KNOXVILLE - Fast starts on the road are often emphasized as important. But regardless of the Vols’ opening act Saturday at Florida, fast or slow, they know their first road game of the season will take a few knockout punches.
“If we have a bad start early, the game is not over,” head coach Derek Dooley said after Tuesday’s practice at Haslam Field. “It’s not, ‘We have to get a good start.’ It’s early start, here’s what we try to do. If it doesn’t work, we go to the second quarter and do this. If it does work, we have to maintain it the second quarter. I’m not into that like you all are. ‘We have to come out there early.’ It’s a heavyweight title fight. If you don’t win the first round, it doesn’t mean you’re done.”
Cincinnati scored the opening touchdown against Tennessee, but the Vols kept fighting and scored 28 of the next 35 points. UT will need to battle that kind of adversity in a similar fashion Saturday.
“The communication is going to be really important because of the crowd noise,” Dooley said. “It’s a new environment and we’ll see how we can handle it, especially when something bad happens and the crowd getting juice. How are we going to handle them? We just have to maintain our composure. That’s going to be a real important word for us this week, is composure. Because if you lose your composure on the road against a good team in a big stadium – watch out. The game can get away from you.”
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most intimidating atmospheres, but that might have something to do with Florida’s success playing at home. The Vols hope to make the crowd a non-factor by continuing the kind of play that has led them to a 2-0 start.
“To me, it all depends on how the home team plays and the kind of game it is, what’s at stake,” Dooley said. “I’ve been in six, seven stadiums in this league where you can make an argument that this is the toughest place to play in college football. It just depends.
“I’ve been in stadiums where one game it was the toughest place to play in college football and the next game, we didn’t even notice them. It all depends on how you play and how the other team plays. That’s what really dictates the environment.”
While the Vols will pipe in noise at practice this week, nothing can replicate what they’ll experience this weekend.
“We do every week but you can’t simulate The Swamp,” Dooley said. “I think Cincinnati played Rocky Top all week and crowd noise, but you can’t simulate it. Really all the crowd noise do is helps you have to verbally communicate things when you can’t hear. It keeps you focused in on what you need to be focusing on.
“So we’ll do it but there’s no way to simulate it. That’s why I say you have to get scars on you. You have to go down there and do it and then it doesn’t affect you as much.”
Much like with things that happen during the game, Dooley doesn’t want the result of it too have a huge effect either.
“It’s not the end of the world if you lose and it’s not a giant celebration if you win,” he said. “But it’s like getting a good jump on somebody so it is big. It’s important. They’re all big. Certainly the East, when you’re playing in your own division, it means even a little more in the standings and all that.”
Tennessee began installation of its game plan on Tuesday for the second straight week.
“They were a little better today,” Dooley said. “Tuesday is hard because we throw so much new stuff at them from the game plan. They don’t really have that Monday. We don’t throw it at them Sunday because we’re not ready for it. Tuesday is always a hard day mentally. The tempo is never what you want it to be. They were better, but I think it’s always going to be tough.”
Despite the magnitude of Saturday’s game, the Vols remained level-headed during Tuesday’s session.
“I don’t know why we would be tense,” Dooley said. “It was just a normal practice. Tuesday, this isn’t the time to be all high anxiety. They’re too busy learning the plays. They’re too busy learning the plays. We had a lot of screw-ups today and we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”
Battling back from a fractured right collarbone suffered in August, freshman tailback/specialist Devrin Young has made progress and may see his first career action against the Gators.
“He’s doing good,” Dooley said. “He got hit today which is good. We put him on scout team running back so he can go in there and get some licks and catch the ball well. I told him I’d probably be called the dumbest coach in college football if I put him back there in The Swamp.”
That doesn’t mean Young won’t play.
“I’m thinking about it, yeah,” Dooley said. “It isn’t the first dumb thing I’ve done. I’m not scared. I don’t have to catch it.”
Coming off the best performance of his career last Saturday and a showering of accolades following the Cincinnati game, sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray was back at work on Tuesday with his same mild-mannered, calm demeanor as the Vols prepare to open SEC play at Florida on Saturday.
“It’s just another game,” Bray said. “We have to go out there, play our style of football and not let them dictate the tempo.”
While Dooley described Florida’s tailbacks with the word ‘speed,’ on Monday, Bray went with a similar word to describe the Gators’ personnel on the other side of the ball.
“(They are a) fast, fast defense. Good up front with great linebackers and great secondary.”
On the defensive front, he said the Gators are the “best we have seen so far.”
With the Vols, Bray applauded his offensive line for their pass blocking early on in 2011 which has enabled him to throw for 698 yards in two games, fourth-most in the NCAA.
“It has gotten better since they are finally understanding what they need to do and the concept of what Coach Chaney wants them to do,” Bray said.
Bray is excited to play at the Swamp for the first time, his first start outside of the state of Tennessee.
“I can’t wait. It’s going to be fun,” Bray said.
All’s Fine With Dallas
After leaving last Saturday’s game vs. Cincinnati with an injury, left tackle Dallas Thomas was back on the practice field Tuesday with no ill effects of a sprained knee.
“I’m fine and ready to go,” said the lone upperclassman on the Vols’ starting offensive line. “We did an MRI the next day (Sunday) and I felt good. Everything worked out for the best.”
Thomas was happy his fellow linemen demonstrated their OLP (Offensive Line Pride) as sophomore Alex Bullard shifted from left guard to left tackle and freshman Marcus Jackson filled in at left guard.
“They did really good,” Thomas said. “Alex played some tackle in the spring and Marcus got a lot of reps at guard in the spring, too. The process has come along real well.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On being able to adjust during a play)
“You can’t just go out there and play backyard ball. But there are times within the system that you have to be a player and use your creativity to make a play. Maybe they’re playing the coverage a little differently, maybe something happens that you’re not ready for and those guys are confident enough to do that.”
(On playing Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers at all three receiver positions)
“We started doing that in training camp because when you have some pretty good wideouts, what you can’t do is just put them in the same spot all the time. Any average defense could take them away, much less a good one. We’ll try to keep moving them all over and create ways to get the ball to them. Hopefully, they can continue their production. “
(On the importance of giving Tyler Bray time to throw)
“We’re going to have to block for these guys. It doesn’t matter how open you are, if you can’t deliver the ball to them it doesn’t matter. That’s going to be our biggest challenge. This is as athletic and big as a defensive front as you’ll see in college football. They’re good. They just roll right through the offensive line.”
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray
(On his tall receivers vs. Florida’s shorter secondary)
“I wouldn’t say it gives us a big advantage, because they are fast and quick. Florida’s DBs are always really fast and they are great ball hawks.”
(On his Tennessee’s losing streak to the Gators)
“We don’t talk about it at all. It’s not something that ever comes up. We are a new team. We are just trying to keep the winning tradition alive.”
Junior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas
(On Florida’s Front Seven)
“All of their guys are real explosive. They are real quick and have good hand moves. Coach Hiestand is really drilling us on hand moves and moving off the ball faster than we have been doing.”
(On the offensive line not allowing a sack vs. Cincinnati)
“That’s because we had a mindset during the whole week of getting the job done and communicating. (We) went out with a purpose to understand what our job is how can we execute the job and get the job done.”
Sophomore wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers
(On being a big part of the UT offense)
“It’s really a dream come true. A lot of people don’t want (the defense) to key on them, but I want them to key on me. The more they key on me that opens Justin (Hunter) up, that opens Zach (Rogers) up and that opens (Tauren) Poole up. We’re all just going to play together and see what happens.”
(On how important this game is)
“It’s pretty important. It’s the first SEC game, but the way we look at it is that it’s just the next game. It’s just another football team. It begins SEC play for us, but we watch film and they are a football team just like we are.”
Senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson
“They have two fast guys that can out run anybody on the field so we have to respect that and try to keep them contained. They have a lot of good guys, we just have to be on our P’s and Q’s and go out there and do what we know how to do.”
“We get a chance to play against one of the best offenses in the league (every day in practice) and they get a chance to hopefully play against a pretty good defense in ourselves. I feel like we go hand-in-hand when we work out there with each other. We also have a great scout team that gives us great looks out here so it transfers on Saturdays.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at firstname.lastname@example.org)