SEC PROFILE: Tennessee hopes to bounce back

Published 5:59 pm Friday, July 21, 2017

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Editor’s note: This is the fifth of an eight-part series taking a look at Kentucky’s eight Southeastern Conference opponents this season.

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Tennessee was supposed to contend for a Southeastern Conference championship last year. Instead, the Volunteers lost three straight after opening the season with five consecutive victories, a slide that knocked Tennessee out of contention for the league race.

Despite the late struggles, the Volunteers won nine games for the third consecutive season and defeated Nebraska 38-24 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Under fifth-year coach Butch Jones, Tennessee has won 15 of its last 19 conference games and relevant again in the SEC East and Jones said his fourth season in Knoxville was a success and a learning experience.

“I don’t view it as a disappointment,” Jones said. “The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to. And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship. So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.

“I think all you have to do is look at it’s difficult to win and it’s difficult to win championships. And I think this league really exemplifies that. But I’m still proud of the way our team responded. And I told our football team this. The lessons you learned from last year, the resolve, the resiliency, are going to serve you for many years down the road in life.”

In order to reach the next level, the Volunteers will have to do so without signal caller Joshua Hobbs. Early contenders for the top job under center are Quinten Dormady and newcomer Jarrett Guarantano. Tennessee also will have to replace running back Alvin Kamara and receiver Josh Malone.

Returning is up-and-coming wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who made his mark with a thrilling game-winning catch in a 34-31 win over Georgia last season.