A Tennessee offense that lacked playmakers last season showed more firepower Saturday in the Orange & White Game that closed spring practice. Freshman receiver Josh Malone led the way by catching six passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns.
The game matched the offense against the defense, with the offense representing the White team and the defense representing the Orange. The White team won 129-100 in a scoring system that awarded each unit points for various achievements.
“He adds a whole other dynamic to our offense,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said of Malone, regarded as one of the nation’s top receivers in the 2014 recruiting class. “I said it in the offseason. We have to be able to throw a 5-yard pass and turn it into a 20-yard gain. That was missing from our offense last year.”
Malone’s performance delighted an announced attendance of 68,548, the second-largest crowd in the Orange & White Game’s 54-year history. Tennessee’s 1986 spring game drew a crowd of 73,801.
Tennessee didn’t have anyone catch more than three touchdown passes or accumulate as many as 500 receiving yards last year as the Vols posted a fourth straight losing season. Malone and sophomore receiver Marquez North should give Tennessee a more potent passing attack this year, though the quarterback position remains unsettled.
North had five receptions for 106 yards and caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Justin Worley. The offense created numerous big plays as the defense struggled with its tackling.
“The explosiveness out of our skill group has been impressive,” Worley said. “It’s been a huge change from Year One (of Jones’ tenure) to Year Two.”
Worley, redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman are competing for the starting quarterback spot. Jones said Saturday all four of them remain in contention for the job.
Dobbs went 6 of 9 for 199 yards with three touchdown passes, including scoring strikes of 49 and 79 yards to Malone. Dobbs also had a 59-yard touchdown run.
Worley was 11 of 13 for 151 yards and one touchdown. Peterman went 8 of 11 for 81 yards and a touchdown. Ferguson was 7 of 12 for 83 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Jones said the quarterbacks still had a long way to go, but he was encouraged by what he saw Saturday.
“I thought our quarterbacks were aggressive,” Jones said. “They were decisive, and they were confident in what they were seeing.”
In a halftime ceremony, former Tennessee star and Pro Bowl linebacker Al Wilson presented linebacker Curt Maggitt with the inaugural Al Wilson Award that goes to the Vols’ most influential leader during spring practice. Guard Kyler Kerbyson was named the team’s most improved offensive player. Defensive end Corey Vereen was selected the most improved defensive player.
During the first half, a moment of silence was held for Bobby Denton, who died Wednesday after working as Tennessee’s public address announcer since 1967. After the moment of silence, the crowd yelled, “It’s Football Time in Tennessee,” which Denton shouted at the start of every home game.