KNOXVILLE – Akron, Tennessee’s opponent on Saturday, made some serious changes over the offseason in an effort to turn back the clock.
After a 1-11 campaign in 2011, the Zips brought in former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden to take the same position at Akron. Bowden then turned to former NC State head coach Chuck Amato to run his defense.
Though Bowden hadn’t coached the FBS level since 1998, and Amato had been out of coaching since 2009, the two still combine for over 190 career head coaching wins.
So far, it’s still a work in progress.
The Zips have started 2012 with a 1-2 record. They lost their opener to UCF, 56-14, but were more competitive against FIU the next week in a 41-38 loss. They got their first win under Bowden last week against Morgan State in a 66-6 blowout.
"This week playing Akron, you all know the kind of success Terry Bowdon has had in his coaching career,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “The one thing you know about any Bowden, and Terry especially, is that they know how to score a lot of points. And they're scoring about 40 points a game, 400 yards throwing the ball, spreading it out. It's going to be a whole different dynamic again on trying to stop these guys.”
Akron quarterback Dalton Williams has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation so far, completing 94 of 152 attempts (61.8 percent) for 1004 yards, 10 touchdowns an three interceptions. His main target has been receiver Marquelo Suel, who has 20 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
With the offense ticking, Amato is still working to get the defense revamped. The Zips have given up an average of 48.5 yards per game in their two FBS contests this season. It won’t be any easier against a Tennessee team averaging more than 320 yards through the air per game.
Dooley, who can be guilty of complimenting an opponent to a fault, still said he is impressed with what Amato is installing at Akron.
“Defensively, they're playing the scheme old FSU played (when Amato was a defensive assistant there from 1981-99),” Dooley said. “A lot of good coaching. We have our work cut out for us this week and we have to move on.”
Vols want to roll skill position players more: Dooley said one mistake he and the coaching staff made against Florida was relying too heavily on receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, running back Rajion Neal and tight end Mychal Rivera.
Hunter and Patterson played more than 70 plays each (offense and special teams), while Neal took 23 of the team’s 28 total offensive carries.
“That's my fault,” Dooley said. “It's a classic case of you're getting into a game against a good team. Things are in control and you don't want to disrupt it. We have to exercise trust in what we've been doing, rolling guys early especially, so we have every ounce of juice we need in the fourth quarter.”
Quarterback Tyler Bray, Neal, Patterson, Hunter, Rivera, wide receiver Zach Rogers, Wildcat quarterback A.J. Johnson and running back Marlin Lane were the only players who touched the ball on offense against the Gators.
Vols taking notes from ULM?: Dooley said he won’t specifically speak of ULM beating Arkansas and taking Auburn to overtime the last two weeks, because he thinks his team should already be wary of every opponent.
“If we don't come and prepare all week the way we need to prepare, and we don't bring a level of focus and intensity on game day the way we need to, we'll get embarrassed,” Dooley said. “This week is no exception. This team will embarrass us because they're a good football team.”
Recruiting update: The Vols hosted their top two running back prospects on Saturday — Derrick Green and Derrick Henry.
Green is a 6-foot, 215-pound running back out of Richmond, Va. who is ranked as the 53rd best player nationally, and the sixth best running back by ESPN.com.
Henry is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound back from Yulee, Fla., who is ranked as the 48th best player nationally, and the fourth best running backs by ESPN.com.
Auburn and Michigan are Vols’ top competitors for Green, while Alabama is competing with the Vols for Henry. Signing an elite runing back in this class is a top priority for Dooley.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.