Will Shelton of our SB Nation sister site Rocky Top Talk took a few moments recently to answer some questions about this afternoon’s SEC East matchup between the Bulldogs and Volunteers. His answers included some personnel insights, a glimmer of hope for the ‘'Dawgs, and a very frightening stat about Joshua Dobbs. Enjoy.
MD: Is there any chance whatsoever of a post-Florida hangover for this Tennessee team?
Will: So I'm answering this on Thursday afternoon and I've re-watched significant parts of the Florida game seven or eight times since Saturday, including last night. Tennessee fans are absolutely hungover. I think this is a good week to have Butch Jones and Josh Dobbs, two guys who preach and for the most part practice being steady regardless of the circumstances. Tennessee's biggest wins under Butch have often been immediately followed by playing Alabama (2013 South Carolina, 2015 Georgia), so it's harder to gauge how good he's been at avoiding hangovers in the past. There is definitely a chance of a hangover, and since Tennessee has fallen behind by 13-21 points in the first half in three of their first four games, starting sleepy wouldn't be anything new.
MD: The Volunteer defense has sustained some tough injuries already this season. What's the status of that unit?
Will: Middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. sprained an ankle against Virginia Tech and is unlikely to play again this week. His replacement is former walk-on Colton Jumper, who played out of his mind against Florida to the surprise of all of us since it only took Kirkland three games to win the job from his last year as a true freshman. The replacements for corner Cam Sutton (fractured ankle) didn't fare as well against Florida, as the Gators burned Tennessee with the deep ball on each of their first half scoring drives. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin has an injured shoulder; he tried to play against Florida but basically had to come out every time he made a tackle and didn't play at all in the last quarter-and-a-half. Those are three of Tennessee's best four defenders; the Vols are still vulnerable to the deep ball and it remains to be seen if Jumper can maintain that level of play, but the whole defense certainly looked great in holding the Gators to five three-and-outs and an interception on their first six drives of the second half last week.
MD: Sum up the Tennessee offensive attack for us is 50 words or less, without reference to Peyton Manning, Donald Trump, or baklava.
Will: Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd will run the ball a lot. When Dobbs runs for 35+ yards the Vols are 14-1 since he became the starter in mid-2014. The emergence of Josh Malone at receiver has given Tennessee a deep threat that has made this offense much more dynamic.
MD: What are reasonable expectations for this Tennessee team now that the Florida demon has been exorcised? Is it Georgia Dome or bust?
Will: I think now it is. The Vols are at Texas A&M and home vs Alabama after this, so any playoff fantasies will live or die in October. But if Tennessee can start 2-0 against Florida and Georgia, they should be expected to win the East. Butch has won some meaningful games here in his first three years, but they all came after the team had already lost 3-5 games in those years. So last week was the definitive "we're back" win for him, and that comes with the expectation of winning the East if you beat the Gators.
MD: Why do these things always include 5 questions? Did I miss some sort of memo?
Will: One question for every year this has been a one possession game.
Thanks to Will for accommodating us. You can also catch my cynical responses to Will’s questions over at Rocky Top Talk. Until later...