KNOXVILLE — Tennessee scatback Devrin Young’s delayed impact was instant.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder, a true freshman from Bearden making his debut on Saturday against Buffalo after breaking a collarbone in late July, returned the first punt he touched 43 yards to the Bulls’ 48-yard line to help set up the Volunteers’ first touchdown.
He also returned a kickoff 34 yards and took an end around six yards.
“Devrin’s a little guy, but man, a lot of speed, explosive, quick,” Tennessee sophomore receiver-running back Rajion Neal said. “You can just see in some of the things he do that he can be a playmaker, and he will be a playmaker. It was great seeing him take that first punt return the way he did.”
You can almost hear the crowd waiting to exhale when Young touches the ball. Of course, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley holds his breath, too.
Young coughed up the ball on another kickoff return to give Buffalo possession at the Tennessee 23 midway through the fourth quarter.
“He had two good returns,” Dooley said. “I hope he can continue to do that. It was good to get a little energy going in the return game, and hopefully that’ll energize the guys blocking. But he put the ball on the ground, too. So y’all know why now I had him carry the ball all week. Didn’t help, but maybe it did. Maybe he would have fumbled five. It was kind of a good ‘get your feet wet,’ and then we’ll see how we can progress.” It’s hard to foresee Young being an every-down back in the SEC. Durability could be an issue with his frame, but the Vols can certainly pick their spots to get him in space even when he’s not returning kicks or punts.
“I feel he can (stay healthy), as long as he stays quick, fast, elusive,” Neal said. “I mean, I don’t see no problem why (not). He’s just got to know the right way to fall, the correct way to get hit.”
Two other true freshmen made significant impacts in their debuts. Defensive linemen Jordan Williams and Alan Carson got numerous snaps in their debuts, and Williams had a sack.
“We need bodies,” Dooley said, “and they’re doing a good job. … Jordan got a sack. I told the D-line we had to put a true freshman in to get a sack.”
Senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson isn’t surprised Carson and Williams are contributing.
“Alan Carson’s come a long way, worked really hard,” Jackson said. “Jordan Williams is a tremendous kid, you know, came in in the summertime and we thought he’s gonna be ready to play. They just took the coaching to heart. They stay in their playbooks. They’re always in the coaches’ office. They’re always asking questions.”
Another true freshman making his first start was tight end Brendan Downs, a Tennessee High alumnus.
Other true freshmen continue to shine. Linebacker Curt Maggitt had a team-high seven tackles and A.J. Johnson added six stops.
DeAnthony Arnett caught two touchdown passes.
The Vols have played 15 true freshmen this season. Dooley used 17 in his first season in Knoxville in 2010.
“Hopefully, next year — two less again,” Dooley said.
Dooley was able to redshirt freshman Matt Darr last year. Darr’s 15-yard run got one of the biggest roars from the crowd in the second half on Saturday. He picked up a punt he had blocked and appeared to set up two blocks while weaving his way upfield, although he was probably just running for his life.
Darr’s dash didn’t cool Dooley after seeing the punt blocked. In fact, it punctuated a poor half that took some of the satisfaction out of the victory.
“It was embarrassing,” Dooley said. “They rushed one guy, and we just released. It’s lazy. It’s a microcosm of what we looked like on offense the second half. It’s ridiculous. We’re not even blocking. It had nothing to do with anything, other than a guy just choosing not to do what he’s coached to do. That’s all it was.”
Notes: Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray has passed for at least two TDs in the 10 straight games, a streak that is second nationally behind Boise State’s Kellen Moore (16). Heath Shuler holds the UT record (18). Bray’s four TD passes Saturday give him 32 in his career, which moves him past Jeff Francis into eighth on the Vols’ all-time list. … Redshirt sophomore defensive back Izauea Lanier made his first career start. The junior college transfer had a tackle and a breakup.