KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s M.A.S.H. unit is running out of space.
Despite surviving a cascade of injuries over the first month of the season, the Volunteers litany of bumps and bruises have finally caught up.
Texas A&M took advantage of Tennessee’s depth problems last weekend, but top-ranked truly Alabama feasted on the Volunteers lack of options on Saturday, steamrolling the Vols 49-10.
“Our kids are fighting, scratching and clawing,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
“I told them I love them more today than yesterday. I’ve never been through a season like this when injuries just continue to mount up. But that’s the game of football.”
To a point.
By the end of the game Saturday, Tennessee’s injury report reached the absurd, but the issues started before kickoff on Saturday.
In total, eight starters or key reserves did not suit up, including the recently dismissed defensive tackle Danny O’Brien.
CB Cam Sutton (broken ankle)
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder)
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. (ankle)
LB Cortez McDowell (unknown)
CB Malik Foreman (unknown)
LG Jashon Robertson (leg)
C Dylan Wiesman (head)
The Volunteers couldn’t even dress 70 scholarship players Saturday. Against No. 1 Alabama.
Then the issues simply got worse.
Starting left tackle Brett Kendrick went down with a leg injury in the first quarter, and starting right tackle Chance Hall quickly joined Kendrick on the bench — forcing the redshirt off freshman Marcus Tatum.
Later, Tennessee lost both starting defensive tackles — Kahlil McKenzie and Kendal Vickers — to undisclosed injuries. With no McKenzie, Vickers, O’Brien or Alexis Johnson (who many thought would play serious snaps Saturday), the Vols were down to just two scholarship tackles at one point. In the fourth quarter, starting safety Micah Abernathy went down with a hamstring injury.
With both lines of scrimmage decimated, Tennessee couldn’t run the ball against the nation’s No. 1 rush defense, totaling just 32 net yards. Meanwhile, the losses of Kirkland and Reeves-Maybin have really hurt the last two weeks, as the Volunteers have yielded a ridiculous 791 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns against A&M and Alabama.
“When you usually have a run of injuries, it only affects one or two position groups. It’s affected every position group,” Jones said.
Tennessee’s bye week is probably seven days too late, but after a brutal four-game gauntlet, it’s finally here.
“The bye week is coming at the appropriate time,” Jones said.
“We have a lot of goals to get better as a football team. Everyone has to be responsible for their own self-determination and accountability to get better during this bye week. A lot of this [week] will be spent in the training room and getting healthy.”
After two straight defeats, the Volunteers no longer control their own destiny in the SEC East, but with a much more favorable schedule than Florida, they should still be able to get to Atlanta.
If they can get healthy.
“These kids are warriors,” Jones said.
“I believe in them. They are going to be alright. I told them in the locker room that how you feel is a byproduct of your investment and how much you have invested in this program, a performance and our football team. We pride ourselves in stopping the run and running the football. It’s a week-to-week season. There are a lot of positive things to move forward and get better in this bye week. These kids have had great resiliency and will continue to have that.”