University of Michigan.”
Hoke still keeps in touch with the former Michigan assistants at Indiana State. Hoke said he spent some time with them this summer at Mallory’s home.
“There’s a lot of good guys (there) who are really good coaches and even better people,” Hoke said. “It will be fun to compete.”
Hoke said he talked to Smith briefly on Wednesday and joked that he was the “enemy” this week.
“We’re not going to talk (again) until maybe right before the game, and then we’re going to compete like heck,” Hoke said.
This game gives Tennessee a chance to try improving a few aspects of its team before opening Southeastern Conference play Sept. 16 at No. 22 Florida.
Tennessee’s receivers need to gain experience as the Vols adjust to life without injured wideout Jauan Jennings, who is out indefinitely . The Vols also must improve their run defense after a season-opening 42-41 double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech in which they yielded 535 yards rushing, the highest single-game total Tennessee has ever allowed.
But it’s the connections between these two coaching staffs that give this game a little more intrigue than a typical matchup between a Top 25 team and a Football Championship Subdivision program.
“He is a very close friend of mine,” Jones said of Mallory. “We coached together, and I know what he is all about. I know they will bring their ‘A’ game coming into Neyland Stadium.”
Some other things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts Indiana State.
QUICK TURNAROUND: Tennessee is playing this game just five days after its Monday night marathon with Georgia Tech. With such a short layoff, Tennessee likely will try to rotate as many players as possible in and out of the game. That could be particularly necessary on the defensive line, as Georgia Tech ran 96 offensive plays against the Vols. Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said about “six or seven” defenders played close to 90 snaps against Georgia Tech.
ON THE RUN: The starting running backs for both teams are coming off big performances. After missing the 2016 season due to injury, Indiana State’s LeMonte Booker bounced back by rushing for 154 yards in a 22-20 loss to Eastern Illinois last week. Tennessee’s John Kelly ran for 128 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries.
GUARANTANO’S DEBUT: Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano should have an opportunity to make his college debut. Guarantano lost a preseason competition with Quinten Dormady for the starting spot and didn’t get a chance to play against Georgia Tech, but Jones said both quarterbacks would see action Saturday.
MISSOURI VALLEY MAGIC? Indiana State is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, which has posted at least one win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team each of the last seven seasons. Last year, a Missouri Valley team beat an FBS program on four separate occasions. Indiana State hasn’t beaten an FBS team since defeating Ball State 27-20 in 2014.
AVOIDING INJURY: One of the biggest keys for Tennessee this week is staying as healthy as possible heading into SEC play. The Vols already have lost offensive tackle Chance Hall and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. to season-ending knee injuries. Jennings’ absence leaves Tennessee without its top returning receiver from last season.
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