KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vols will debut their adidas Smokey Gray uniforms on Saturday, but it’s the players inside the gear that will be on the big stage against No. 6 Georgia on CBS.
Butch Jones knows the importance of the game for many reasons.
"We have to play well and get a win no matter who we are playing," said Jones. "Obviously, Georgia is a big part of our recruiting area but that is just a small piece of it. Everything in recruiting is based off of relationships and all that, your players, you are selling your program, your coaches. I don't think it has that big of an influence."
Jones is impressed with Georgia's overall balance in all areas. He knows they will provide yet another stiff challenge for the Vols.
"They have great players," said the coach, who faced Georgia in 2008 while coaching at Central Michigan. "They are very well-coached. They know what they are doing. They do a great job of creating one-on-one matchups with their skill. Murray is as good as a quarterback as we have seen. He manages their offense.
"They are playing with great confidence. You have the great running back stable that they have. They have a veteran physical offensive line and great speed on the perimeter. They play to the strengths of their football team. It is going to be a great challenge. That is what makes them hard. The other thing is they manage the downs. They are not in predictable situations; they are always in third-and-three or third-and-four, where it is a run or pass situations."
Jones isn't along in being impressed with Georgia's hot start. Redshirt sophomore and leader of the defensive backfield Brian Randolph knows Tennessee is in for a test this weekend.
"They're very good, it's one of the best offenses I've ever seen," said Randolph. "It's going to be a good challenge for us.
"They can run the ball and make you crowd the box. Then once you do that, they can throw it over your head. We have to be prepared for both."
For the Bulldogs, it all starts with the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, quarterback Aaron Murray.
"He doesn't make mistakes," said Randolph. "He's very accurate with his passes; he's smart and can also run a little bit. He's an all-around good quarterback."
ONE UNIT, ONE MOTIVATION. BEAT GEORGIA.
The goal for the Tennessee defense this week against Georgia?
Play as one.
The team has been learning to do so each and every week, beginning with spring ball and has seen drastic improvements including a game-ending goal line stand last weekend against South Alabama.
"It started today in practice," said A.J. Johnson. We are playing as one team, that is the big goal. The goal for the week is to play as one unit and one team."
The core of the defense, the linebackers, has already come together as a team. It is the off the field bonding that has solidified the on-field connection.
"We've became really close," said the newest Tennessee linebacker Brent Brewer. "We go to go eat lunch, AJ, Curt [Maggitt], Dontavis [Sapp], and myself. We just hang out after practice and after games, we watch film and do different things together so we've become real close."
Sapp echoed Brewer's sentiments. The brotherhood of the defense is another incentive to play hard on Saturday's.
"All of my motivation is right here in this complex, my teammates, and my coaches," said Sapp. "I have to go out here and play."
Another motivation for the defense is in defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who formerly donned the red and black.
"They haven't mentioned it, but I can tell they want this game," said Brian Randolph. "They want every game, but they're intense this week. They know we have to go out there and get a win."
"We are one Tennessee," said Sapp. "When you come here and put that "T" on, it means that you are here, and you are a part of this family. We don't worry about where you came from, or where you will be going next."
Both Brewer and Sapp have enjoyed Jancek at the helm of the defense.
"I feel like the passion is there," said Brewer. "He wants the best for us; he doesn't play games with us. He tells us the truth and will be straight forward with us. We love him to death, and we love all of our coaches."
"He has that fire," continued Sapp. "He won't take anything mediocre. He wants everything to be great and perfect. He wants everybody fixed to be on point. He is not going to take anything mediocre or anything less than that."
The defense is looking forward to the challenge of playing No. 6 Georgia and are ready to go.
"We're looking forward to it a lot," said Randolph. "We get to see where we're at going against such a good offense. We're just going to do what we're coached to do."
CHEMISTRY AND EXECUTION
With a new system, new quarterback and many new wide receivers on the Tennessee team, developing chemistry has been a process.
The Vols have improved in strides over the last few weeks, something that was evident in the second half of the Florida game and against South Alabama on Saturday.
Jason Croom, who practiced much of last season as a tight end is still getting used to being a college wide receiver.
"Just gaining the trust of my quarterback is what I'm really out there doing," said Croom. "So he can have the confidence in me that I'm going to make the play for him."
"We are just doing little things off the field like watching film together, going out to eat, all that stuff adds up," continued Croom. "It's just gaining the trust of your quarterback that you're going to have his back just like we're going to have his."
Worley has worked hard at developing chemistry with a handful of new faces in this 2013 season.
"My chemistry is with all of the receivers is progressing," said Worley. "It it is just getting more familiar with each other."
With the chemistry almost there, and SEC season upon Team 117, it's time to execute.
"I think a lot of it comes down to execution and that consistency that I have talked about," said Worley. "Being consistent throughout the whole game."
"Each and every day we are trying to be as consistent as we can be, as locked in as we can be, we are working on the game plan perfecting our duties at each and every position," said Worley. "I still have to put the ball on the money when the opportunity is presented."
PROTECTING THE PASSER
Last season the Tennessee offensive line allowed just eight sacks, the fewest amount in the SEC and third-fewest in the country. Through five games in 2013, the Vols have only given up four sacks and currently sit in the top 20 nationally in the category.
Despite the success, senior tackle Ja'Wuan James isn't satisfied with the Vols' performance up front.
"We've been kind of mad," said James. "Those four were ones we wish we could take back. It's something we take pride in - protecting the quarterback and getting our running backs yards. We go out with a workmanlike mentality every day."
The Vols' front five enters this week's matchup against No. 6/6 Georgia with 143 combined starts, and James believes that chemistry is the difference maker.
"It definitely is," said James. "We've got a lot of guys with experience, a lot of guys that have played and have played together. It's been consistent so that's what happens. Chemistry is a great help."
After watching film, James and his teammates know what to expect in the trenches this weekend.
"They're very active, a bunch of young guys trying to prove themselves," said James. "Their front seven plays hard. The linebackers play hard. They're an active group."
Coach Jones also stressed the importance of pass protection this week.
"I think our running backs have really improved their pass protection skills," said Jones. "Coach (Robert) Gillespie has done a tremendous job of teaching the skills.
"We are going to be challenged again this week. They're a team that likes to bring a lot of pressure from all different areas internally and out on the perimeter, so we have to be locked in."
JUST PROVE IT
The Tennessee football team has had plenty of depth in the running back position so far this season. Marlin Lane, Tom Smith and Rajion Neal are three players that have seen time on the field and been successful when given the opportunity.
With Lane getting dinged up temporarily on Saturday, players were reminded that they must always be ready to play, and Neal realized that.
"We enter every week as everybody is playing, so--come in prepared, go out and practice hard," Neal said. "Nothing's really changed. Everything has been the same."
Throughout the years, Neal has been able to watch the development of the other running backs and is pleased to see the progression that has occurred.
"Tom [Smith] has really grown, definitely getting on special teams and running more, accepting the coaches," said Neal. "It's good seeing the growth from when he came in as a freshman."
Neal, who rushed for a career best 169 yards against South Alabama plans to continue leading his team and proving to Team 117 that he can be held accountable.
"I think the biggest compliment to any player is just having your teammates believe in you and you going out and proving that you are what you say you are, and I think that's something that I showed," said Neal. "I had a lot of help from my o-line and guys on the perimeter to help me do that. My biggest thing--I just want to show the guys y'all can depend on me, at times we can put a load on my back."
Jones updated the media on the status of the Vols top two backs as Marlin Lane missed the entire second half vs. South Alabama and Rajion Neal who was banged up.
"Marlin did not practice today," said Jones. "We will know a little bit more tomorrow as he progresses and it is going to be day-to-day.
"He spent all day in the training room. He was out at practice taking the mental repetitions that he will need. He was on the bike. So it will be how he progresses throughout the course of the night and into tomorrow."
There is no doubt as to whether Neal will play, according to him and Jones.
"I'm good," said Neal. "I was just a little tired after the game, nothing serious or anything like that, just a little tired."
Jones was succinct with his assessment of Neal: "He will be ready to go."
Also on the injury docket, Jones updated the Vols' pair of defensive backs who have yet to play this season due to ailments, Riyahd Jones and Michael F. Williams.
"They are progressing," said Jones. "I will know a little bit more at the end of the week. I liked a lot of the things that Riyahd did today. It is just the volume of repetitions that they are going to need to be game ready."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)