By Jimmy Hyams
Not all was bad in Tennessee’s embarrassing season opening loss to Georgia State.
Here are five encouraging signs for UT as the Vols try to bounce back against BYU this Saturday.
You can question the intensity and effort of some Vols in the opener.
You can’t question Jennings.
Once dismissed from the UT team but reinstated by coach Jeremy Pruitt, Jennings was terrific in the opener, with seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Many of those yards came after the catch as Jennings refused to go down easily.
The senior receiver blamed himself for not being a leader who got his teammates fired up to play. While he probably took too much responsibility for other players not giving their all for the Vols, make no mistake – Jennings and UT will play with great passion against BYU.
UT might not win, but it won’t be for lack of effort.
The true freshman running back showed flashes of being a star in the making. He had 29 yards on seven rushes and 51 yards on six receptions. He has the ability to make people miss and he’s a good receiver out of the backfield. He played most of the second half after Ty Chandler had two fumbles in the first half against GSU and was benched.
Gray could evolve into an Alvin Kamara-type back who puts up big all-purpose yards.
Henry To’o To’o
He was the first true freshman linebacker to start an opener for Tennessee since 2011. He recorded seven tackles and was very active, but he still needs to learn the position. After the game, Pruitt said he should have played Henry T. more snaps.
He’s also a tough character. All you need to know is he played in his high school team’s state championship game in California one week after suffering a broken foot. And he had about seven tackles in the first half.
He is the type difference maker UT needs to turn the program around.
The senior had three catches for 79 yards with a long of 54. He’s a gifted tight end who is adept at receiving and blocking, and he surely has an NFL future. Look for him to be a prime target most of this season and record over 40 catches.
Brent Cimaglia hit all three field-goal attempts, Joe Doyle’s lone punt went 47 yards and was not returned, and Marquez Callaway had a 35-yard punt return. Chandler added a 33-yard kickoff return.
That’s a good start for a special teams unit that might be asked to win a couple of close games this season.
Cimaglia, who was not allowed to attempt a kick of over 50 yards last year, nailed a 48-yarder with 10 yards to spare in the opener. He has a strong enough leg to try from outside 50 yards, if needed.