Bits ’n pieces and what might have been

Marvin Westwestwords

What a strange place is our football world.

ESPN says Tennessee football is in free fall, that the offense is inept. Tennessee was the only team with a winning record to be honored by the infamous Bottom 10. ESPN thinks Tennessee versus UMass will be a pillow fight.

It is unusual to see the Vanderbilt Commodores and Memphis Tigers flying high and Tennessee somewhat bewildered.

Vanderbilt upset Kansas State the other day and woke up the echoes. It was the Commodores’ first win over a ranked, non-conference opponent since 1946.

Memphis defeated UCLA as QB Riley Ferguson upstaged the far more famous Josh Rosen.

You do remember Ferguson? The Vols signed him out of Matthews, N.C., in 2013. He competed with Justin Worley to be the quarterback. Josh Dobbs came in behind them. Riley felt blindsided.

Ferguson said he was never really happy at Tennessee. He didn’t handle departure very well. He didn’t tell anyone. He just went home and didn’t come back.

He thought big-time recruiters would clog up his cell phone. They didn’t bother. He got a job, actually two, detailing cars and powder-spraying metal fencing. He had to pay the rent. That was how the 2014 season went.

Finally, he asked his high school coach for help. Coffeyville Community College had a vacancy. Ferguson threw for 2,942 yards and 35 touchdowns for Coffeyville in 2015.

Memphis coaches said they were interested but they moved to Virginia Tech. Nevertheless, Riley transferred to Memphis to join the remnants. He was a more mature person. He remembered how good he had it at Tennessee. He understood that he blew that chance. He had learned what it was like to really work for a living. He felt fortunate to have another football opportunity.

Last Saturday he threw for 398 yards and six touchdowns against UCLA.

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The kicking Colquitts, former Tennessee punters, had another NFL unofficial yardage contest last Sunday. Britton of the Browns punted four times for 209 yards (52.3 average). Dustin of the Chiefs punted five times for 227 (a mere 45.4 average).

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Florida punter Johnny Townsend struck a low blow after the Gators won and went slap-happy. He mocked UT coach Butch Jones, tweeting that the Vols were “still champions of life so it’s all good!”

The Florida-Tennessee rivalry is hot and mean. The classy Townsend, on social media taunting our coach, is just one example of the high cost of losing.

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Former Vol defensive tackle Daniel Hood will talk football with UT fans from 6-7 tomorrow evening at the Tennessean Hotel, 531 Henley Street, in Knoxville. There is no charge but hotel management asks that fans call to reserve a seat in the boardroom.

Former quarterback Erik Ainge will conduct next Friday’s discussion.

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Just by offering a scholarship, Tennessee could have had swift receiver Jalen McCleskey of Covington, La. No recruiting was necessary. He has roots. He is the son of Vol for Life JJ McCleskey, the stunning success story who came from Karns High as a walk-on and played his way to the NFL.

“Growing up in our house, Tennessee was always the school we followed,” Jalen said.

Jalen participated in a Tennessee camp two years ago. Coaches felt he was too small. JJ understood. Such talk sounded familiar. He was about 5-6 and 135 when his mother brought him to UT, asking that coaches just give her boy a chance.

It is possible there has never been a Volunteer with a bigger chip on his shoulder. The senior McCleskey far exceeded zero expectations. He became a UT captain. Of course, the pros ignored him. He signed as a free agent and played eight years.

Young Jalen is still too small, 5-10 and 170. He is a slot receiver at Oklahoma State. Last Saturday against Pitt, he had seven receptions for 162 yards and three touchdowns.

Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is [email protected]

 

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