KNOXVILLE - Despite being without two of its top offensive players in quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter, Tennessee will have to run out of the “T” with confidence Saturday when the Vols attempt to become the first team to defeat No. 1-ranked LSU this season.
“I hope they believe they can do it,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “Our guys have to go believe they can go fight anybody. This is Tennessee. I don’t care how many guys we lose. We are still Tennessee. We fought them good last year. I know this – if we don’t come believing we can win and playing to our capacity, then it’s going to look like what happened last week. They’re going to embarrass you.”
With a “next man up” philosophy, the Vols can’t waste any time sulking over who won’t put on pads Saturday.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for Tennessee and they’re not going to feel sorry for me,” Dooley said. “That’s OK. I’m not going to in the tank because we have had some things happen to us that make it a lot more challenging. Anybody can go in the tank and blame.
“We just have to find solutions and that is what we are going to do. With good energy, go out there and compete – compete like men. And that’s what we should do.”
Waiting for Tennessee’s solutions are the LSU Tigers, who come to Knoxville this weekend with a perfect 6-0 record.
“They have good players, but they are the same age as us,” offensive lineman Alex Bullard said. “If we go out there and play the way we are capable of playing, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to give them a good game.”
That’s just what the Vols did at LSU last year, but fell short, 16-14. The way that game ended left a bitter taste in the team’s mouth, but the Vols have moved on.
After the clock expired with the Vols ahead 14-10, official replay showed the Vols had too many men on the field. With one last shot, LSU’s Stevan Ridley ran in the winning touchdown from one yard out.
“Last year was last year,” defensive lineman Malik Jackson said. “It was a different team and a different season. This year, they’re number one and coming into our house. We just have to go out there and know what we can do. We look back at the film and we played a pretty good game. We almost had them. Knowing that, we know we can go out this week and if we just play a stout game like we did last time, we can hopefully get a win.”
Tennessee has defeated a number one-ranked team twice, the first coming in 1959 against LSU, 14-13, at Neyland Stadium.
“Every game you should come ready to play but certainly when you have the number one team, the opportunity to do something special should get you more excited,” Dooley said.
SIMMS TO START
With Bray out for an estimated six weeks with a fractured right thumb, senior quarterback Matt Simms will make his first start of the season and ninth at Tennessee when the Vols take the field Saturday.
Simms started in the Vols’ 16-14 loss at LSU last season, completing 12-of-23 passes for 121 yards and rushing for a touchdown.
The senior has maintained a positive attitude throughout his time as a Vol.
“Matt has been great and I’m proud of Matt to this point,” Dooley said. “Of course we all know how disappointed he was last year when we made the switch and it’s tough to go out there and watch the other guy light it up, which is what Tyler did. Of course then it is the talk of ,‘Is he coming back or is he transferring?’
“I told Matt we were going to need him this year. He brings a lot of leadership ability. He has been in the fire before. He has a real good command of the offense and he has prepared every week like he is a starter. This is his time and we will see how he does.”
Junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner is one three Louisiana natives on the Vols’ roster. Being from Clinton, La., Waggner has a lot of friends that go to school at LSU giving him a little extra motivation again his homestate team.
“It’s pretty big for me,” said Waggner. “I have a lot of family members coming up from Baton Rouge to come see the game. A lot of high school classmates that I went to school with, they attend LSU now, so they are already sending me text messages and calling me. It’s fun.”
Waggner comes off a career-high 11 tackles in the loss to Georgia. Looking ahead to the gameweek versus the Tigers, Waggner is focused on the task at hand, facing the Tigers on the field.
“I will just talk to them (friends and former classmates) after the game,” Waggner said. “Throughout the day, I don’t think about it. I just think about having a good positive practice and I deal with things like that on my social time.”
After the Volunteers rushed for -20 yards against Georgia on Saturday, much of the postgame analysis focused on a lack of communication on the offensive line.
For Dooley, however, that is ‘mouse manure’ and the answer can be boiled down to a much simpler solution.
“The communication issue is not why we are -20 rushing yards,” Dooley said. “It is a knock somebody’s ‘you-know-what’ backwards. I think that’s mouse manure. Have you ever heard that old statement? We’re over here worrying about mouse manure when we are up to our ears in elephant ‘you-know-what.’ That’s mouse manure. The communication is fine. Look, it requires a lot more communication in pass protection and we are doing good in pass pro, we really are. Knock on wood.
“We are seeing a lot of improvement in a lot of areas. We are seeing continuity getting better, but the reality is we can’t punch some guys out and run the football. I know the issue.”
Senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson
(On not worrying about the injuries on offense)
“We just have to go out there and do our job. We can’t worry about what the offense has going, what they’re doing or if their stuff is working or not. We just have to go out there, play stout football, work and give them a chance to score. Even if they don’t score on the drive, we have to go out there and stop their offense. We just go out there, play stout and keep us in the game with our defensive play.”
(On the gameplan against LSU)
“They have a good run game. The O-Line is pretty stout and their running back is a pretty tough guy. Just like any other team, we just have to go out there and play physical. It starts in the trenches. We have to hit the running back repeatedly and kind of make him soften up. That’s what we’re going to try to do. We’re going to get the gameplan this week, work hard in practice and go out Saturday and try to have fun.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Jacques Smith
(On LSU running back Spencer Ware)
“He’s a good back. He’s really big. He’s talented. He’s a sophomore starting for LSU so that’s a good thing. All we have to do is take him to the ground. That’s our game plan is limit their running ability and make it a one-dimensional game. On the quarterback side, we don’t know who we’re going to get but all we know is we’re going to continue to improve on pass rushing and affect the quarterback this week.”
(On forcing turnovers)
“Turnovers definitely come when the quarterback is pressured. If you force him to make a bad throw, interceptions will come. Two big things that people say we are lacking is interceptions and fumbles. That’s just something we’re going to continue to work on in practice and highly emphasize this week.”
Senior defensive lineman Ben Martin
(On overcoming adversity)
“Whenever you have guys that go down, we need to have another one to step up. That’s what we have to do in this situation, just like always. Injuries are a part of the game. We are a team. We are going to practice this week and we are going to get through it as always.”
(On giving advice to injured players)
“I try to give them words of advice and words of wisdom, ‘Don’t feel bad for yourself, because things will get better.’ It’s just going to take time to do it. Justin is a great guy. Tyler will be alright. I think he will be OK with it.”
Junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner
(On stopping LSU’s rushing attack)
“LSU is a run-first team. Throughout the Georgia game we were basically crowding the box and looking to stop the run, so that will be the gameplan this week as well.”
Sophomore center James Stone
(On the team’s reaction to Tyler Bray’s injury)
“It’s a big loss. We want to be able to support Tyler but still look forward and be able to support Matt (Simms), knowing he can transition in and take the team as we go in and get ready to play this week.”
(On the confidence level with Matt Simms)
“We are pretty confident with Matt. He does well in practice, he was able to get a lot of experience last year and we’ve all played with him before so it we are pretty confident with him going into this game.”
(On his chemistry with Simms)
“I’ve had a lot of time with Matt before, but this week we are really going to try to get a lot of extra (work) in just to make sure we get back together and get cool, get that chemistry going with me and him.”
(On the offensive line’s confidence level)
“Right now, confidence is building because I feel like we’ve been doing a lot better with our preparation and I feel like we have improved. That increases our confidence. As we continue to improve, I feel like we are earning more confidence.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Alex Bullard
(On the offensive line’s confidence level)
“We are building our confidence. The biggest thing that I see is that all of the mistakes are correctable. It’s not like in the running game we are just getting beat or just getting manhandled at the line of scrimmage, it is just little details that we can easily correct. When we do that, our running game will be much improved.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)