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Tennessee Football: The Vols prove they can overcome roster absences

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Jaylen McCollough’s absence on Saturday didn’t seem to hinder Tennessee’s already battered secondary. 

McCollough was arrested on Oct. 9 and charged with aggravated assault. Following his arrest, the senior did not play against Alabama. 

Head coach Josh Heupel cleared up some speculation on Monday, sort of, saying the defensive back had not been suspended. 

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“He’s not suspended,” Heupel said. “He’s been around, just wasn’t available for Saturday. The process is still going on with him and we’ll see how that continues to play out here. We look forward to having him available soon.”

While Tennessee obviously wants McCollough back as soon as possible, they managed without him in a 52-49 win over Alabama on Saturday.

Tennessee held Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young to 35-52 passing with 455 yards. For comparison, Tennessee held Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson to 24-45 passing with 453 yards, when McCollough was starting. Young is widely considered a better quarterback than Richardson. The Vols aren’t great in the secondary, but weren’t much worse without McCollough. That’s a testament to what the Vols were able to do schematically, especially with a blitz package that kept the Crimson Tide off guard for most of the game.

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For senior Trevon Flowers, he contributed the secondary’s resilience to their mentality. 

“That’s something we prided ourselves on since the offseason, the next-man-up mentality,” Flowers said. “No matter what, we all practice hard, we train hard, we love each other. No matter who is out there, we’ve got to go out there and execute.”

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel

Tennessee’s secondary has also had to deal with the loss of Warren Burrell, who went down with a season-ending upper-body injury.

Tennessee’s defense came up big on Saturday when they forced Alabama to settle for a field goal late in the game that Bama kicker Will Reichard missed. 

Flowers attributes Tennessee’s defensive success late in the fourth quarter to how they’ve been prepared. 

“We’re just taught to play all four quarters till the clock hits zero…We’re not going to stop playing until the game is over,” Flowers said. “Maybe it looked like the guys came off harder, but, nah man, that’s something we pride ourselves in if it’s the first quarter or the last play of the game, we’ve got to come off hard and ready to go.”

Although Tennessee’s secondary gave up 455 yards to Alabama’s passing attack, they did enough for the Volunteers to pull out the win on a last second field goal. 

For Flowers, beating Alabama is a moment he won’t soon forget. 

“It’s indescribable, just the stuff that I’ve been through, that these guys have been through,” Flowers said. “It’s just something that’s been built from the offseason. It’s something we’ve worked so hard for. It’s definitely history. We’ll never forget this moment.”

Although Heupel seemed optimistic about McCollough’s status, Tennessee’s secondary may have to get used to playing without their defensive captain for the foreseeable future. McCollough has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Nov. 18.

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