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Tennessee's kicking game is a bizarre but absolutely essential element this year. The shoeless All-America placekicker, Ricky Townsend, who made all 31 of his PATs in 1972 and 12 of 19 field goals, is back with his bare big toe. He may also punt—with his shoe on, plus a special elbow brace to keep his arm properly extended when he drops the ball onto his foot. "It sure sounds flaky," admits Battle, "but what's a little eccentricity with a kicker like that?"
The Tennessee schedule has six fairly weak opponents and five genuine tough guys, including Auburn and Alabama. It should be another winning year for the Battle-hardened Volunteers—but not perfect, gol darn it.
Venerable Shug Jordan was named the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and placed second to John McKay for the national honor, but the Dallas Bonehead Club best recognized his accomplishments in 1972. Following the graduation loss of Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and his trusty receiver, Terry Beasley, the Tigers were supposed to disappear for a while. But Jordan blew it: he failed to tell his ragamuffins they were supposed to lose 10 games, whereupon they finished 10-1, including a 17-16 upset of unbeaten Alabama.
Jordan is realistic this time around. "We will not have any psychological advantage going for us," he says. "We will be playing people who will be smarting from last year. They will be looking us up every Saturday, not standing around waiting for us to come to them. That fact in itself should be a challenge."
Another problem is Jordan's typical "Who's he?" offense. Just when Tailback Terry Henley was gaining an identity (216 carries for 843 yards) he graduated, leaving seven offensive and six defensive returnees. Quarterback Randy Walls led the Tigers to nine of their 10 regular-season victories, but hurt a knee in Gator Bowl preparations, forcing untested Wade Whatley to debut against powerful Colorado. The result: Auburn 24-3. With Walls also absent from spring practice, Jordan wanted Whatley to gain experience and poise, but Whatley injured his hip and missed most of the workouts. Fullback Rusty Fuller and Wing-back Thomas Gossom return along with one side of the offensive line, Tight End Rob Spivey, Tackle Andy Steele, Guard Bob Farrior and Center Steve Taylor. Despite the loss of Henley, the Tigers could be strongest at tailback with sophomores Mitzi Jackson and Chris Linderman. Both are hard runners with breakaway speed, and Jordan would like to open things up by improving his passing attack. Walls (97) and Whatley (four) threw only 101 passes all season, something Sullivan just about accomplished in two games.
Defensively, Tackles Benny Sivley, All-SEC, and Bob Newton return. So do Linebackers Bill Luka, Ken Bernich and Bill Newton and Sideback David Langner. Ends Rusty Deen and David Hughes and Sideback Jim McKinney also contribute to a well-regarded defense.
Jordan is no bonehead when he observes, "There will be a similarity to last year in that we will have to fight for every inch...."