Performance at Maui Invitational helps Vanderbilt climb in polls

Finishing as runner-up at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational was enough for Vanderbilt to move up in the minds of those who vote in college basketball polls.

The Commodores (5-1), who lost the tournament championship game 70-63 to Kansas, moved up three spots in the latest Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls, which were released Monday.

They are 13th in the coaches poll and 16th in the AP rankings. In both cases, that is their highest ranking of the season.

Kansas is in the top 10 in both.

“There is a reason why (the Maui Invitational) is the premier early-season event in college basketball,” coach Kevin Stallings said, following the Kansas game. “We were thrilled to be a part of it.

“I think we accounted well for ourselves. Our basketball team played very, very well.”

Vanderbilt never trailed in victories over St. John’s (92-55) and Wake Forest (86-64) and led Kansas for the entire first half.

The first game aired live on ESPN2 and the next two were on ESPN, the last one in prime time. That exposure, obviously, served the Commodores well with those voters who got to watch some or all of the games.

“We didn't have a great sixth half, but other than that, we played five pretty good halves of basketball,” Stallings said. “I've got a lot to look forward to with my team. I really enjoyed coaching them (last) week, and I enjoyed watching them play and watching them compete.

“And I was particularly happy when I got in the locker room and saw how disappointed they were, because this was a game that we thought we could and would win, and we got beat by a team that was better than us.”

Vanderbilt is back in action Wednesday when it hosts Detroit at Memorial Gymnasium (7 p.m., SEC Network Plus). It plays at Baylor on Sunday and is back home to face Dayton on Dec. 9 before a 10-day break for final exams.

Nov 30, 2015 9:54 PM

Outback Bowl executive would be happy to have Tennessee

The Outback Bowl’s top executive says the University of Tennessee would be a fine choice to serve as the Southeastern Conference’s representative in this year’s game.

Of course, the choice is not his.

“We don’t know who all will be available,” Jim McVay, the bowl’s president and CEO, told the Knoxville News Sentinel on Monday. “But if your question is, ‘Is Tennessee a team we are looking at very closely?’ Absolutely. That is a really good football team.”

The Volunteers finished the regular season 8-4 overall, their best record since 2007. And by the way, that was the last time they played in the Outback Bowl, a New Year’s Day contest in Tampa with teams from the SEC and Big Ten.

The Outback Bowl is one of six for which the SEC office selects its representative, an approach implemented last season. Before that happens, one SEC program almost certainly will be chosen for the College Football Playoff and the Sugar, Peach, Fiesta and Citrus Bowls all have the opportunity to select an SEC team.

If Tennessee is still available after all of that, though, the Outback Bowl would not be disappointed.

“Tennessee, if you go right down our checklist, they hit everything,” McVay said. “They’re just one of those teams. They have tradition, and success, and the way these guys play, wow. Everything about Tennessee has a really great feel to it right now. Five straight wins and six out of their last seven. That team is really on fire.”

Nov 30, 2015 9:31 PM

Mularkey confident officials erred, wants to know their feelings on it

Mike Mularkey would like to hear from some NFL officials, particularly the ones who called Sunday’s game between the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders at Nissan Stadium.

A holding call against Titans cornerback B.W. Webb on a failed fourth down attempt by Oakland gave the Raiders a first down with 1:50 remaining. Two plays later they scored the game-winning touchdown.

Someone at the league office did tell the Titans interim coach “it was a poorly officiated play.” That provided little solace in the wake of a 24-21 defeat, the Titans’ third straight loss and fifth defeat this season by a touchdown or less, given that Mularkey already believed that to be the case.

No, he would like a deeper admission from those dressed in black and white stripes.

“I know how we feel as coaches and players and organizations … the emotional letdown,” he said Monday. “Do they ever feel how we feel? Do they understand what’s affected? That’s what I want to know.”

Mularkey’s complaint about the play in question goes well beyond the call against Webb, which made it first-and-10 and the Tennessee 31.

He said that one Oakland wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, committed a false start, which would have stopped the play before the ball was even snapped and made it fourth-and-13 from the Tennessee 41. A review of the video showed Crabtree flinch and Titans cornerback Perrish Cox attempt to point out the movement to officials as the play started.

Mularkey also contented that the intended wide receiver, Andre Holmes, committed offensive pass interference against Titans cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and safety Michael Griffin. All three had a play on the underthrown ball in the end zone and any violation is not nearly as obvious, although it did appear Holmes used his right arm to clear Senasabaugh out of the way.

On top of everything else, Mularkey did not think Webb held Amari Cooper, the wide receiver on the other side of the play. It did not look as if Webb impeded Cooper at any point but probably was penalized because he had his left hand on Cooper’s shoulder briefly as the two ran side-by-side.

“I vented my frustration over the call – I should say lack of calls,” Mularkey said. “There was a false start to start the play on Crabtree. And then there was (offensive pass interference) in the end zone on Holmes, on both of our defenders. So I vented my frustration about that.”

The Raiders were penalized 11 times for 94 yards in the contest. Among Tennessee’s opponents this season only Tampa Bay was called for more fouls (12) and the Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins lost more yards to penalties (97 each).

The Titans were penalized four times for 25 yards, including the call against Webb. The number of penalties matched a season-low and the yards were the fewest of 2015.

How unlikely, therefore, that two potential calls were not made against Oakland and one was against Tennessee all at the same time?

“It’s frustrating for our team,” Mularkey said. “I have to come in here and talk to these guys about what we have to do to win these close games and it comes down to things like that.

“Don’t get me wrong, there were multiple plays in all phases of our team that would have made a difference before that play ever came up. That play just happens to be the one that sticks out but we had multiple chances to make a difference in that game before that happened.”

Nov 30, 2015 4:42 PM

Former Titans cornerback gets another NFL opportunity

Cortland Finnegan fought just to have an NFL career and even took a few swings during his nine seasons with the Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins.

So maybe it should not come as a surprise that he took a boxer’s approach toward retirement. More than six months after he said he was through, the veteran cornerback decided to give it another shot.

Finnegan signed with the Carolina Panthers – the NFL’s only undefeated team – on Monday.

The Panthers’ defense is second in the NFL in yards allowed per game and third in points allowed per game but has been without starting cornerback Charles Tillman for the last two weeks. Tillman has a knee injury.

"Any guy who ever plays the game, they just want one more snap, let’s just be honest," Finnegan said Monday, according to the Panthers’ website. "I got giddy just putting on the helmet (Monday).

"… It’s a great opportunity and I’m here to make the most of it."

The Titans drafted the undersized Finnegan (he’s listed at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds) in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL draft. In six seasons in Tennessee he made one Pro Bowl appearance and earned one All-Pro award (both in 2008) and developed a reputation as a feisty competitor. He had 14 interceptions in three forced fumbles in 93 games (79 starts).

When he left Tennessee he spent two seasons with the Rams and one with the Dolphins before he decided to call it quits – temporarily, as it turned out.

“Any time you can add a guy of Finnegan’s experience at this point in the year, you are excited about it," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "He plays our style of football – an aggressive, up-tempo, attacking style on the defensive side."

Nov 30, 2015 3:03 PM

Three area linemen, one back among 2015 Mr. Football winners

The TSSAA announced the 2015 Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Awards winners at a Monday luncheon.

A lineman and a back were named the best in each of the six public and two private school classifications. A single Kicker of the Year was awarded for all classifications.

Winners from the Nashville area included Nashville Christian School’s Daniel Bituli (Class A Lineman), Centennial’s Tyrel Dodson (Class 5A Lineman), Montgomery Bell Academy’s Ty Chandler (Division II-AA Back), Forrest’s Boone Sweeney (Class 2A Lineman) and Ravenwood’s Crews Holt (Kicker).

The complete list of Mr. Football winners:

Division I Class 1A LinemanDivision I Class 1A Back
Daniel Bituli
Nashville Christian School
Dresser Winn
Dresden High School
Division I Class 2A LinemanDivision I Class 2A Back
Boone Sweeney
Forrest High School
Andrew Goldsmith
Trinity Christian Academy
Division I Class 3A LinemanDivision I Class 3A Back
Jonathan Decker
Alcoa High School
Traneil Moore
East Ridge High School
Division I Class 4A LinemanDivision I Class 4A Back
Emmit Gooden
Haywood High School
Amari Rodgers
Knoxville Catholic High School
Division I Class 5A LinemanDivision I Class 5A Back
Tyrel Dodson
Centennial High School
Tee Higgins
Oak Ridge High School
Division I Class 6A LinemanDivision I Class 6A Back
T.D. Blackmon
Maryville High School
Dillon Mitchell
White Station High School
Division II Class A LinemanDivision II Class A Back
Trey Smith
University School of Jackson
Chase Hayden
St. George’s Independent School
Division II Class AA LinemanDivision II Class AA Back
Ryan Parker
Baylor School
Ty Chandler
Montgomery Bell Academy
Kicker of the Year 
Crews Holt
Ravenwood High School


Nov 30, 2015 2:50 PM

Rio Grande De-Fence Briefing: Points piled up against Titans, Raiders when flags flew

The offenses couldn't -- or at least didn't -- do it alone.

The Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders combined for six touchdown drives Sunday at Nissan Stadium and all but one of them included help from a significant penalty on the defense.

The most crucial – and game-changing – call came on the first play after the two-minute warning, when it appeared the Titans’ defense got a stop on fourth-and-8. Derek Carr’s pass to Andre Holmes was incomplete, but away from the play cornerback B.W. Webb was flagged for holding.

“Somehow a call came from the right of where B.W. was,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “Where it came from I have no idea. Do I agree with it? No. I don’t agree with it.”

Said Webb: “I don’t know; the ref didn’t tell me anything. I had tight coverage on him and he just threw the flag. I don’t know what he was thinking, I don’t know what part I could have held him, if I did, I don’t know. That play was kind of crazy to me.”

The penalty gave the Raiders an automatic first down at the Tennessee 31. They took full advantage of their second chance and scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later. They held on from there and defeated the Titans 24-21.

“Mike Mularkey always says let them be the bad guy on referee calls,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “That ball wasn’t even going to the receiver that got called. That changed the game right there.

“I feel like our defense stopped them and the referees put it in their hands and gave them an opportunity to get the ball back and of course they scored a touchdown after you put them half the distance to the goal.”

For the game, the Titans were penalized just four times for 25 yards, but even that, they felt, was too much.

Webb remained certain that he did nothing wrong on the play.

“One hundred percent,” he said.

A look at the touchdown drives that included defensive penalties in Sunday's game between the Titans and Raiders:

First quarter

• Tennessee: 5 plays, 88 yards, 2:30. An unnecessary roughness call after Antonio Andrews was stopped for no gain on second-and-4 made it first down at the Oakland 20. The next play was a 20-yard touchdown pass. Titans 6, Raiders 0.

Third quarter

• Oakland: 8 plays, 69 yards, 4:15. A defensive holding call against Blidi Wreh-Wilson set the Raiders up at the Titans 12-yard line. Three plays later they scored on 10-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr. Raiders 17, Titans 6.

• Tennessee: 9 plays, 80 yards, 4:23. Following an incompletion, the Titans picked up 14 yards on a defensive pass interference call against TJ Carrie. Carrie was called again three plays later, this time for defensive holding, on a third down incompletion. The Titans scored six plays after the second call. Raiders 17, Titans 14.

Fourth quarter

• Tennessee: 9 plays, 42 yards, 4:14. An unnecessary roughness call against Khalil Mack on third-and-1 set up the Titans at the Raiders 9-yard line. Three plays later, Neiko Thorpe was flagged for defensive pass interference on a third-and-goal incompletion. The very next play Jalston Fowler scored from the one-yard line. Titans 21, Raiders 17.

• Oakland: 9 plays, 90 yards, 3:20. The Raiders gained an automatic first down after being stopped by the Titans on fourth down thanks to a defensive holding penalty on B.W. Webb. Two plays later Derek Carr hit Seth Roberts for the game winning touchdown. Raiders 24, Titans 21.

Nov 30, 2015 11:35 AM

Middle Tennessee State quick to accept bowl invitation

Middle Tennessee State did not hesitate.

Soon after the Blue Raiders closed out the 2015 season with a 42-7 victory at Texas-San Antonio on Saturday they accepted an invitation to play in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Dec. 24 against a yet-to-be-determined team from the MAC.

Given the program’s recent issues with bowl games, school officials probably were thrilled to be asked so soon. MTSU and Navy are the only schools locked in to specific bowl games at the moment.

"This is a unique bowl and a tremendous location so we can't wait to get down there and enjoy the experience,” coach Rick Stockstill said in a release from the school. "This team has earned the right to be in this bowl game and we have played a demanding schedule.”

MTSU went 7-5 overall and finished second in Conference USA’s East Division. C-USA’s bowl tie-ins guarantee a minimum of five invitations for conference members.

This will be the program’s fifth bowl appearance since it joined the FBS.

A look at MTSU’s recent bowl history:

2006 Motor City Bowl
(at Detroit)
Central Michigan 31, Middle Tennessee 14

2009 New Orleans Bowl
(at New Orleans)
Middle Tennessee 42, Southern Miss 32

2011 Bowl
(at Mobile, Ala.)
Miami (OH) 35, Middle Tennessee 21

2013 Armed Forces Bowl
(at Fort Worth)
Navy 24, Middle Tennessee 6

2015 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
(at Nassau, Bahamas)
Middle Tennessee vs MAC Opponent

“We're a young team so being bowl eligible for the sixth time in seven years, and this group of seniors being eligible all four years, is a compliment to this group of players and a testament to the consistency of our program,” Stockstill said.

Nov 30, 2015 11:22 AM

Latest NCAA appearance takes Lipscomb volleyball far from home

Lipscomb has made the NCAA volleyball tournament often enough in recent that the players and coaches were ready for something different in their next trip.

They got their wish.

The Bisons (23-8), who earned their way in with their fifth Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship, will travel to Los Angeles to face No. 14 UCLA (23-7) in the opening round Friday. If they win they will face either Santa Clara or Michigan.

It is Lipscomb’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance and second in as many years. It has yet to get past the first round. It also never has traveled so far.

“I said if you are going to send us somewhere let us travel far away,” coach Brandon Rosenthal said, according to the school’s athletics website. “You can’t get much farther away than Los Angeles. This is an opportunity for Lipscomb to put its name on the map a little more.

“In a lot of ways it is good. As a group of coaches we have been asking not to make the NCAA Tournament as regionally-based. They broke it up a little bit.”

The complete NCAA Tournament field was revealed Sunday.

“We know UCLA a little bit and I guess they are saying the same thing about us,” Rosenthal said. “They are a seasoned team. They beat USC at USC, the No. 1 team in the nation.

“We are going to have to go out there and find ways to defend and find ways to score. I think we have done that all year. We have had a lot of success with some of the taller teams. This is a challenge we have in front of us and this is an exciting one.”

Nov 30, 2015 10:57 AM

Five For Clicking: 30 November 2015

Five stories to read today...

From Sports Illustrated: "While You Were Away: Preds Offense Shooting Blanks"

The Predators have entered a horrific slump, winning just once on a road trip and returning home to lose to the Buffalo Sabres. By and large, this is due to a complete inability to score. How to rectify that? SI says reunite James Neal and Filip Forsberg with Mike Ribeiro.

From the Washington Post: "College athletic departments are paying themselves to lose money"

Sally Jenkins reports that there's some serious issues with the way colleges spend athletics dollars:

Throughout The Post’s findings is the distinctly acrid smell of books cooking. The ledgers show that there is never enough money to fully comply with Title IX or cover the true cost of a scholarship but always enough to pay themselves more or to buy a new toy. At Auburn, there’s a $17 million deficit, yet the school just bought a new $13.9 million scoreboard.

The median athletic department in a Power Five conference has seen earnings balloon to $93.1 million thanks in part to massive new TV contracts, yet 28 of 52 state schools are in the red, including seven in the Pacific-12 and a half-dozen in the ACC, led by Virginia at a whopping negative-$17 million. The reason is not complicated: It’s sheer excess and improper self-reward by athletic directors. Over the past decade, pay for administrators has risen by $300 million.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Tennessee commit 'has a chance to be a senator or governor' one day"

Chidi Okonya, a four-star, 6'7" 230-pound defensive end, is more than just a football player.

From SBNation: "A's pitcher gets into Thanksgiving spirit by inviting 17 Syrian refugees to dinner"

Oakland hurler Sean Doolittle had every Syrian refugee in Chicago over for supper.

From ESPN: "Tennessee Titans watching Mariota's moves after he hands off"

The Titans are trying to get Mariota to be a bit more deceptive:

“One thing he is trying to do, and I am adamant about it, is what does he do after he hands the ball off?” interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “If he can hold somebody for any kind of time, I don’t care if it’s a split second, that’s not going to be somebody who’s in on the play. Whether it’s a safety who’s back or an end. Then all of a sudden it becomes is he or isn’t he? Does he have it or doesn’t he? And now there are some guys who are going to make some mistakes and let him out of the pocket.”

The Titans work with Mariota to make all handoffs and fake handoffs look the same, quarterbacks coach John McNulty said.

“I think it’s taken on a little bit more life now that he’s run the ball more these last few weeks,” McNulty said. “He had a pretty good knack for holding and making it difficult for defenders to know whether he’s giving it or pulling it or whether it’s a pass that he’s going to roll out on.”

Nov 30, 2015 8:39 AM

Highlight reel: Raiders 24, Titans 21

In a lot of ways, Sunday’s game was no different than any of the previous 10 at Nissan Stadium in that the Tennessee Titans lost.

Then again, not all of them included a go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, a devastating, disputed call in the closing minutes or a steady rainfall that further dampened the spirit of a crowd that was well short of a full house.

It’s always something with these Titans, and it almost always ends up in defeat.

A closer look at some of the significant players and plays:

Delanie Walker, tight end

He had the two biggest gains of the day for the Tennessee offense. His 36-yard gain in the first quarter came on the first play of the Titans’ first touchdown drive. His 27-yard reception on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter got the offense near midfield (close to range for a game-tying field goal attempt) with just under a minute to play in the contest.

He finished with a team-high six catches for 91 yards and continued to prove he is one of the team’s most reliable performers at any point in the contest.

Honorable mention

• Marcus Mariota, QB: He did throw a pair of interceptions, including one that effectively guaranteed the loss, but he also threw three touchdown passes, the last of which put Tennessee in front with 4:41 remaining.

• Avery Williamson, LB: He finished with a team-high 11 tackles and registered the Titans’ only sack.

• Perrish Cox, CB: On a rough day for defensive backs from both sides, he had a game-high three passes defensed (one more than all of his teammates combined) in addition to a season-high five tackles.

The defensive holding call against cornerback B.W. Webb with 1:50 to play

The defense made the play it needed when it forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-8 from the Titans’ 36. However, the officials threw the flag against Webb, who had covered a player on the opposite side of the field.

With a fresh set of downs and the ball at the Tennessee 31 the Raiders went back to work. Two plays later they scored the game-winning touchdown when Derek Carr connected with Seth Roberts for 12 yards.

The Titans were called for just four penalties (tied for their season-low) for 25 yards (their season-low), but that one – the last of them – went a long way toward their latest defeat.

Honorable mention
• DaQuan Jones’ fumble recovery with 8:54 to play: Not only did it give the ball to the offense for what turned out to be the go-ahead touchdown drive, it was the Titans’ second fumble recovery of the day. The last time they recovered more than one fumble in a game was Dec. 29, 2013 against Houston, Mike Munchak’s final game as head coach.

• Mariota’s pass to Harry Douglas for a two-point conversion with 6:22 to play in the third quarter: It cut the deficit to three, 17-14, and made the Titans 2-2 in two-point conversion attempts in their four games under Mike Mularkey. They were 0-2 in 23 games under Ken Whisehunt.

• Oakland’s block of the extra-point attempt after the Titans’ first touchdown: Up to that point kicker Ryan Succop was a perfect 205-for-205 on PATs in his career, and the Titans had converted every one since the start of 2006.


• “We thought we finally found a way to win, to come back, put the drive together and put the ball in our defense’s hands. … We felt like we had overcome something we haven’t and … the one call is the call. It changes the game.” – Mularkey, on the holding call against Webb.

• “It seemed like everything was going good. We were kind of celebrating, about to go to the sideline, and then the next thing you know we heard the referee say their was a hold on (Webb).” – safety Michael Griffin, on the penalty.

• “It was soggy. It was super wet, slippery. … The ball was slippery.” – Walker, on the fact that it rained throughout the second half.


This is the Titans’ fifth loss (out of nine) by a touchdown or less but it is the first in which they had the lead inside of the final two minutes. It also was the first in which they appeared to make the play they needed to clinch a victory.

Given this team’s struggles, it seemed a virtual certainty that Oakland would take advantage when the officials called the penalty against Webb. And it did. In just two plays.

The truth of the matter is that it takes a certain level of belief to overcome that type of adversity in such a situation. That belief only comes from having done it.

There’s the rub.

(Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Nov 30, 2015 7:47 AM