KNOXVILLE – Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is hoping a slight change of scenery makes a big difference this week as he will move over to the defensive meeting room where he will put all of his attention as the Vols prepare to host Missouri this Saturday.
Dooley and the coaching staff will evaluate every aspect of the defense as they look for solutions after yielding 721 yards and 48 points to Troy last weekend.
“We are going to do some different things schematically to help take some of the pressure off some of our players and give them a better chance and also to reduce some of the of space that gets created,” Dooley said. “Certainly as we game plan, there is a lot more input from everybody on what we need to do, where the stress points are and making a decision on what we are not going to do.
“And we'll do some different things on game day with how we implement and call it and where and all that stuff. We are going to make a lot of changes, but there are no easy answers when you are playing the way we are playing.”
Dooley doesn’t expect that his presence will provide all the answers, but hopes it will give him a better understanding of what the issues have been and the best way to go about fixing them.
“I am not there saying I am the guru, I am not,” Dooley said. “I am just there watching and listening and resolving any conflict. If I think we shouldn't do something, I am saying we aren't doing that. Just getting a little more involved and a little more dialogue with the individual players on more specific things. It is just another eye and another set of ears another voice. It will give me a little more comfort in saying, `I don't want that.'”
DEFENSE KEEPING POSITIVE
The Tennessee offense put up a school record 718 yards against Troy Saturday, but the defense also allowed a school record 721 yards in the shootout.
The Vols, who switched to a 3-4 defense at the beginning of the spring, have been prone to giving up big plays on defense throughout the season.
But despite that fact, the defense is keeping a positive attitude and working each week to get better and fill those gaps.
"[Our attitude] is real confident, as always," said senior linebacker Herman Lathers. "We're a real close knit bunch and we're always going to stay together and believe in each other, so confidence is always there. It's always going to be there no matter what."
Daniel McCullers, who joined the Vols this season, is on the same page as Lathers, a seasoned Tennessee veteran.
"We're a unit, since day one," said McCullers. "We try to stick together and fight our way through each team, each week. Every team we play we want to fight so we have to stay together."
Though McCullers admits it was embarrassing to give up that many yards to Troy, the mentality is to just get back out there and work.
"[The coaches] were somewhat frustrated because we gave up a lot of big plays," said McCullers. "They were positive and we're just staying focused because we have so much more work to do. We have more games so we're going to keep working."
Many of the big-play breakdowns have come between the linebackers and safeties. And the Tennessee secondary is well aware.
"We know we've been having a hard time in the secondary, but other than that, we're just trying to keep it positive," said sophomore Justin Coleman. "It's extremely tough, but it's just something we're really working on. We're trying to change everything we're doing. We're trying to keep our technique right, but other than that, we're just trying to keep positive."
"We're still a good defense," added redshirt junior Byron Moore. "There are just ten to twelve plays that just kill us. The other 80-something plays, we have a great defense. We know we have the ability to play good defense; now, we just have to play it for the whole game."
The Tennessee offense, which has put up big numbers all season, has the back of its defense.
"We trust in our defense no matter what," said wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. "We know down the stretch, there's going to be that game where we need them to step up and we know they're going to step up."
Marlin Lane, who lives with A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Geraldo Orta, better understands what his teammates and friends are going through while learning the new defensive schemes.
"It is tough but it takes a while to get used to a new defense and we are just going to stand behind them 110 percent," said Lane. We will tell them to keep their head up and just go out there and execute because our offense will help them out."
Lathers says the goal this week is the same as always. To get the win and believe in each other.
"Our goal this week is just the same as last week, go 1-0," said Lathers. "Just being together, believing in one another, believing in the coaches and trying to go out with a bang. We definitely know we have to play better. We can't give up the amount of yards, have to get off the field on third down, we'll put in stuff to prepare for that and hopefully it will go well."
CATCH CP IF YOU CAN
To say Cordarrelle Patterson had a career day against Troy is an understatement.
The junior wide receiver finished with 219 receiving yards on nine catches, fourth-most by any Vol in a single game, 275 all-purpose yards, second-most by any Vol, and added another touchdown to his total.
Though some of his catches were downfield, it was his explosive, open field running that gained him the extra yardage and helped the Vols to the most impressive offensive day in school history.
"I guess just instinct," said Patterson. "I don't want anyone to tackle me, so I just try to get off the tackle and get to the end zone. Just going back and looking at it put a big smile on my face. I think I maximize everything. Doing all that cutting and stuff just ran me out of gas, that's the only thing; I couldn't do anything else after that."
Patterson and his counterpart Justin Hunter combined for 400 receiving yards on the day, the most by any Vol duo in school history.
It is the lighthearted approach that the tandem takes into every game that makes the competitive atmosphere fun.
"We're very confident," said Patterson. "Justin and I go in joking every week, just trying to compete with each other, just trying to get each other better, so just every week, we go in and expect big things from one another."
Patterson's carefree attitude also helps any off the field talk go in one ear and out the other.
"It's not really laughing, just smiling; just happy about it. I just let people talk and say what they want to say; just going out there and trying to get to the end zone when I catch the ball."
Another Vol that put up big numbers, Marlin Lane, was an on-field witness to Patterson's career best day, helping him out a little after the catch.
"When he gets the ball there is no telling what he is going to do with it," said Lane. "So we just sprint down the field and try and pick up some blocks because he is very explosive when he has the ball in his hands."
Despite seeing what Patterson has been able to do all season, Lane is still shocked by his abilities.
"To see someone that fast stop on a dime and change direction and then accelerate back to the same speed," said Lane shaking his head. "I think he is probably one of the best open field runners in college football. If someone tries to tackle him one-on-one I don't think it is going to happen because I saw Saturday that 11 people can't tackle him."
THOUGHTS ON MIZZOU
The Vols will be facing a new opponent, one which Tennessee has never faced in history. The current members of the Volunteers had limited knowledge on the Tigers coming into the week but have been diligently preparing for the matchup with one of the SEC's newest members.
Missouri has the same overall mark as the Vols at 4-5, but the Tigers have an SEC win, beating Kentucky two weeks ago.
"They are going to be fast, they are going to be physical," said senior tight end Mychal Rivera. "They are a quality SEC team. Their record doesn't speak of their play. They are like us. They are dangerous, but we just have to play really well like we did last week."
The Tigers are 22nd nationally on defense, allowing just 327.6 yards per game. Last Saturday at No. 8 Florida, Missouri limited the Gators to just 276 total yards in a narrow 14-7 defeat.
The defensive line has garnered the attention of Tennessee. The Tigers lead the SEC and rank fifth in the country in tackles for loss with nearly eight per game.
"They're really good up front," said junior lineman Ja'Wuan James. "They have a really solid defense. As a group, all 11 play hard. They all get to the ball wherever the ball is."
Rivera was quick to point out Missouri is also in the top five in another statistic aside from TFLs.
"They are very aggressive and are top five in the nation with forced fumbles," Rivera said of the group, that is actually tied for first in the NCAA with 15 opponent fumbles recovered. "We are just going to go out there and try and protect the ball and outhit them."
On the offensive side of the ball, Tennessee is well aware of quarterback James Franklin, who returned from injury to start in the loss at Florida.
"(Missouri) is fast tempo team just like Troy," said senior Herman Lathers. "They've got a quarterback that can hurt you with his feet. Last week, we got hurt a couple times with the draw, so we're going to put in things to prevent that."
Byron Moore talked about Missouri's overall offense having multiple weapons.
"They've got a good, solid receiving corps, a great quarterback, a couple good running backs who run hard and run fast," said Moore. "They're a good solid offense coming in.
RS SENIOR TE MYCHAL RIVERA
(On the defense)
“As an offense, we just have to worry about what we can control. None of us can be out there when the other team is on offense. We just have to focus on what we can and put as many points on the board as we can.”
(On needing to score on every drive)
“Sometimes when you go out there and the defense gives up points, your back is against the wall sometimes. But, we handled the pressure well last week and we are going to continue to handle the pressure well and continue to score.”
(On a clean slate for November)
“After last week, going into the Troy game, Coach Dooley just told us to wipe our minds clean and start a new season and that is what we have been doing. Going into Troy, we were thinking about that win. Now that Troy is done we are going to do the same thing and just think about Missouri and continue on. There are only a couple weeks left and that is what you have to do to get these last couple of wins.”
(On his career nearly being over)
“It’s hit me every game that it is closer and closer to the end but I am just going to go out there and keep giving it my all and continue to play for Tennessee.”
JUNIOR WR CORDARRELLE PATTERSON
(On personal improvements)
“It’s more effort in practice and stuff, when coach told me to just start working hard, and playing fast every play, so I just try to use that advantage to just play fast, and Tyler just sees me a lot and I was open. I think I’ve improved a lot. I see some changes from when I go back and watch film from the first couple weeks and watching now, it’s a big change. Just running my routes and getting down field and getting open, just getting off press release coverage. Not at all, we have receivers like Justin, Zach, and everybody out there, just getting their touches. So, to get frustrated, means you’re being selfish and I’m not a selfish person; just a whole team getting part of the offense.”
(On getting an IV at halftime against Troy)
“That was the first time, but that wasn’t the first time I had gotten so tired.”
RS SENIOR LB HERMAN LATHERS
(On simplifying defense)
“Extremely, a lot. It’s simple. It’s just designed to make guys go out there and play faster. In the back end, we have to put more pressure on the quarterback to help those guys out back there. Little things, not lined up right, not playing technique right, it’s the little things that matter.”
(On postgame atmosphere)
“It’s just guys being happy about the way we played. Defensively we weren’t happy about the way we played, but we got the W. We didn’t play great; we know why we didn’t play great. It was the technique, little things that matter a lot in games like that where guys play high tempo, so we have to come out and play better.”
(On improving defense)
“I’m not sure. I think we’re just trying to match our personal to the team that’s coming in. So we have another spread team, guys that go like five wide, so we’re trying to put better personal on the field. I’m not sure. We went into the season with a lot of confidence. We thought we had a real good grasp on the defense as the season went on, but as the season went on, we’ve been making mental errors, not getting lined up right, not getting the call, but as it went on, we’ve just tried to simplify it more so guys can go play faster. In the back end, you know, it’s hard to cover guys for that long, so up front; we have to put more pressure on the quarterback to help those guys out.”
JUNIOR OL JA’WUAN JAMES
(On offense and defense together)
“At the end of the day, we’re all together. As a team, we win together or we lose together. They’re out there making plays too. We just have to go out there and play as hard as we can. I know they’re playing as hard as they can and together we have to win.”
(On the Troy game)
“It was actually fun. We went out there and put up 700 yards. We broke a couple records. It’s fun going out there and having a challenge. They scored late in the game with a one-hand catch. The O-Line looked at each other and said we have to put up another one. We take it as fun and we’re just competitors.”
(On margin of error)
“You don’t want to mess up because it shows. When we’re doing our job and everyone is doing their job, we score points. We’re one of the best offenses in America. If we go out there and do what we know we’re capable of, we’ll get the outcome we like.”
SOPHOMORE TB MARLIN LANE
(On playing physical against Troy)
“I went in there wanting to send the message that we were going to play as physical as them. They have some strong D-Linemen and linebackers.”
(On what he has improved on this season)
“Just staying consistent and working hard. That was my biggest downfall in camp was staying consistent. Coming off of a broken hand, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to hold the ball that long with two missing knuckles but I am getting bigger and stronger every day and I don’t worry about it anymore.”
“We are really confident. It all comes down to who has the ball the longest and we figure if we have it the longest we are going to win because we feel like nobody is going to be able to stop us from scoring but ourselves. And we are just trying to capitalize on what the defense does.”
(On if he feels pressure to score)
“I do and I don’t. I try and zone out on the pressure and think of the game as 0-0. Each drive is like a beginning of a game and I just try and give it my all.”
JUNIOR DL DANIEL MCCULLERS
(On NC State until now)
“Every first game we come out excited to start our season. Somehow we fell off a little bit, but we’re going to pick up because we have more games to play. We’re going to come together because we have Kentucky and Missouri so we’re going to continue to work.”
(On himself improving since first game)
“I’m getting used to the scheme and learning my technique. The 3-4, I came in and didn’t know what to do. I’m pretty much used to everything. I’m going to continue to keep working so I can get better.”
(On having big SEC games)
“They run the ball more so that’s why I got my tackles. I get them for SEC games, going against tough competition. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, those are big games I like.”
JUNIOR DB BYRON MOORE
(On problem with third downs)
“We’ve just got to play tighter coverage. We can’t have any breakdowns. Those guys were doing a good job of making great throws and catches on those deep balls. It’s credit to those guys for coming out with a good game plan. We just have to tighten down and help out our corners.”
(On surprise about Troy’s 90 snaps)
“It was a real shock. I think I played 100 snaps myself, so it was crazy to see that big number. But we’ve just got to be there to play, no matter how many snaps you get.”
(On forcing turnovers)
“Just flying around to the ball, getting pressure up front, getting tighter coverage, and getting right up to the quarterbacks. Getting tips on the ball; whatever we’ve got to do.”
(On missing turnovers and points lost because of it)
“It definitely helps to get turnovers. We’ve got to focus and get back to getting more of those and help get the ball back to our offense. We definitely need to get back to getting more turnovers.”
SOPHOMORE DB JUSTIN COLEMAN
(On coaches’ optimism)
“You can’t really tell from the coaches point of view, but you can tell Dooley is a little stressed about it. We changed the way we’re playing our defense or whatever, but everyone’s feeling a little bit frustrated.”
(On Daniel Gray)
“I told him plays are going to happen like that. Big plays are going to happen like that. Sooner or later you’re going to learn, experience wise, you’re going to learn how to make plays on that, and you’ll learn from your mistakes.”
(On defensive confusion)
“Really, I don’t think it’s a lot of confusion. It’s just us not getting the calls and communicating with each other basically. We have to get the corner backs to look at the safeties and communicate with the linebackers, so we’ll all be on the same page.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)