2009 CFN Tennessee Preview
Tennessee S Eric Berry
Tennessee S Eric Berry
Posted May 6, 2009

Tennessee was closer to a good season in 2008 than it might appear, but that didn't stop the power-program from making some huge changes this off-season. The Vols, led by Eric Berry, are still athletic and they're still talented, but will there be better results under Lane Kiffin? Check out the CFN Tennessee Preview.

Tennessee Volunteers

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Tennessee Preview |
2009 Tennessee Offense
- 2009 Tennessee Defense | 2009 Tennessee Depth Chart
- 2008 CFN UT Preview | 2007 CFN UT Preview | 2006 CFN UT Preview 

Head coach: Lane Kiffin
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 22, Def. 17, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 27
Ten Best Vol Players
1. SS Eric Berry, Jr.
2. LB Rico McCoy, Sr.
3. WR/KR Gerald Jones, Jr.
4. DT Dan Williams, Sr.
5. C Josh McNeil, Sr.
6. DT/DE Wes Brown, Sr.
7. DE Chris Walker, Jr.
8. DE Ben Martin, Jr.
9.. RB Montario Hardesty, Sr.
10. OT Chris Scott, Sr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 Western Kentucky
9/12 UCLA
9/19 at Florida
9/26 Ohio
10/3 Auburn
10/10 Georgia
10/24 at Alabama
10/31 South Carolina
11/7 Memphis
11/14 at Ole Miss
11/21 Vanderbilt
11/28 at Kentucky

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 5-7

9/1 at UCLA L 27-24 OT
9/13 UAB W 35-3
9/20 Florida L 30-6
9/27 at Auburn L 14-12
10/4 No Illinois W 13-9
10/11 at Georgia L 26-14
10/18 Miss St W 34-3
10/25 Alabama L 29-9
11/1 at S Car. L 27-6
11/8 Wyoming L 13-7
11/15 OPEN DATE 
11/22 at Vand. W 20-10
11/29 Kent. W 28-10

Just win, baby.

Lane Kiffin didn’t do that at Oakland, appeared to be in over his head (and who wouldn’t be working for Al Davis), and moved on to a better gig. But now he can’t just win, baby, he has to win, and win more, and win national titles.

Phil Fulmer won, and won a lot. He won a national title, took the Vols to several SEC title games, and bled orange as a true fan of the program he was coaching. Still a Tennessee guy after an amicable breakup, he was everything you could want in a head coach. It wasn’t enough.

All that matters, especially at a powerhouse program like Tennessee, is being in the hunt for the national title year in and year out. Fulmer appeared incapable of doing that while others, like Florida, LSU, and Alabama, were growing stronger and stronger. Is Kiffin the guy who can make Tennessee a regular in the BCS race?

If nothing else he’s stirring the hornet’s nest both inside and outside of the program. He might have made Vol fans happy be getting under the skin of Urban Meyer and Florida, but he has rubbed some people the wrong way with his bull in the china shop approach after taking over the reins. He has been brutally honest and brutally tough at times, and while that might have been necessary in an attempt to toughen up the program and to establish law and order, it has been a rocky enough start to put the heat on. It’s one thing to be brash, but that only works if you win.

The jury is still out on whether or not Kiffin can actually coach. He surrounded himself with some phenomenal talents, primarily his father, legendary defensive coach Monte Kiffin, and former Ole Miss head man Ed Orgeron, and he appears to have rule one in the SEC down pat that to win you need to do three things well: recruit, recruit, and recruit.

Being young is a problem for Kiffin as far as public perception, there’s a silver spoon aspect to the equation considering who his dad is, but it should be a plus when it comes to bringing in players. Every coach says that he’ll outwork everyone else, but Kiffin, who’s only 34, has the energy to put in the time and effort to do more bothering and pestering of the elite high school talents than anyone else. While that’s great for the future, he needs to establish himself right now and prove to everyone that he actually can win a game.

There were some good pieces in last year’s disaster and there’s a lot to be excited about this year. As bad as the 5-7 season was, and as miserable as the offense was, the defense was outstanding, finishing third in the country, and three games, UCLA, Auburn, and Wyoming, easily, very easily, could’ve gone the other way. With a few right breaks Tennessee could’ve and should’ve been 8-4.

Of course, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, Kiffin wouldn’t be the head coach.

What to watch for on offense: Power running. The coaching staff will try to pound the ball, rely on the tremendous defense, and try to control the game and the clock. The passing game will try to push the ball deep a little more to stretch things out, but the offense will spend most of its time using its humongous, veteran line to pave the way for a fantastic group of backs. The backfield was good enough to get by, and then came the recruiting class with Toney Williams, David Oku, and the No. 1 prospect in America according to CFN, Bryce Brown, all ready to make a huge impact and upgrade the stalled ground attack.

What to watch for on defense: A ton of interceptions. All the pieces are there for the secondary to come up with a phenomenal year. Not only is there track star speed across the board, but there’s all-everything safety Eric Berry as the sheriff in the Tampa 2 scheme, but the pass rush should be better. Even with Robert Ayers off to the NFL, the Vol defensive front should be more active with Ben Martin and Chris Walker two speedsters on the ends who should be camped out in opposing backfields.

The team will be far better if … someone can complete the forward pass. Saying the quarterbacks were awful is like saying the Tennessee orange uniforms are a bit loud. Three quarterbacks combined to complete fewer than half of their passes for 1,750 yards and eight touchdowns with nine interceptions. Worse yet, none of them were able to lead the way to points. To be fair, the receiving corps didn’t take enough passes for big plays and the line wasn’t as good as it was two years ago, but the passing game can’t stink again for there to be any hope of improvement.

The Schedule: The Vols don't go anywhere in non-conference play hosting UCLA along with three layups against Western Kentucky, Ohio, and Memphis. Of course, all eyes will be on Gainesville for Tennessee's SEC opener at Florida when Lane Kiffin gets to meet one of the most hostile environments anyone will have to deal with this year. Not only do the Vols have to play Alabama and Ole Miss from the West, but the games are on the road. However, there's a week off between the game against Georgia and the trip to Bama, and the second half of the year isn't all that bad with South Carolina, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky part of the mix.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Gerald Jones. With good size, elite speed, and nice hands, he does everything for the team. He’s a fantastic punt returner, averaging ten yards a crack, runs out of a Wildcat formation, with 23 carries for 126 yards and a score, and led the team with 30 catches for 323 yards and four scores. With the emphasis on pushing the ball deep, he should make more big plays and be an even bigger star in a receiving corps that needs him to be a strong No. 1 target.

Best Defensive Player: Junior SS Eric Berry. Talk about living up to the hype, Berry was a big-time recruit who has been nothing but sensational. Arguably the best player in the SEC not named Tim Tebow, and a far better pro prospect. A huge hitter and special player when the ball is in the air, he has sub-4.4 speed and the ability to play either free of strong safety. A dream player for the Monte Kiffin Tampa 2 cover scheme, the All-American should be neck-and-neck with USC’s Taylor Mays in the battle for the Thorpe Award.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Nick Stephens. Jonathan Crompton has been good this off-season, but he’s not the answer for a woeful passing game. Stephens has the big arm, the size, and the upside to be the main man for the offense over the next few years. He needs time and he needs his receiving corps to shine to come up with a strong year. He doesn’t have to be phenomenal; he just needs to be competent.

The season will be a success if ... Tennessee wins nine games. It’ll take a near-miracle to beat Florida in Gainesville and it’ll take something special to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Every other game is winnable, but the team isn’t good enough to run the table and finish with double-digit wins. Winning eight regular season games and a bowl game would be a huge step forward after last year’s clunker.

Key game: September 19th at Florida. Welcome to the SEC. After the kitten fight between the two coaching staffs since Kiffin took over, and after all the drama and the goofiness, Urban Meyer would like nothing more than to give a little extra twist of the knife when the Vols come to town. Florida has won four straight in the series, but they had a nasty time, despite the final score, in last year’s 30-6 win in Knoxville. No one will be expected Tennessee to win, but if Kiffin and his team can pull off the upset, it would jumpstart the program and change the expectations for the season in a big hurry.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- First Quarter Score: Opponents 67 – Tennessee 17
- Fumbles: Tennessee 12 (lost 9) – Opponents 9 (lost 3)
- Rushing touchdowns: Tennessee 14 – Opponents 6

- 2009 CFN Tennessee Preview | 2009 Tennessee Offense
- 2009 Tennessee Defense | 2009 Tennessee Depth Chart
- 2008 CFN UT Preview | 2007 CFN UT Preview | 2006 CFN UT Preview


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