FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Derek Dooley made another special-teams gamble, but unlike the last one, there were consequences for Tennessee’s second-year football coach.
Dooley called for a fake field goal at the end of the Volunteers’ first possession Saturday night in a 49-7 loss at eighth-ranked Arkansas. Michael Palardy took a flip from holder Matt Darr and rolled to his left before overthrowing fullback Channing Fugate.
“We were against the wind. It was a 42-yarder on the right hash,” Dooley said of a wind that was gusting up to 33 mph at kickoff. “I thought we could execute it. I wasn’t 100 percent confident. That wind was pretty rough out there. I look back, I probably should have taken [the ball] in the third quarter. Tried to generate a little something, be aggressive.”
UT had three first downs on its opening drive, but it didn’t get its fourth first down until early in the second quarter when the Razorbacks had jumped out to a 21-0 lead.
Dooley called for a failed surprise onside kick two weeks ago against South Carolina, but an interception assured the Gamecocks did no damage. He’s also called successful fake punts in the past, but this was UT’s first fake on a field goal since the 2000 Arkansas game.
Backup quarterback Matt Simms entered the game early in the fourth quarter in relief of freshman Justin Worley, who struggled in his third career start and first on the road. Worley completed 15 of his 29 passes for 210 yards, but he threw a costly interception right before halftime when UT was trailing 21-7.
“They just told me to learn from this and move on to next week,” Worley said. “I mean it’s a learning experience, and I know the coaches are doing what’s best for the team. I’ve just got to go in and learn from this experience, learn from South Carolina, learn from this week and go on to the next game.
Simms completed three of his five passes for 30 yards.
“Justin was struggling,” Dooley said.
Injured quarterback Tyler Bray was throwing a football around the field during pregame warmups, though the Vols won’t know his status for next week’s game against Vanderbilt until later today. His broken thumb will be reevaluated today.
“We’ll see. He’s got a glove on throwing it,” Dooley said. “I don’t know about Tyler yet. I guess I’ll talk about on Monday and I probably still won’t know. I know he’s throwing some passes, but we’ve got to MRI it; we’ve got to do a CT scan or whatever you call it to make sure it’s healed. If it’s not healed, he can’t play, I don’t care how good he throws. But it’s tough right now. It is, guys. It’s tough.”
Receiver Rajion Neal, a converted tailback, had one of his most active games as a Vol. Neal scored on a reverse for UT’s lone touchdown a few plays after he made a catch in single coverage for 50 yards. Neal had 24 yards on four carries and 63 yards on three catches.
“Whatever opportunities they give me, whatever is asked of me, I’m going to try to do the best I can,” he said. “I want to help this team in any way I can. I want to win bad, so if it’s blocking, running, catching, I want to do whatever as long as I’m out there playing with them guys and trying to get a win.”
Dooley said the Vols were trying to get Neal the ball, though he’d still like more consistency from the sophomore.
Joe Adams’ second-quarter punt return touchdown was the first UT has given up this season. It’s the latest in the year the Vols have gone without giving up a return touchdown on special teams since 2005, when Notre Dame returned a punt for a score in the season’s eighth game. UT hasn’t gone an entire season without a special-teams return touchdown since 2004.
It was Arkansas’ fifth return touchdown of the season.
“What else can you say about our special teams?” said Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino. “They’ve been great all season.”
The Vols won the coin toss and elected to receive for the first time this season. ... Junior Willie Bohannon started ahead of Jacques Smith at defensive end for the second consecutive game. ... Maurice Couch started at defensive tackle for second time this season. ... Freshman receiver DeAnthony Arnett made his first career start. ... UT’s captains were tight end Mychal Rivera, linebacker Austin Johnson and special-teamer/receiver Anthony Anderson. ... Defensive lineman Malik Jackson, tailback Marlin Lane and left guard Marcus Jackson all limped off the field at various points during Saturday night’s game, but all three returned to action.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...