KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ellix Wilson has waited behind some talented linebackers for his chance to start for Tennessee.
His performance at UCLA showed that he’s learned a lot in the past four years.
"It’s been long, that’s all I can say," Wilson said as he drew in a deep breath. "God has blessed me and just told me to hang in there and (offensive coordinator John Chavis) has told me to hang in there. And I did."
The 5-foot-10, 225-pound redshirt senior led the Vols (0-1) with 12 tackles and a sack in their 27-24 overtime loss to the Bruins. It was a performance that drew praise in a week when coach Phillip Fulmer was not quick to hand out compliments.
"Ellix Wilson played one of the best football games that a linebacker’s played here in a long time against UCLA," Fulmer said. "That’s a real plus when you’re trying to replace a guy like Jerod Mayo."
As a freshman in 2004, the Memphis native played mostly on special teams and recorded seven tackles.
He took a medical redshirt the next season to allow his knee to heal after surgery.
In 2006, he played in every game behind starter Marvin Mitchell and recorded 13 tackles, including five against LSU.
Wilson had thought he might get his chance to be a starter in 2007 until coaches decided to switch Mayo from weakside linebacker to the inside slot.
Mayo recorded 140 tackles there — more than any other Southeastern Conference player — and earned All-SEC honors while Wilson resorted to backup duty again.
Wilson still found ways to shine even behind Mayo. He blocked a punt against Georgia that set up a touchdown and recorded three sacks in season that was fairly low on sacks.
He finally earned his first start in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl, filling in for an academically ineligible Rico McCoy and recording six tackles.
"They always say you’re only one player away," Wilson said. "You practice hard and you just keep your head in there and when you step into the role you take full advantage of it. They tell you never to look back."
There were times during the past four seasons that he wanted to give up. He talked to his brother Cedrick Wilson, a former Vols and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, even though the elder Wilson started much sooner.
But Cedrick Wilson told him the same thing that Ellix had heard from Chavis: Hang in there.
"Playing in coach Chavis’ system, he’s always going to try to play five linebackers so I was always the next one in line. I’ve been the next one in line for the last maybe two or three years," he said.
"And here I am now starting at the University of Tennessee."
Stephen Garcia’s time at quarterback is coming for South Carolina. Not Saturday against No. 2 Georgia, coach Steve Spurrier says, but possibly soon.
Spurrier and the Gamecocks have been looking for an answer to inconsistent quarterback play. Junior Tommy Beecher and sophomore Chris Smelley have been uneven in a win over North Carolina State and a loss to Vanderbilt. So talk has naturally centered on Garcia, a redshirt freshman who had missed the past two spring practices because of suspension.
"He’s coming around," Spurrier said this week. "I don’t think he’s ready to go this week yet, but he’s been getting a lot of snaps."
Garcia took about 25 snaps in South Carolina’s "Monday night football" scrimmage for younger players, Spurrier said.
Spurrier says Garcia has worked hard, is studying plays and attending meetings. "His attitude has improved from last year when he was just around," Spurrier said.
Garcia was part of Spurrier’s 2007 class and considered by many South Carolina fans the team’s next great quarterback. That coronation was delayed when Garcia had three run-ins with authorities since arriving on campus 20 months ago. He did not work out with the team this summer because of a school suspension.
"I think Stephen has matured a bit," Spurrier said. "Hopefully (he) wants to do the right things around here."
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was concerned about special teams after the season opener.
In Game 2, a concern became a crisis.
"The second quarter was a meltdown by our special teams," Petrino said.
Arkansas gained more than twice as many yards as Louisiana-Monroe in the first half Saturday night, but the Razorbacks trailed at halftime and had to rally for a 28-27 win. The Hogs’ early momentum came to a halt thanks to á series of mistakes on special teams.
Kicker Alex Tejada missed two field goals in the first quarter and an extra point in the second.
Tejada was also called for delay of game on a kickoff, then kicked the ball out of bounds for another penalty.
Jeremy Davis’ punt was blocked, giving Louisiana-Monroe the ball at the Arkansas 21-yard line.
Freshman Dennis Johnson fielded a kickoff near the sideline and accidentally stepped out of bounds at the Arkansas 5.
That was all before halftime.
"We should have been up by 14 or 21 points and we weren’t," Petrino said. "That always comes back to haunt you."
In the third quarter, Louisiana-Monroe’s Robert Williams ran a kickoff back to near midfield, where Davis — who had kicked off — needed to make a strong tackle to prevent an even longer return.
In the fourth, Shay Haddock came on and made two extra points for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas beat Western Illinois 28-24 the previous weekend. In that game, freshman Elton Ford fumbled away the opening kickoff, and Petrino was dissatisfied with Davis’ distance on kickoffs.
"One of the problems we’re having is that we have so many young guys that are playing on regular offense and defense," Petrino said. "And then all of a sudden they’re on special teams too and they’re getting a little overwhelmed."
Florida running back Emmanuel Moody hasn’t contribute much in the first two games of the season.
He carried twice for two yards in the opener against Hawaii, sprained an ankle and sat out the rest of the game.
He didn’t even play last week against Miami, sitting out for undisclosed reasons.
But coach Urban Meyer has vowed to make Moody a bigger part of the offense when the fourth-ranked Gators (2-0) play Tennessee on Sept. 20.
"We’re expecting a lot out of him," Meyer said. "Yeah, we’re going to get going."
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer says cornerback Brent Vinson will play against UAB on Saturday after serving a one-game suspension.
Vinson did not travel with Tennessee (0-1) to UCLA because of an unspecified academic problem. The Vols lost 27-24 in overtime on Sept. 1.