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Tennessee Football: Vols’ roster again shell-shocked, this time by suspension

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Tennessee did not have a banner day when it comes to discipline on Monday.

First, head coach Josh Heupel was asked about offensive lineman Gerald Mincey not playing on offense in a 29-16 loss to Florida on Saturday. Heupel didn’t offer much insight as to why Mincey was relegated to playing just special teams, although it certainly could have had something to do with the fact that the Mincey was cited for misdemeanor simple possession of marijuana and casual exchange.

“We just decided not to play him on the offensive side of the ball,” Heupel said during his Monday press conference in which no players were made available to the media. Then, Heupel was asked about Mincey’s availability this week against the University of Texas-San Antonio.

“We have a long week here,” Heupel said. “We’ll go through the week.”

Then, more concrete news came down when the SEC announced that defensive tackle Omarr Norman-Lott would be suspended for the first half of the UTSA game after being involved in a on-field exchange with the Gators, who also had three players suspended for the first half of their game against Charlotte.

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That’s not all. Dynamic sophomore running back Dylan Sampson did not play against Florida, apparently due to health reasons.

“He was,” Heupel said when asked if Sampson was available to play. “He’s been a little bit nicked up, but he was available. Had plans of having him in the rotation. And I think on both sides of the football, the flow of the game in particular in the first half, we probably didn’t rotate the way we anticipated going into the football game and probably as much as we needed to.” 

In just its third game, Tennessee’s roster is not what it was before preseason camp. Middle linebacker Keenan Pili is out for an extended period of time with an undisclosed injury. Heupel said he expected center Cooper Mays to return to the lineup last week against Florida, but Mays was not able to play. Perhaps that’s why the Vols struggled so mightily up front against the Gators.

“At the end of the day, just not as consistent as we needed them to be,” Heupel said of his offense. “And that’s really the entire offensive unit. I thought the wide receivers took a step in the right direction from how they performed the previous weeks. But collectively as a group, just not as consistent as you need be to go on the road, play a good team, and be able to move the football and ultimately score points. The self-inflicted wounds, that goes into how you’re scoring in the red zone too. And it’s not a game of unlimited opportunities. You gotta maximize them. You can’t put yourself in first-and-20 and try to play ball.”

The inconsistency up front surely led to the Vols being just bad on short-yardage downs. The Vols converted 8-of-15 third down attempts, many of which were short-yardage distances, and didn’t convert any of their fourth down attempts.

“Some of those scenarios are different as far as what happens,” Heupel tried to explain. “A lot of it, we internally have to execute what we’re doing and that’s where we’re targeting, how we’re targeting and the fundamentals of it. We have to execute better. Some of those situations, some of those things we’ve practiced those exact looks and at the end of the day, coaches and players, we gotta get to where we need to be. 

“You have to execute on third down. Third-and-short should be a situation where you’re picking it up 90% of the time. We gotta be better in those situations.”

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