Vols’ offensive struggles show no signs of ending
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The news continues to get worse for Tennessee’s struggling offense.Tennessee has failed to score a touchdown in its last two Southeastern Conference games and has given up nearly twice as many sacks as any other SEC team. The Volunteers had zero net yards rushing and gave up seven sacks last week in a 34-3 loss at No. 3 Mississippi.Now the Vols (3-4, 0-3) aren’t at full strength as they prepare to face No. 4 Alabama (6-1, 3-1), which is coming off a 59-0 victory against Texas A&M. Various injuries knocked quarterback Justin Worley, guard Marcus Jackson and tackle Coleman Thomas out of the Ole Miss game and have left their status for Saturday’s game up in the air.”We’re definitely not happy with how we’re playing, so we’re just going to keep working harder and harder just to progress,” freshman running back Jalen Hurd said.Jackson and Thomas weren’t present at the part of Tuesday’s practice that was open to the media, though Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Jackson was with the team later in the workout.”I think Marcus right now is a little bit ahead of Coleman in terms of availability,” Jones said.Worley did practice Tuesday, and Jones said afterward that he’s “making progress (and) we’ll see how it goes.””The message is prepare yourself,” Jones said. “Everyone has to be prepared and ready to play.”The injury and depth concerns on Tennessee’s offensive line are so severe that the Vols could find themselves depending on fifth-year senior tackle Jacob Gilliam, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a season-opening victory over Utah State. Gilliam’s injury was expected to knock him out for the remainder of the season, but he hasn’t undergone surgery and returned to action against Ole Miss in a move that has marveled his teammates.”He’s probably in a lot of pain,” said junior safety Brian Randolph, whose 2012 season ended with a torn ACL. “I remember just straightening mine used to hurt me. He’s a tough dude.”Gilliam, a former walk-on, says he feels good enough to play an entire game if necessary.”I knew I could help us, and I wanted to help us,” Gilliam said. “That’s what really drove me to get back. I knew my time wasn’t done. I didn’t do all this just to get set back. I knew that as long as I kept going, I was going to be back playing.”The offensive line can’t afford to take any more hits.Neither can Worley.Tennessee has given up 30 sacks this season. SMU is the only Football Bowl Subdivision program to allow more sacks, though Miami (Ohio) and Idaho also have given up 30. No other SEC program has yielded more than 16 sacks.”We’re still confident,” junior center Mack Crowder said. “We’re all confident in anybody who has to step up and play. Obviously the best five are going to be playing on any given week. The confidence level’s fine and we’re ready to go out and just continue to improve.”Tennessee isn’t getting much help from its schedule. One week after facing an Ole Miss team that leads all FBS teams in scoring defense, the Vols are preparing for an Alabama team that ranks third in total defense and scoring defense.Tennessee has lost its last seven matchups with Alabama and hasn’t exceeded 17 points in any of its last 10 meetings with the Tide.Alabama isn’t taking anything for granted. Tide coach Nick Saban noted that Tennessee “could be 5-2 very easily” by citing the Vols’ narrow losses to Georgia and Florida. Alabama figures to encounter a hostile crowd as Tide offensive coordinator and former Vols coach Lane Kiffin returns to Knoxville.”Tennessee has a lot of explosive players at receiver, a good young runner,” Saban said. “They’re very capable offensively of moving the ball and making explosive plays. They made quite a few against us last year. Their offensive line, in my mind, is very capable of being effective.”___AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.