There aren't many positives for UT to take away from Saturday's gut-wrenching 14-10 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores, but for senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James, one surfaced the instant he took to the field.
When the offense broke the huddle and snapped the ball two minutes and 9 seconds into the ballgame, the Suwanee, Ga., native tied the Tennessee record for the most career starts by an offensive lineman with 48.
"I don't even know how to speak about that. I feel lucky, basically," James said about the record. "I got an opportunity when I was young, and God blessed me without me getting hurt over all these games."
The right tackle who has been a fixture of the offensive line since his freshman season – he has started in every Tennessee football game in his four-year career – even got a surprise visit after the game from Jeff Smith (1992-95), the man whose record he tied.
"The cool thing was I got to meet the guy (Smith) whose record I tied this past week after the game," James said. "He came up to me after the game and said, 'I appreciate you. I've been watching you over the years, and I wouldn't want to tie with any other guy.' He feels like I just need to go out here and keep competing, keep playing and one day somebody will break my record."
First-year head coach Butch Jones praised James as one of the most influential players on the team, and one who has helped lay the foundation for what Jones believes will be the future successes of this program.
"He's a high character individual," Jones said. "Football means everything to him. This football team means everything to him ... I can't say enough about Ja'Wuan."
North Goes Down: Lost among all the talk of everything that occurred during Vanderbilt's 12-play, 92-yard game-winning drive was the Vols' inability to do anything offensively.
Tennessee amassed a grand total of 53 yards passing in the game and had an even more terrifying total of 16 prior to their final drive.
A sizable part of the Vols' inefficient passing attack stemmed from the loss of standout freshman wide receiver Marquez North who injured his right ankle in the first quarter.
"That really hurt us offensively," said Jones following Saturday's game. "That is our one speed weapon out on the perimeter. When he left the game, that really hurt us in our throw game."
With a trip to Commonwealth Stadium less than a week away, North's status remains uncertain and will have to be something that the Volunteer faithful keep an eye on throughout the week.
"He's day-to-day, and I'll know more as the week progresses," Jones said.
Helping Dobbs: In his first three career starts as the Tennessee quarterback, Joshua Dobbs has not only been unable to win a game for the Vols, but he also hasn't recorded a touchdown.
Even though the Alpharetta, Ga., native has made more than a few freshman mistakes throughout the past three games, Jones made it clear on Monday that the true freshman will be under center in the Vols' season finale.
"Josh will be our starting quarterback," Jones said. "I think Josh has to continue to progress. I thought Saturday he showed his age a little bit. ... But again, Josh has already been in, and that is the maturation phase of a young quarterback playing."
Jones also added that while he understands the quarterback will always get the blame when an offense struggles, he believes the other 10 members of the offensive unit need to do more.
"Everyone wants to point to Josh with the interceptions, and he's the quarterback, and you take full responsibility and accountability for that, but it was the other players around him," Jones said. "It's up to the receivers and running backs and tight ends to paint clear pictures for the quarterback.
"So, I think it's everyone else around him that's responsible for his performance."