UT triumph could work wonders
Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010 4:39 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — North Carolina coach Butch Davis knows how much his team endured to reach the Music City Bowl.
So he can appreciate what coach Derek Dooley overcame during his first year at Tennessee to get to face the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels (7-5) stumbled while dealing with an NCAA investigation into agent-related benefits and academic misconduct that led to 14 players missing at least one game.
Seven of those players ended up missing the entire season.
Now North Carolina goes into the Music City Bowl tonight having lost three more starters with linebacker Bruce Carter and right guard Alan Pelc having surgery for injuries and running back Anthony Elzy a late scratch for not taking care of his work as a student-athlete.
Dooley is Tennessee’s third coach in as many seasons, and the Vols (6-6) started out 2-6 while losing to four teams currently ranked in the Top 25.
Injuries and a thin roster due to defections through the coaching changes resulted in 16 true freshmen playing.
They needed a four-game winning streak to reach a second straight bowl appearance.
In years past, Vols’ fans would not have been happy playing in this local bowl. This season, just getting to any bowl was an accomplishment.
“To finish with a five-game winning streak, that would put a ton of momentum into the offseason for guys with their confidence,” tight end Luke Stocker said.
Receiver Denarius Moore sums up what the Vols really want.
“I would pick 7-6 over 6-7 any day,” he said.
Dooley sees this game as a big first step for his football program and future plan at tradition-rich Tennessee.
“Certainly as the years go on, we want to keep improving our position in the bowl lineup,” Dooley said. “But I think it’s a great accomplishment for this team and what they did in November. I think they earned it and, hopefully, they will go out and put on a good show for the fans.”
Elzy had replaced top rusher Johnny White after he broke his clavicle. Now it’s Shaun Draughn’s turn. A starter in 2009, he ranked second in rushing this season with 477 yards.
But it was Yates who carried the Tar Heels’ offense, becoming the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards this season. He also threw for 18 touchdowns with only eight interceptions and hasn’t been intercepted in 79 pass attempts. North Carolina is averaging 266.5 yards passing, third-best in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 25th nationally.
Yates’ favorite target has been receiver Dwight Jones. He has 895 yards receiving.
Tennessee got free safety Janzen Jackson back when the Vols reported to Nashville after he dealt with some undisclosed family issues. Cornerback Eric Gordon also is healthy again. Dooley said he needs as many players in the secondary as possible because the Tar Heels throw it so well.
“What’s hard about these guys is they just do a great job of formationing you, shifting, motion, popping guys free,” Dooley said of North Carolina. “It’s going to be a challenge. Plus, they’re big. They’re really big.” The Vols finished the season ranked 82nd giving up 229.3 yards passing per game. They rank 36th in pass efficiency thanks to intercepting 17 passes, which tied for second in the Southeastern Conference and ninth nationally.
This revives what used to be a border rivalry. North Carolina and Tennessee played regularly between 1945 and 1961 and were scheduled for a home-and-home swap starting in 2011. Tennessee officials bought out the contract last summer trying to avoid an ACC power just when the Vols were busy rebuilding.
Davis understands. He said coaches and school officials have to do what they think is in the best interest of their programs.
The Tar Heels’ bigger challenge is playing a road game in their first bowl outside of North Carolina since the 2001 Peach Bowl. Tennessee hasn’t lost in Nashville since 1984, and the Vols are 2-0 at LP Field — home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and site of this bowl, sponsored by Franklin American Mortgage Co.
“Obviously, when you play in the state of Tennessee and your opponent’s Tennessee, there’s going to be an awful lot of fans for Tennessee,” Davis said. “It’s kind of part of it. Our kids are excited to play in the game, and the atmosphere obviously is going to be loud. I think that’ll add to the excitement of the game.”