And you know what that means. Time to grab a 10-pack of Tennessee Vols-related thought nuggets from my mind, dunk them in an orange dipping sauce, and chow down.
Let’s get on with it...
1) The portal took away another starting defender on Monday, and it’s one that might hurt more than some people think. STAR Tamarion McDonald will reportedly enter the portal, per 247 Sports’ Matt Zenitz. That’s a significant departure. McDonald’s absence could be felt in the loss to Missouri, when he left in the first quarter with an injury. Willie Martinez talked the following week on Vol Calls about McDonald’s importance in the defense, how handled the defensive calls and calling out assignments to teammates. VolQuest’s Brent Hubbs told Ramon Foster on his radio show on the Friday before the Georgia game that McDonald’s loss was a bigger one than he realized at the time for similar reasons.
McDonald started 23 games the last two years and had 16 passes defended and 4 interceptions to go with 8.5 tackles for loss. He’s not impossible to replace, but he’s going to leave bigger shoes to fill than some might realize. Hopefully Josh Heupel can fill that void this offseason.
2) But hey, hasn’t been all bad since last Monday. Although it’s felt that way with the Jordan Seaton and Jonathan Echols recruiting news. It had been believed that Keenan Pili would be back, but he hadn’t announced it. Well, that’s since been announced by the veteran linebacker.
It wasn’t totally clear if he had applied for and obtained a sixth year of eligibility, but the retweet/confirmation by Tennessee Athletics pretty much clears that up. That’s a big boost for a linebacking corps that largely struggled without him this year.
3) That was a heck of a win on Saturday for Vol Hoops to put a feather in its non-conference cap. The Vols had a golden opportunity over an 8-day period to snare a marquee win on their resume against Purdue, Kansas, and UNC, but were a handful of possessions short each time. Illinois might not quite be on that level, but I think they’re going to end up being near the top of the Big Ten standings when all is said and done. Joe Lunardi has them as a 4 seed in his most recent projections.
In short, it was a win the Vols needed to get to boost its resume, and they got it behind an overall solid effort on the offense end enough defense in the middle of the second half to surge ahead and take control.
The Vols will have one last shot at getting a win over a Power Five non-conference foe when they face NC State on Saturday at 10:00 pm ET in San Antonio.