Another football season is under way at Tennessee, so let the uniform combinations begin.
After wearing their traditional home threads of orange jerseys and white pants during this past weekend's 49-13 drubbing of Virginia in Nashville, the Volunteers will display their "Smokey Grey" look Saturday against Austin Peay but with a new wrinkle. There will be orange across the shoulders, evoking the early 1970s when the dynamic Condredge Holloway quarterbacked the Vols.
Saturday's game inside Neyland Stadium will mark the 51-year anniversary of Holloway becoming the Southeastern Conference's first Black starting quarterback. The No. 15 Vols routed Georgia Tech 34-3 on Sept. 9, 1972, with that contest taking place inside Neyland and on ABC television.
Holloway, whose elusiveness earned him the nickname "Artful Dodger," would guide the 1972 Vols to a 10-2 season that included a 28-21 victory over Penn State and tough losses to Auburn (10-6) in Birmingham and to Alabama (17-10) in Knoxville.
"It's a pretty special opportunity to honor a great legacy," Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said Monday in a news conference. "He's somebody who has meant so much through who he is, his character, how he handled himself here and his post-playing career as well, and the legacy he has left behind.
"The Smokey Greys will be worn in a pattern that were similar to the uniform he wore while he was here. The Smokeys are something our players and recruits get excited about, and hopefully our fan base does, too."
Saturday afternoon's game against the Governors starts at 5, and it can be viewed via the ESPN+ and the SEC Network+ streaming options.
This will be the eighth different uniform combination Tennessee has displayed in its last 11 games dating back to last season's win at LSU, when they wore all grey. The Vols wore all black during last October's defeat of Kentucky, and their three road looks in the back half of last season contained white jerseys and orange pants at Georgia, orange helmets with white jerseys and white pants at South Carolina, and the all-white "Stormtrooper" look at Vanderbilt.
The Vols wore orange jerseys and orange pants last October against UT Martin and have worn the orange jerseys and white pants against Alabama, Missouri, Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and again versus Virginia. The seven different combinations displayed last year set a Tennessee single-season fashion record, and another look has arrived.
"I really like them," fifth-year senior receiver Bru McCoy said of this week's uniforms. "It's like a combination of the Smokey Grey with like a throwback twist to it. It's something new. It's something different.
"I'm glad we get to bring them out and honor Condredge Holloway."
No need to talk
McCoy was asked Monday about Ramel Keyton dropping a pass from Joe Milton III midway through Saturday's first quarter that would have resulted in a huge gain.
"I've watched Ramel probably catch a hundred deep balls every single day after practice and in his free time," McCoy said. "A contested ball is almost easier. When you're running wide open down the field in front of a packed stadium and you can think about it, it's like one of the hardest catches you can possibly make.
"You don't need to say anything. He's hard enough on himself."
It's been a while
Tennessee has played four consecutive games away from Neyland Stadium since last November's 66-24 humbling of Missouri.
"I look forward to seeing 102,000 of our closest friends," Heupel said. "It's been a long time since we've been inside that stadium with our fans, and we're looking forward to that. For a lot of our guys, it's the first opportunity they're going to have to drive by the Vol Navy and walk in front of 40,000 fans in the Vol Walk before the game and then run out to 102,000."
Despite playing without starting center Cooper Mays, the Vols amassed 287 rushing yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry against the Cavaliers, and they gave up one sack for a 1-yard loss.
"I thought for the moving parts that we had and the different guys who played at center, the communication and getting all five guys on the same page as far as where our targets were — they did a really solid job," Heupel said. "You're looking at eight guys who played a ton of snaps and maybe 13 who played throughout the course of the game, and there are a lot of things we've got to clean up.
"All in all, it was a really solid performance by those guys."
Sixth-year senior guard Ollie Lane got the start at center, but also playing there was fifth-year senior tackle Dayne Davis.
"Dayne didn't take reps there until Coop went down," Heupel said. "When we looked at things, we felt like he had an opportunity, but we didn't know if he would handle it well or how he would respond in there. He's really smart, and he can communicate at a really high level.
"It's been pretty seamless for him in the middle of it. He's done a great job and is really natural there."
Odds and ends
Tennessee's lone game against Austin Peay was a 45-0 win in 2013, which was the opening contest of the Butch Jones era. ... Defensive tackle Omari Thomas and defensive end Tyler Baron returned from injuries in the Virginia game, and Heupel said receiver Squirrel White could have as well had the outcome been in question. ... Heupel said that Brigham Young transfer linebacker Keenan Pili got a game ball following his first appearance with the Vols.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].