published Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Tennessee Vols' receiver shortage evident

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley (14) throws a touchdown pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.
Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley (14) throws a touchdown pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

EUGENE, Ore. — Justin Worley didn't play his best game Saturday, but it's hard to lay all of Tennessee's offensive struggles on its junior quarterback.

The Volunteers' shorthanded receiving corps struggled to create separation and dropped some passes.

Tennessee's running game picked up 100 of its 178 yards after second-ranked Oregon built a 59-7 lead.

The Vols offensive line struggled in protection, and Worley had highlighter-yellow helmets and jerseys in his face on a handful of his dropbacks.

"I feel like I played all right," he said after a 13-of-25 passing, 126-yard performance in the 59-14 loss. "I took what the defense was giving us, but we needed some more big plays than we generated. Hopefully in the next weeks to come we'll be able to generate some more explosive plays."

Outside of a 51-yard pass to freshman Josh Smith on Tennessee's first-half scoring drive, the Vols struggled to generate much offensively. Worley missed on a few throws, particularly one down the seam to an open Vincent Dallas with Oregon's lead at 17-7 in the second quarter.

Yet Smith had a couple of third-down drops, and Oregon caused some disruption with its defense, which Worley called "unconventional."

"I'll know a little bit more when I watch the film," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said of Worley's performance. "I didn't think we won our one-on-one matchups on the perimeter. It's difficult to play quarterback if you're not winning your one-on-one matchups outside the numbers."

Backup Nathan Peterman entered the game in the third quarter, completed two of his four passes and commanded Tennessee's second scoring drive, though most of that came on the ground.

Tennessee's offense finished 5-of-15 on third-down conversions.

"We've got to convert third-and-4 to -6, third-and-2 or -3, those type situations," Worley said. "I don't know what to tell you what's the reason today for us not converting those, but we've got to do a better job in the upcoming weeks."

Slot squeeze

Tennessee played Saturday's game without its top three slot receivers. Devrin Young (hand) is already on the shelf, and Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson didn't play after getting hurt in practice this past week. Jones said both were game-time decisions, and their absences hurt Tennessee's offense.

Howard is one of the best in the Vols' limited options in the passing game, and Johnson played well (four catches, 70 yards) against Western Kentucky last week.

"Alton's one of our playmakers on offense, and to not have him in a game with this, where you have man coverage and some one-on-one matchups, I thought really hurt us," Jones said.

Dallas started and had most of the reps in the slot, though tailback Rajion Neal lined up there on a handful of plays.

Tackle crunch

After the Vols made the trip west without the ineligible Mo Couch, whose future appears uncertain after he was alleged by a midweek Yahoo! report to have received improper extra benefits in 2012, Trevarris Saulsberry went down with a knee injury late in the second quarter.

The redshirt sophomore, who's played well this season, looked to be in some pain and left the stadium on crutches.

That left redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien and true freshman Jason Carr to handle most of the tackle duty behind starters Daniel Hood and Daniel McCullers.

"No depth. Can you play D-line?" Jones rhetorically asked a reporter who asked about Saulsberry's injury.

"Jason Carr's going to have to go. He had a bulk of the reps in the second half, and we're just going to have to force-feed and get him ready to play. It's his opportunity, along with Danny O'Brien and [Greg] Clark and a number of these individuals. It's their opportunity to answer the call."

Injury report

Linebacker Dontavis Sapp was slow to get up after a play in the second quarter and did not return to the game.

Linebacker Curt Maggitt (knee) made the trip but did not play. Jones said Thursday that freshman defensive end Corey Vereen, who practiced in a noncontact jersey this week, is "a week away" from a return.

Defensive end Jacques Smith (thumb) made his season debut Saturday. The former Ooltewah High School star was in position but couldn't make the play when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota scored a second-quarter touchdown on an option keeper.

With Joseph Ayres (knee) and Alex Ellis (leg) both out for extended periods of time, junior college transfer Woody Quinn and true freshman A.J. Branisel are the lone healthy scholarship tight ends available for Tennessee.

Other players out were cornerbacks Riyahd Jones (cornerback) and Michael Williams (shoulder), receiver Ryan Jenkins (hamstring) and reserve linebacker Raiques Crump (undisclosed).

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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