KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will try to recover from a devastating defeat without one of its emotional leaders.
Volunteers coach Butch Jones said Monday that defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt would miss “an extended period of time” after injuring his hip Saturday in a 31-24 overtime loss to No. 16 Oklahoma, which was ranked 19th at the time of the game.
Maggitt, a fifth-year senior from West Palm Beach, Florida, had 14 tackles for loss and a team-high 11 sacks last season. The presence of Maggitt and Derek Barnett allowed Tennessee (1-1) to enter the season as the only Football Bowl Subdivision that returned two double-digit sack producers from 2014.
“This young man means everything to us, not just from a character standpoint and a leadership standpoint, but his productivity,” Jones said.
Jones said the injury happened while Maggitt was on a punt coverage unit guarding against a potential fake. Jones said Maggitt was trying to avoid an Oklahoma player when he hurt his hip.
“It’s just a true freak injury,” Jones said.
Maggitt already missed the entire 2013 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in November 2012. When healthy, he has been one of Tennessee’s top players. He already has seven overall tackles and three tackles for loss this season despite missing the majority of the Oklahoma game.
Teammates said Maggitt will find ways to help the team even if he’s not on the field.
“He’s a vocal leader, so regardless of what happens, he’ll be there for us,” sophomore safety Todd Kelly Jr. said.
Maggitt’s absence hampers a defensive line that is already missing defensive tackle Danny O’Brien, who remains suspended for a violation of team rules and policies.
Junior Corey Vereen got the largest share of playing time in Maggitt’s spot after the injury. Jones said freshman defensive end Kyle Phillips also would have a chance to earn an expanded role this week when Tennessee hosts Football Championship Subdivision program Western Carolina (1-1).
“We had defensive linemen taking 85, 90 snaps (against Oklahoma),” Jones said. “That’s unheard of, so there has to be a great sense of urgency from everyone else in our program to have a great week of practice so we can build that depth that we talked about when the season started.”
Jones also said Tennessee would play a second straight game Saturday without injured reserve safety Max Arnold and reserve running back Ralph David Abernathy IV. Arnold has a sprained medial collateral ligament. Abernathy has an ankle sprain.
Safety LaDarrell McNeil is expected to play. He missed Tennessee’s first two games with what Jones described as “neck instability.”
Even with McNeil, the Vols will be at less than full strength as they attempt to bounce back after blowing a 17-0 advantage against Oklahoma, which marked the largest lead the Vols had ever relinquished in a home loss. Tennessee’s largest overall blown lead in a loss was a 21-point margin when it fell 28-27 to Maryland in the 1984 Sun Bowl.
The Vols vowed not to let the collapse against Oklahoma have any sort of hangover effect. Jones said he refused “to allow any negativity to creep in and around our football program.” Junior cornerback Cam Sutton said the loss “doesn’t define our season.”
“There’s no crying over spilled milk,” senior safety Brian Randolph said. “We still have all our dreams in front of us. We can still win the East, still win the SEC championship, still make it to the playoff. It’s a tough loss. We’re all hurt about it. But we know we’ve still got a lot to play for.”