The Tennessee Titans had four straight home games earlier this season — and lost them all.
Sunday, they play the first of two straight at home when they host the Oakland Raiders (noon, CBS).
Both teams are 4-6, but the Raiders — after a fast start — have lost three in a row and have scored just 27 points combined the last two weeks. If ever the Titans (2-8) are going to win one in front of their fans this season, it best happen now.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will win Sunday
• Rookie standout: Tennessee’s only two victories this season have come with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, and in the three games since he returned from a knee injury, he has completed 67.3 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception. For the year, he is 12th in the NFL with a 65.3 percent completion percentage. Only two teams have allowed more touchdown passes than Oakland (23).
• All or nothing: All four times the Raiders have won this season, they scored 27 points or more. In five of their six losses, they scored 20 points or fewer. Tennessee has held five opponents to 20 points or fewer but won just one of those games. The defense has shown it is capable of that type of performance — and if it does so in this contest it might actually be enough for a victory.
• Favorable matchup: Tennessee has won the last three meetings in this series (2007, 2010 and 2013) and is 4-1 against the Raiders at Nissan Stadium. The franchise’s first game in Tennessee (Aug. 31, 1997 at the Liberty Bowl) was a 24-21 overtime victory over Oakland. The Raiders have not had a winning record since 2002 and they have lost three straight coming into this one. They are a team the Titans can — and have — beat.
Three reasons to believe the Titans won’t win Sunday
• Rookie standout: Amari Cooper (pictured), the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, leads all rookie receivers with 51 receptions, 736 yards and four touchdowns. He has 10 receptions of 20-plus yards and four that have gone for 40 yards or more. He is coming off his worst game (one catch, four yards). Before that, he had at least four receptions and 46 yards each time out so chances of a repeat performance are slim. And he is their second most productive pass catcher.
• Get rid of it: The Titans are third in the NFL with 31 sacks and lead the league in sacks per pass play (9.54 percent). It will be difficult to approach that rate against Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, who has been sacked just 11 times (on 352 dropbacks this season). That is the fewest among the NFL’s top 20 in passing yards. Carr has just 53 rushing yards on 16 attempts, which means he’s not likely to run but he’s also not going to hold the ball long.
• Kicking in: Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski has 51 career field goals of 50 yards or longer, including one from 56 yards last week. He is 3-for-4 on attempts of 50 yards or more this season and 15-for-18 overall this season. He also is a perfect 27-for-27 on this season’s longer PATs. If it is a tight affair, he is still a difference-maker.
The bottom line
Interim coach Mike Mularkey admitted recently that he sounds like a broken record, talking about how close the Titans have been to winning games, yet lamenting their inability to do so. The Raiders have not won a ton this year but three of their four victories have been by a touchdown or less.
Until things change, there is no reason to think they will be any different. Expect a tight contest, but it's more likely that Oakland, which has more big-play threats on offense, will do something that turns things in its favor.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Derek Mason certainly embraces the rivalry.
Throughout history, Vanderbilt football coaches have adopted a wide range of attitudes toward the annual matchup with Tennessee. Mason, in his second season, does not run from it. He does not try to downplay the importance of it to his program or the fan base.
If nothing else, that should add some energy to things when the Commodores (4-7, 2-5 in the SEC) and the Volunteers (7-4, 4-3) meet once again Saturday at Neyland Stadium (3 p.m., SEC Network).
“It’s going to be a game between two teams that have a lot to play for,” Mason said. “We only have one guaranteed game left, but it’s not about just that. It’s about what this game means. It means a lot to the people in this state. And to the people here at Vanderbilt. Just know that I know how much it means.”
Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt will win Saturday
• Pushing the limits: Tennessee has not won five straight games since 2007, but that is exactly what it will attempt to do in this one. It’s one thing to learn to win. It’s something different to learn to deal with success and this group of Volunteers is now at a level it has not experienced. Just ask Florida how difficult Vanderbilt can make things on a team (even a good one) awash in prosperity.
• Kicking it: Kicker Tommy Openshaw has missed nine field goal attempts this season. Some of them (see: Western Kentucky and South Carolina) have been particularly costly. Tennessee has had a similar experience. Aaron Medley has missed nine field goals of his own. If it comes down to a kicking contest, the Commodores might not have an advantage but they’re not at an obvious disadvantage, either.
• Time to punt: One of the strengths of Tennessee’s defense is its ability to prevent third-down conversions. Vanderbilt is better in that regard. The Commodores have allowed opponents to convert just 26.1 percent of their third-down opportunities, which is best in the SEC. Tennessee is next with a 27.6 percent conversion rate. The UT offense has been good at converting on third down but has not faced this defense.
Three reasons to believe Vanderbilt won’t win Saturday
• Many happy returns: Vanderbilt will need a decisive and consistent edge in field position in this game. It’s not likely to get it given that Tennessee has the country’s leader in kickoff returns (Evan Berry, pictured) a top 10 punt returner (Cameron Sutton) and a punter who ranks sixth in the country with an average of 45.6 yards per pick. The Volunteers have a lot of ways to gain so called hidden yards.
• Get to the point: Tennessee has played 271 games since the last time it was shut out. That is the fourth-longest active streak among FBS programs and ninth all-time. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, was shut out last week, the second time in four games and third in the last 13 it failed to register a point. Unless both sides decide not to keep score, these are not good indicators for the Commodores.
• On the run: The strength of Vanderbilt’s offense is its run game. Tennessee’s is better. UT is second in the SEC in rushing offense with an average of 213.7 yards per game. Its 24 rushing touchdowns are three times the number the Commodores have mustered. Both teams have a 1,000-yard rusher but Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd averages 4.4 yards per carry while Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb averages 3.9, tied for worst among the SEC’s top 10 rushers.
The bottom line
The Volunteers come into the contest with all kinds of positive momentum. They have won four in a row for the first time since 2010 and they have a chance to get to eight wins for the first time since 2007.
Vanderbilt staggers in having lost three of its last four and ensured of a losing record for the second straight season.
The fact that the game is in Knoxville does not help the Commodores’ cause any. They have to do a whole bunch of things right in order to win this game, and the combination of the Volunteers and their crowd makes it highly unlikely Vanderbilt can do enough of those necessary things.
(Photo: Matthew DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics)
Less than two years into his NFL career, Avery Williamson has become an every-down linebacker. Literally.
The fifth-round pick in 2014 has been on the field for every Tennessee Titans’ defensive snap in each of the last three games and four of the last five. He was the only member of the defense who played all 76 snaps at New Orleans, one of two used on all 68 against Carolina and one of four (but the only linebacker) who played all 60 last Thursday at Jacksonville.
He has been a big part of the defense since he became a starter last October (he has played 92.9 percent of all defensive snaps this season) but it’s clear that he has become someone coaches feel they can’t do without.
PLAYING (ALL THE) TIME
A game-by-game look at the number of snaps Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson has played this season:
at Tampa Bay: 42 of 52 (60 percent)
at Cleveland: 43 of 49 (88 percent)
vs. Indianapolis: 52 of 59 (88 percent)
vs. Buffalo: 47 of 53 (89 percent)
vs. Miami: DNP
vs. Atlanta: 75 of 75 (100 percent)
at Houston: 54 of 64 (84 percent)
at New Orleans: 76 of 76 (100 percent)
vs. Carolina: 68 of 68 (100 percent)
at Jacksonville: 60 of 60 (100 percent)
It has not hurt that the Milan, Tenn. native has made the most of all the playing time he has gotten lately.
Against Carolina on Nov. 15 he set a career-high with 16 tackles, a number only six other players reached during the Tennessee Titans era (1999-present). Five days later at Jacksonville he tied a career-high with three tackles for loss. Last month against Atlanta he recorded his first career interception and with half a sack against the Panthers and one sack against the Jaguars he has gotten to the quarterback in consecutive contests for the first time in his career.
Even though he missed one game with an injury he leads Tennessee with 75 tackles. He is tied for second with seven tackles for loss and had two and a half sacks.
(Photo: Getty Images)
His team’s success has made Keenan Reynolds a candidate for college football’s top individual honor in the eyes of the United States Naval Academy.
Navy officially kicked off a Heisman Trophy campaign for Reynolds, the record-setting quarterback and Goodpasture Christian School graduate, this week with a release titled “Why Keenan Reynolds?”
According to the Capital Gazette, the school’s media relations department refrained from doing so in previous seasons with Reynolds and other top performers because the team did not win enough. With one game remaining this season (Friday against Houston), the Midshipmen are 9-1 and ranked No. 15 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
"It's exciting for Keenan and our program. For what Keenan has done and what our team has done, I think he deserves to be a candidate," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said, according to the Capital Gazette. "Keenan is a great player and an even greater person. I know how hard he has worked and I know how important he is to our team. Keenan deserves all the recognition he gets."
The focal point of a Navy triple-option offense that’s scoring 40 points per game, Reynolds has racked up 1,009 yards and 18 scores on the ground this season. His rushing total is tops in the country for a quarterback, and his touchdown total ranks second overall behind only star Alabama running back Derrick Henry.
Reynolds has already broken the FBS record for most rushing touchdowns in a career (it was 77) and has a chance to continue etching his name in the history books. Reynolds is 66 yards away from breaking former running back Napoleon McCallum’s school record for rushing yards in a career and is two scores away from breaking former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball’s FBS record of 83 total touchdowns.
"I think Keenan deserves it,” Navy offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper told the Capital Gazette. “The criteria is the best football player in the country, on and off the field, but also the player that does the most for his football team. When you look at this season and an entire career, you cannot pick a better person than Keenan who has done that.
"What Keenan has done on the football field speaks for itself, but I think what's more important is what he's done off the field. Why not give the award to a kid who represents his school, his country and the sport in such a first-class way? Keenan is a role model."
(Photo: Getty Images)
For many, Thanksgiving week is an opportunity for a family reunion.
In Philadelphia there is a Fly Boys reunion.
The Philadelphia Eagles promoted former Vanderbilt wide receiver Jonathan Krause from its practice squad on Tuesday and put him on the active roster with former college teammate Jordan Matthews.
The two were part of Bobby Johnson’s final recruiting class at Vanderbilt and developed into critical pieces of the three-year run of success under James Franklin. Krause had 42 receptions for 714 yards and three touchdowns as a senior in 2013, when Matthews became the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading receiver.
They along with fellow wide receiver Chris Boyd, a member of the same signing class, earned the nickname “Fly Boys” because of their knack for big plays. Matthews and Boyd were each among the SEC’s top 10 receivers in 2012.
Boyd’s college career was cut short when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the high-profile rape charges against four former Vanderbilt football players.
Matthews, a second-round draft pick in 2014, is the Eagles’ leading receiver this season with 55 receptions for 565 yards.
Krause (pictured) was undrafted out of college but has spent time with the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad on Sept. 22.
He has not played in an NFL regular season game.
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Tuesday’s game was about Kansas connections.
Now Kevin Stallings comes face-to-face with the source.
Stallings, a one-time assistant coach at Kansas, led his Vanderbilt team to an 86-64 romp over Wake Forest, coached by former Jayhawks great Danny Manning, on Tuesday in the semifinals of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.
That put the 19th-ranked Commodores in the championship game against No. 5 Kansas on Wednesday (9 p.m., ESPN).
“Somebody mentioned it the other night at the banquet and you had [Kansas coach] Bill [Self] and you had (Manning), and you had me. Three guys that had been a part of KU's basketball program. Now let's see which guy kind of came in third in terms of their impact on the program. You've got Bill who has won National Championships. Danny won a National Championship (and was) one of the greatest players to ever play there.
“And I was just a lowly assistant coach. But I was there for five great years with Roy Williams and very proud of my time there. Wonderful place. It's just a wonderful place.”
Maui has been pretty good to the Commodores as well. Against Wake Forest – for the second time in as many days – they jumped out to a big lead at the start and cruised all the way to the finish. In this case they scored the first seven points and led 21-5 after 8:14. Wake Forest got no closer than 13 points in the second half.
Damian Jones led Vanderbilt with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Wade Baldwin added 17 points and two steals.
The Commodores are playing at Maui for the fifth time. They won it in their first appearance back in 1986 and now are one victory away from their second title.
“That's what we expected coming in,” sophomore forward Jeff Roberson said. “We worked hard to get to this point. We didn't expect anything less. We just feel like we're a good group, we work hard and we want it all to pay off.”
For the second straight year, former Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae is among 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The eight-time Pro Bowler is one of six offensive linemen among this year’s semifinalists, released Tuesday night. Four of the other five are tackles.
He is the only one of five former Titans who made the cut. Quarterback Steve McNair, running back Eddie George, linebacker Keith Bulluck and kicker Gary Anderson all were among the 93 players considered.
The Seattle Seahawks drafted Mawae in the second round out of LSU in 1994. He played four seasons with Seattle, eight with the New York Jets and his final four with the Titans. He developed into a Pro Bowl and All-Pro player with the Jets and continued to play at a high level with Tennessee, where he earned the last of his three All-Pro honors (2008) and his final two Pro Bowl appearances (2008 and 2009).
The Hall of Fame committee will vote on the semifinalists by mail to determine a group of 15 finalists in early January. The committee will then debate those individuals at a meeting during Super Bowl week and the 2016 Hall of Fame Class will be revealed on the eve of Super Bowl 50.
The Metro Nashville Football Coaches Association announced its All-Nashville team on Tuesday.
Those selected will be honored at a Dec. 3 banquet at the State Fairgrounds, where a Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year will be named. The latest Metro Football Hall of Fame inductees also will be revealed at that time.
The Metro Football Coaches Association All-Nashville team (source: SportsNashville.net):
QB – Demontez Carlton – McGavock – SR
QB – Julius King – Overton – SR
QB – Jimmy Ferrell- Pearl-Cohn–SR
RB – Emari Barton – Cane Ridge – JR
RB – Kendall Johnson – McGavock –SR
RB – Ke’Juan Vaughn – Pearl-Cohn – JR
WR – Christian Lancaster – Cane Ridge – JR
WR – Rontavius Groves – Pearl-Cohn – S
WR – Jay King – Hillsboro – SR
WR – Thomas Woodard – Whites Creek – SR
WR – Jamal Kirklen – Hillwood – SR
OL – Anthony McLin – Maplewood – SR
OL – Jaelin Fisher – Pearl-Cohn – SR
OL – Chris Chapman – Hillsboro – SR
OL – Tamim Aldarawcheh – Overton – SR
OL – Khalil Jones – Stratford – SR
ATH – Corey Simmons – Stratford – SR
K – Ethan Evors – McGavock – SR
KR – Jimmyrious Parker – Pearl Cohn – SO
DL – Cody Brown – Maplewood – SR
DL – Antowan Malone – Pearl-Cohn – JR
DL – Ed Bambu – Cane Ridge – SR
DL – Malik Huddleston – Whites Creek – SR
DL – Malcom Swann – Pearl-Cohn–SR
LB – Sampson Bradley – Hillsboro – SR
LB – Noah Bayless – Cane Ridge – JR
LB – Gage Smith – Mapelwood – SR
LB – Theo Cortner – Pearl Cohn – SR
DB – Devarius Cortner – East – SR
DB – Shedrick Kirk – McGavock – SR
DB – Theo Jackson – Overton – JR
DB – Malique Fleming – Hillsboro – SR
Antioch: Blake Wiggins – Jr Kelvin Boffah – Sr
Cane Ridge: Austin Jackson – Sr D.J. Thorpe – Jr
East High: Jacob Phillips – Jr Jayron Leatherwood – Jr
Glencliff: Akol Madut –Sr Calvin Wright – Sr
Hillwood: Jordan King – Sr Terron Smith – Sr
Hillsboro: Julian Houston – Jr Roy Hunter – Sr
Hunters Lane: Karon Moseley – Jr Reuben Perrien – Jr
Maplewood: Bo Hodges– Kelando Butler – Sr
McGavock: Nic Haddock– Evan Gowdy
Overton: Kimlee North – Sr Jason Gardner – Sr
Pearl Cohn: Darius Hunter – Jr Jonathan Howse – Sr
Stratford: James Hughes – Sr Ledarius Haynes – Jr
Whites Creek: Brandon Murdic – Justin Howard-Acklen
The general impression is that Mike Mularkey has made a difference as Tennessee Titans head coach.
In the three games since Ken Whisenhunt was fired there have been personnel and scheme adjustments. They even one won game and came from behind in the fourth quarter to do it.
Whether or not any of that is (or will be) enough to convince franchise ownership not to make another change during the offseason is decidedly unclear, and of no interest to Mularkey, whose every move is being studied.
“I’m coaching like I coach the tight ends or I’m an offensive coordinator,” he said Monday. “This is how I coach. I’m not trying to do anything more than my job, and my job is obviously now to have a little bit more control over other areas, but this is not for any other reason but ‘this is how I coach.’
“I’ve got plenty to do other than worry about what’s going to happen after the year. I’ve got to worry about the ‘now,’ right now.”
There were two major factors that led to the selection of Mularkey as interim coach instead of senior assistant/defense Dick Lebeau, who also has been an NFL head coach. One was the fact that management wanted to give Mularkey, a finalist for the job in 2011, a chance to audition. The other was that no one wanted to mess with the defense, which is sixth in yards allowed per game and third in sacks, among other positive signs, in the first year with LeBeau on hand to complement second-year coordinator Ray Horton.
Both work in in Mularkey’s favor, particularly the second. After all, if continuity on the defense was a concern now it likely will be no different six weeks from now.
“You see on both sides of the ball when guys are able to grow in a scheme and have some level of consistency throughout the years they get better and better,” linebacker Derrick Morgan said. “They get more comfortable. I think you’re seeing evidence of that with our defense being in the second year of our scheme and how we’re playing.
“If change occurs, you hope they don’t really touch the defense but that’s just part of the business. Guys, when they come in, like to bring in their own guys.”
As of now, though, players have embraced the switch from Whisenhunt to Mularkey.
“I think things have been real different,” wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “Coach Mularkey has a different attitude about he wants things (run) around here. We’re all trying to take on that attitude.
“He has a tough mentality and he wants things done a certain way. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
But for how long?
(Photo: Getty Images)
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