KNOXVILLE -- Jacques Smith read the quarterback, trusted his eyes and made the play.
When the Tennessee junior linebacker tackled Missouri tailback Kendial Lawrence for a 6-yard loss in the waning moments of the meeting between the Volunteers and Tigers last Saturday, it looked like the former Ooltewah High School star had made a game-changing play.
"We put them into a tough situation," Smith recalled after Tennessee's Tuesday morning practice, "that they got themselves out of in the end."
Missouri overcame a second fourth-and-long situation three plays later on its tying drive, but it appears Smith will have more opportunities to make similar plays following the season-ending knee injury to Curt Maggitt.
Smith, sophomore Jordan Williams and fifth-year senior Willie Bohannon will combine to fill in at the Vols' Jack and Sam outside linebacker positions for the Vanderbilt and Kentucky games.
"A lot of it depends on what package we're in," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "Really right now, between Jordan, Jacques and Willie, we kind of have three for two spots, if that makes sense. It changes only knowing you don't have Curt there, so you've got to be careful what you ask those guys to do.
"Certainly it'll change a little bit because of who we're playing and what they run."
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Smith last started against Mississippi State in October, and Williams replaced him the following week. Bohannon has bounced back and forth between the two outside spots. Smith and Williams took the first-team reps at Tuesday's practice.
The trio and Maggitt all also played as defensive ends when Tennessee brings in extra defensive backs, but Vanderbilt uses less spread offense than the Vols' last two opponents.
"We all have learned both sides," Bohannon said, "and this is one of the reasons why we had to learn both sides since training camp."
After a disappointing sophomore season, Smith began this season with high hopes in a new position in a new defensive scheme. Like last year, he eventually lost his starting position, though this fall he's kept a consistent spot in the Vols' rotation. His best game statistically was against Mississippi State with five tackles, a sack and four hurries, and he's had one tackle for loss in each of the past two games.
Yet Smith maintained his usual upbeat attitude Tuesday and admitted his team's struggles have been frustrating regardless of his individual performances.
"It's definitely been a tough season," he said. "We've played our hearts out. We've been harped on a little bit by everyone, and we're not worried about anybody's comments or opinions about us. We know who we are."
Vandy and the video
Before signing with Notre Dame out of high school, Tennessee offensive lineman Alex Bullard grew up in the Nashville area watching Tennessee games, including the ones against Vanderbilt.
"In my mind, Tennessee dominates Vanderbilt, and that's what we're going to try and do," he said. "That's what I watched growing up. I only witnessed Vanderbilt beating Tennessee once [in 2005], so hopefully we can keep that winning streak going."
The Vols barely did so a year ago, when Nashville native Eric Gordon's overtime interception return touchdown gave Tennessee its 28th win against Vanderbilt in 29 meetings.
What happened after the game, though, might be the more notable memory.
A video taken anonymously of the Vols' raucous postgame locker-room celebration found its way to the Internet. In it, Dooley reminds his team that "one thing Tennessee always does is kick the [expletive] out of Vanderbilt." Two days later at his weekly news conference, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said he'd "open the wound" the week of the teams' meeting this season.
Monday, though, the Commodores' second-year coach downplayed it.
"I've matured dramatically since that game," he said. "That wound is healed. It's about Vanderbilt.
"It's about us getting better. Our focus is on Vanderbilt. If we need any other types of motivation, then our focus isn't where it needs to be."
Amid questions about his future, Dooley also had little to say about the video Monday.
"I don't know. I don't think Vanderbilt needs a lot of motivation to want to come whip us," he said. "I'm sure they have plenty of motivation. They don't need that. I can't take that back."
Though Bullard said he didn't see the video, other Tennessee players remember it and expect the Commodores do, too.
"They're kind of mad," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said.
"They're going to come in this game with a chip on their shoulder," said left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. "But all I know is they're Vanderbilt, we're Tennessee and we're going to go in there and do what we do."
Usually, that's been beating Vanderbilt.
"We feel like we have a better team than Vanderbilt," Bullard said, "and we just need to play like it."
Dooley said defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry (knee sprain) is unlikely to play, but safety LaDarrell McNeil returned to practice after a knee bruise kept him from finishing the Missouri game.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
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 ...