#VolReport: DeBord’s Game Ball, Kelly’s Return

by UT Sports Information on September 8, 2015

in Tennessee Vols Football

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The #23 Vols went through their third day of preparations for #19/17 Oklahoma on TuesdayButch Jones led the Orange & White through a padded practice under hot sunshine in Knoxville where the temperatures hit 90 degrees in early September.


Saturday’s stage is already setting up for a visually stunning home debut with the return of #CheckerNeyland and Tuesday’s official announcement of a sellout crowd. Couple that with the fact that Saturday’s game will mark Tennessee’s first non-conference game at home with two ranked teams since 2006 and you’ve got all the fixings for an incredible game-time atmosphere.

“It’s a pretty awesome atmosphere,” said Knoxville native and defensive back Todd Kelly Jr. “Everyone knows how awesome Neyland Stadium is. 102,455 with the lights on in Knoxville, Tennessee — it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s awesome on the fans’ part. We have the best fans in the nation.”

And while the anticipation is building within the Team 119 camp, the mindset remains focused on the task at hand. As linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Curt Maggitt tell it, the challenge of facing a quality opponent like Oklahoma cannot lend itself toward distractions.

“It’s going to be an electric environment, a lot of distractions with them checkering Neyland,” said linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. “But I’m really just trying to focus on the game plan, focus on the task at hand. When I get on the field it’s all business.”

“I know we’re excited to get back out there, especially with it being a home opener,” Curt Maggitt said. “Every week is a big week and with Oklahoma coming in, it’s a great opportunity.”


DeBord’s Game Ball

After his team rolled up 604 yards of total offense, eight touchdowns, and 399 yards on the ground in the season-opener against Bowling Green, first-year offensive coordinator Mike DeBordexperienced something he never had before: he was given the game ball.

In his first game calling the plays for the Volunteers, DeBord pieced together a game plan that resulted in UT producing its most rushing yards in a game since 1994 and two 100-yard rushers for just the 16th time in school history. Tennessee also racked up 59 points en route to the all-important opening-day victory. For his efforts, DeBord was offered the honorary game ball in the locker room following the win.

“[I’ve gotten a game ball] only when everybody got a game ball,” DeBord said. “I’ve never gotten one personally, and it hit me. I mean, it really, emotionally, hit me. The players saw that, how much it meant to me. As I said to the players, there was nothing I did in that game, really.

“I was moved by it, but that’s not my game ball. That’s all those coaches’ and players’ and everybody, so I’ll take it on behalf of them.”

Tennessee will enter Saturday’s game against Oklahoma as the No. 14-ranked offense in the country in terms of total offense and the No. 4-ranked rushing offense.


From The Hospital Bed To The Field

A week ago, Todd Kelly Jr. did not know if he would even be able to attend the Vols’ opener in Nashville. Four days later, the sophomore was in the Tennessee defensive backfield against Bowling Green.

Kelly had surgery during training camp to have his tonsils removed, a procedure that is fairly simple as a child, but far more complicated as an adult. Last week, he developed an infection that required hospitalization for rapid doses of antibiotics.

“It was pretty crazy,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing like sleeping on a hospital bed for four nights and hanging out for five days. But I got some personal time with my mom and got to hang out with my dad. I’m happy that I’m so close to being home that they got to make sure I was ok.”

Though he was unable to practice physically, Kelly used his time in the hospital to prepare himself mentally. He immersed himself in intense film study of both himself and of the Falcons.

“I can’t count it on my hands,” he said of the hours of film he watched. “When you’re in the hospital, it’s just you, your bed and the TV. Luckily, we have the iPads to watch film on, those were a great investment. I was able to tune in to practices and meetings so I felt like I was there, even though I wasn’t with the team. When I stepped on the football field I was ready to go.”

Once he was released from the hospital, Kelly set his sights on doing everything he could physically to return to the field.

“Coach Lawson did a great job of conditioning me and made sure I’m eating right and getting my weight back up,” Kelly said. “Now I feel the same way I did before I was sick. They did a great job of getting me game-ready.”


Kirkland’s Big Debut

Darrin Kirkland Jr. made a splash in his debut at linebacker for the Volunteers on Saturday against Bowling Green, recording a sack, a tackle for a loss and three total stops.

Kirkland was not as focused on what he did well, rather looking to improve on the areas of his game that still need work.

“All experience is good experience for me,” Kirkland said. “Being a young guy playing college football, there are a lot of mistakes that I will make, but I want to grow from those and learn for the future.”

Kirkland drew solid reviews from coaches and teammates for his performance against the Falcons.

“I feel like I played my game and did everything the coaches asked me to do,” Kirkland said of the praise. “I just executed the game plan to the best of my ability.”

He also made a play near the end zone that looked to have been a forced fumble for a Tennessee touchdown. Officials ruled that the whistle had blown on Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson’s forward progress, leaving Kirkland with a sack on the 1-yard line.

Officials reviewed the play, but maintained the ruling on the field, much to the playful chagrin of the freshman linebacker.

“I thought it should have been [a fumble],” he said with a laugh. “But it’s all good, there are more opportunities coming.”




  • Defensive Coordinator John Jancek(On having LaDarrell McNeil back at practice)

    “It’s really good having LaDarrell back out there. He’s a great kid and he’s certainly a guy who knows our defense. We’ve missed that back there. There is no replacement for experience and LaDarrell has a lot of experience. He was really playing his best football [earlier this fall], so it was good to have him back.”

    (On what Todd Kelly Jr. brings to the defense against OU)

    “Intelligence. He allows us to disguise some things. You know, Todd is a very good football player. He has great ball skills and we all remember the interception he had in the Vanderbilt game where he had to get his foot down. Just having him back there and patrolling the back end is huge.”


  • Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord(On Joshua Dobbs’performance against Bowling Green)

    “I thought Josh was really good. What I really like was how he handled how fast we wanted to go. He’s the guy that’s got to get it going. He’s got to get the plays going and get everybody lined up, and get ball snapped fast. I thought he did a good job that way, and he had some nice throws, too.”

    (On the coaching staff adjusting to the game)

    “Our coaches did as great of a job of adjusting as any staff I’ve ever been on. We adjusted more throughout the game, again, than any game I think I’ve ever coached in, and that was a credit to them.”


  • RB Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Robert Gillespie(On Jalen Hurd’sblocking)

    “Jalen found out early on in his career that you have to protect the quarterback in order to play. That’s why he really didn’t play until his third or fourth game. Actually, going into the Oklahoma game [last year] is where he hit his stride, because he learned how to protect the quarterback and block.

    “I think it’s great to have a guy like him that’s able to show John Kelly [and] Joe Young that we take pride in protecting the quarterback. We want to be just as physical in the pass game as we are in the run game.”


  • Assoc. HC/Defensive Line Coach Steve Stripling(On having more players to work with on D-Line this year)

    “We had 13 guys play and that’s great. What I was trying to do during the game was sprinkle a young guy in with some older guys so that you don’t put a whole crew out there of young ones. I think it was great experience for them.”

    On Dimarya Mixon’s progress)

    “He has [come a long way]. I think every young man knows his weaknesses and Mixon’s was being sound at all times. He was very sound in the game [Saturday] and there is another example. During camp, Mixon had the most violent hands on defensive line.”


  • Sophomore DB Todd Kelly Jr.(On the focus among his DB unit this week)

    “I feel like we made mistakes [against Bowling Green] that were easy to fix. As a unit, we are going to be prepared and we’re going in with the mindset that we aren’t going to make mental errors this week.”


  • Freshman LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.(On learning alongside Colton Jumper)

    “We’re both learning a lot. We’re both in there together, both watching film, both preparing like the starter. That’s what the coaches want, for us to be prepared the best that’s possible, for us to beat the team that we’re preparing for.”


  • RS Senior LB/DL Curt Maggitt(On the defensive performance against Bowling Green)

    “Definitely [disappointing], knowing the talent level we have on the defensive side of the ball, and all the hard work we put in this camp. We took a business-like approach to it, and know where we messed up, and we’ve been getting after it the past couple of days.”


  • RS Senior DB Brian Randolph(On what makes Oklahoma tough to defend)

    “They’re very skilled at every position: running back, quarterback, receivers. They have a lot of weapons they can go to. We’ve got to be ready to stop them all.”

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