KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The schedule may not have a game on Saturday, but the Vols are practicing like they do according to coach Butch Jones.
"You have to bring it every single day," said Jones. "It is energy in practice. Again you are building habits. It is every individual in our football organization understating the importance of this bye week, the sense of urgency is heightened because we have to get better as a football team and as a football program."
Jones talked about the tough overtime loss to #6 Georgia last Saturday, knowing that every aspect of the game is important.
He was proud of how Tennessee battled all game against a Top 10 team.
"Our kids went out there and they played, they played with great energy and they played with a level of toughness that we expect and demand of our football team, said Jones. "They were passionate and unfortunately we were one play away. It is everything, we go back and we talk about the inches. The inches make the champion. The inches are the difference between winning and losing. There are a number of plays that when you go back and push rewind that maybe occurred.
"It's third-and-four on the four ad we get an illegal procedure penalty and now it is third-and-nine on the nine. It is the little things, that tipped ball on fourth down. It is all the different things that occur throughout the course of a football game that may mean the difference between winning and losing. Our players understand that."
HOWARD LOOKING AHEAD
On Saturday night against Georgia, all Alton Howard could see was the defender coming at him and the pylon in the corner.
The 5-foot-8-inch slot receiver, on third and goal from the seven, raced four yards and leaped into the air looking to hit the pylon and score the go-ahead touchdown for the Vols.
Initially it looked good. Upon further review it was a fumble and gave No. 6 Georgia a chance to win it.
"I haven't really been thinking about it," said Howard. "After the game I sat there and thought about it over and over but I don't think I would have done anything differently. I was just trying to make a play for my team. Things happen and there is nothing we can do about it now."
As it says on the sign that Howard gets on his toes to hit every time he walks out of the Peyton Manning Locker Room, the Orlando, Fla. native was trying to give it his all for Tennessee.
"Everyone knew that I was trying to give it my all, stretching out for that pylon," said Howard. "I play for my team, my brotherhood. At the end of the day, it was third down and I wasn't settling for a field goal. I was trying to win it for my team."
"I saw the angle he was coming at and I thought if I just get to that pylon, it would be good," continued Howard. "In the replay, they saw that I lost possession of the ball. There wasn't anything I could do about it. I don't think I would do anything differently. If I was, I would probably lower my shoulder on the guy."
Howard led the Vols on the night with four catches for 70 yards, also adding six rushes for 46 yards, all career highs for the sophomore.
"I think that was one of my best games," said Howard. "Just getting after it, stepping up and just playing for the players beside me. That is the biggest thing."
Howard is proud of those players beside him and the fight that they brought to the No. 6 team in the country last Saturday night.
"All I can say is, I am proud of all of them," said Howard. They stepped up when they needed to step up. They stepped up when plays needed to be made. They blocked. We gave them a fight. A lot of people didn't think it would be a four quarter game and we came out swinging."
While the Tennessee Volunteers came just short of upsetting the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday, there is still a strong sense of confidence around the practice field this week as the Vols have begun preparation to host the South Carolina Gamecocks on Oct. 19.
Currently in an open week, Tennessee is taking the next two weeks to reassess all aspects of their team.
"This week we're all about focusing on our fundamentals--going back and really working on our habits we've developed, working on our fundamentals that we may have strayed away from and also trying to get a jump on South Carolina," said Justin Worley.
Statistically, Worley bested Georgia's Aaron Murray, going 17-of-31 throwing for 215 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs. Murray threw for 196 yards on 19-of-35.
"Whenever you do something good, you gain a little bit more confidence," said Worley. "We struggled and smothered a little bit in the past few weeks, especially passing the ball. A lot of that falls back on me--my decision making and accuracy and things like that, but going out there and having a good second half and playing the way I did--it helps my confidence and it helps me develop a little bit more like a leader in situations like that."
The Rock Hill, S.C., native isn't the only one assured of his team's ability. Rajion Neal, who ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns this past Saturday, also knows the importance of building confidence throughout the season.
"I think confidence is a big key for every competitor's play," said Neal. "Just to keep building on it week after week feels good."
Coach Butch Jones has challenged Neal this season and the senior has answered the call.
"I think he is playing with a level of toughness," said Jones. "We challenged him with his durability. He is really running with good pad level, he is very determined right now. He hasn't missed any practice. I like his approach in the meetings, in the running back meetings. I like the way he is providing leadership right now."
Worley knows though, that just because his team has an open week, that doesn't mean it's an off week.
"I think it's nice to have a week to reevaluate everybody, reevaluate your game and what you're doing," Worley said. "I think a bye week can help us definitely get a jump on our opponent and also help us regain what we might have lost through the season."
"It is every individual in our football organization understating the importance of this bye week," Jones said. "The sense of urgency is heightened because we have to get better as a football team and as a football program."
The Volunteers head into next week's game against South Carolina – the game will be televised by ESPN at noon – with a 3-3 (0-2) record and plan for a victory against a ranked opponent since last beating the Gamecocks when they came to Knoxville in 2009.
"We got right to the top, but now it's time to go ahead and stand on top," Neal said. "It would be great to pull one off."
PLAYING WITH PASSION
Maybe it was the sixth-ranked opponent. Maybe it was the smokey gray uniforms. Maybe it was the 102,455 in attendance.
Or maybe that's just Jones.
Whatever the reason, from sideline to sideline, checkerboard to checkerboard, the Vols were amped at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Since taking over the program, Jones has stressed his dislike for emotional teams, stating that he prefers a passionate and intense squad.
Based on Saturday's performance both on the field and on the sidelines, it's clear Tennessee has received the message.
"We talk about that all the time, maintaining that level of intensity, that level of focus and that passion," said Jones. "That is why I say I don't like emotional football teams; I like passionate teams. When you are passionate about something it boils over."
That message is not just sent from Jones to the Vols on game day. It all starts on the practice field.
"I think we have done a good job all year with our sideline," said Jones. "You only have so many games that you are at your peak performance in terms of the energy, and for a lot of it you rely on your habits and your habits are established on the practice field. That is the standard that is expected from our football team week in and week out."
Nowhere has that passion been more on display than in the defensive box.
"We came out with that kind of energy at the beginning of the year," said senior defensive lineman Jacques Smith. "We amped it up a little bit [against Georgia]. It just showed how hard we've been working.
"You have to continue to feed off of it. That's how our defense is. We thrive off of our offense making big plays, and the offense thrives off of us making big plays too. That is why we are One Tennessee."
Linebackers A.J. Johnson and Dontavis Sapp - the Vols' defensive glue - certainly noticed the sidelines on Saturday and plan on using that energy through this open week and into the South Carolina game.
"The way we played with a lot of emotion and a lot of enthusiasm; our sideline was all hyped up," said Johnson. "It's something we can build on. We just had a great day of practice today. People on the sideline were all into practice; coaches were all into practice. It isn't like we're going to drop down. We're just going to build up and get better."
Channeling that passion, the Vols moved on from Saturday and focused in on the start of a critical week of practice.
"We're not going to hang our heads," said Johnson. "We know we fought our tails off. We're just going to come this week, off week, and just get a little better."
"We had a pretty good practice today," said Sapp. "We went out there with the right mindset. We attacked the day, [there was] a lot of energy out there. I could tell that we're not down on ourselves and we're ready to come back and play."
ONE TEAM. ONE TENNESSEE.
If there is one thing that any Vol fan can see, it is the defense coming together as one.
Two weeks ago against South Alabama, the Vols put up a goal line stand to save the game, last week against Georgia, the Tennessee defense was one play and five seconds away from helping the Vols to another 31-24 victory.
The togetherness is also apparent to the Vols.
"We played as one team," said A.J. Johnson. We played as a team and we made plays when they counted. As a defense, we're getting better each game. We're communicating better as a defense and playing as a whole."
Jones wants each and every player on his team to be a leader regardless of age or experience.
The Tennessee defense is chalk full of leaders including Sapp, who said what needed to be said after the game Saturday telling his teammates to not let this game bring you down repeatedly and passionately.
"That's just the way I was feeling right then," said Sapp. I could look at the faces of some of my teammates and pretty much tell that it hurt them to the core, which it should have. I was just trying to keep the guys and let them know we've got to come back and work for the next game."
Redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien believes though Saturday wasn't a victory in the books, the Vols learned a lot from their play against the No. 6 team in the country.
"I think one of the biggest things we've improved on as a team that we're going to come out every game and play like that," said O'Brien. "Now that we see what we can do, and see that we can compete with the best, and we really know it."
"I think that's the standard now," continued O'Brien. "That's what we have to play like. Coach said now we're not going to sneak up on anybody. No matter who we play. They're going to be expecting our best game, and we got to expect their best game as well."
O'Brien's linemate Smith concurs.
"We have always had our confidence in the way that we train and the way that we conduct ourselves," said Smith. "It showed last Saturday. We have been telling everyone, and now people finally believe."
Here are sound bites from Jones and the players after Tuesday's practice:
COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On today's practice)
"I thought it was a really good start to the week, like I told our football team, this is a bye week it is not an off week. We have a lot of work to do. There are so many goals that we want to accomplish this week. First of all is individual improvement, everybody in our football program getting better. Team improvement, our execution, our special teams, offense and defense, getting back healthy.
"It has been a grind, six weeks, and then a long training camp. This bye week serves a number of purposes. I thought we had a good approach today. I liked our mentality. It was good to get back out on the football field and play football today."
»(On the team building confidence)
"When you execute the plays and when you execute the systems you know a lot of confidence is born within them. I said it after the game, we had our best week of preparation and we went shells and vests for two days and that Wednesday vest practice was probably the best Wednesday vest practice that I have ever had. They still maintained a sense of intensity. Their body position, there was still a sense of physicality in that practice. That is learning how to practice each and every day."
»(On the high scoring SEC)
"I do think we have a number of true freshmen play, not just at Tennessee but in the conference. I think the scoring is a by-product of a lot of different things. It is a quarterback-driven league, we have a lot of NFL, Sunday quarterbacks in this league. I think our skill level, the overall team speed, I think it is creating space. You are having more up-tempo teams. So there is a lot of things that go hand and hand with that."
SOPHOMORE WIDE REIVER ALTON HOWARD
»(On what people have said to him)
"Jayson Swain, tweeted me. A couple of other people tweeted me. Me and Dave Hart talked. A lot of people have saluted me on that play. It was clear that I was trying to give all my effort and make a touchdown. I have just been getting all positive talk. No negative. [Hart] just told me, `I made plays, I did good to keep us in that game and he said that he was proud of my performance.'"
»(On re-focusing as a team)
"That is what everybody is doing. Everybody is getting their confidence, they are coming together. We are playing together as a unit. Stepping up and making big plays and as far as this game it opened my eyes to a lot of people as far as the doubts. We are coming out here each and every day, working hard to get better."
»(On being a leader)
"With these young guys, I know how it is coming in as a freshman because that is what I did last year, I know you have those butterflies and are nervous. I have just told them to treat it like it is high school, go out there and have fun."
SENIOR LINEBACKER DONTAVIS SAPP
»(On the timing of the bye week)
"Definitely, right in the middle of the year. We've got a long stretch of SEC games after this bye week, so we've got to rest up and heal up and get ready to play the rest of the schedule."
»(On Jalen Reeves-Maybin)
"He maybe had the best day of practice today that he's had all year. He works his butt off and you can see it paying off, especially on special teams. I don't think there's a kickoff this year where he didn't make the tackle. He works in the weight room and at practice. He's always in the film room. You can see it paying off."
»(On if Reeves-Maybin could help at linebacker this year)
"Definitely, I think he's gradually learning. He's gradually getting better and better and better every day. I think he'll be a help at this linebacker group."
SENIOR RUNNING BACK RAJION NEAL
»(On liking a heavy workload)
"Yeah, it's not bad, especially for a running back. Once you get into that rhythm you kind of get a feel for the defense and get a feel for the guys on the other side, you can get the flow of everything. It definitely helps."
»(On what he saw in the second half against Georgia)
"I'd probably say it was once again just finding that rhythm, seeing the creases and getting a feel for the guys. Coach game-planned it pretty well and gave us some good things to look at and key on in the second half."
»(On liking today's practice)
"Yes, definitely... We put it behind us, talked about it a little bit, but we had to put our head down and go to work today."
SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
»(On having a bye week this week)
"Football is a physical sport, and we have a few bumps and bruises so we are just trying to get healthy this week."
»(On difference in Cameron Sutton since August)
"He is a totally different player. He has a lot of confidence. You can tell by the look in his eyes when he goes out onto the field that he knows what he has to do, and he is going to do it."
»(On personal difference since August)
"I would say the same thing. I am not worried about my knee at all. I am just going out there and playing."
JUNIOR LINEBACKER A.J. JOHNSON
»(On having the same record as last season)
"We're not going to worry about the last season. We're on this season. That's just the big thing. We're staying focused and nobody's hanging their head or nothing like that. We're coming each day to practice hard."
»(On the differences of a bye week)
"This week at practice, I'd say it's more mental reps and stuff but we're still practicing hard and everything. We've just got a chance to get our younger guys a little more reps in and get them a little more developed, the guys that aren't playing that much. We're still going through practice as we do every practice."
»(On the timing of the bye week)
"It's just the timing that happened. We're going to take advantage of our bye week. We're going to get our bodies all healed up if anybody's hurt or anything like that; just take good advantage of it. We've got to learn to prepare for South Carolina."
JUNIOR QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
»(On team's mentality this week)
"I thought we had a great practice. Defense came out with some energy. Offense responded and we put together a pretty good practice today."
»(On players developing each other's confidence)
"We came off on the sideline and everyone was into the game and everybody was ready to get back out there. We knew we needed maybe a touchdown or two touchdowns. We didn't press at all. We didn't start stressing or freaking out. We knew we'd go down the field and score, so I think that calmness and the development throughout the game helped."
»(On Coach Zach Azzanni)
"He might be the hardest one on them. They respect him, regardless of how he coaches and things like that. I think his coaching style has changed a little bit throughout the season, going from--we're doing this wrong to how can we do this better, so I think he's done a great job developing those guys and getting them on the same page."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JACQUES SMITH
»(On stadium atmosphere)
"In my opinion, it was a lot louder and more consistent when we were ranked against Florida last year, but it got really loud Saturday. I really appreciate our fans. We have the best fans in the country. I hope they continue to show that amount of effort every Saturday."
»(On what the coaches said to the defense)
"We gave it a great effort, and we have to continue to work on the minor details which is something we are working on this week. We will definitely see smaller details in our game against South Carolina."
»(On emphasis for this week)
"We have to continuously improve on the minor details that we messed up on this past week that could have cost us the game. We are just focusing on those things to get better."
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
»(On what to take from Georgia game)
"We didn't really think of them as the No. 6 team in the nation. We just thought of them as another team that we wanted to beat, but considering that they were No. 6, it shows that we can compete against anybody."
»(On pass interference call during final drive)
"After the ball was thrown, it hit the ground. I didn't think it was pass interference. I turned around and saw the flag. It kind of caught me off guard. I just had to get pasted it and go to the next down."
»(On contact during pass interference call)
"It is a contact sport. There had to be some contact, but as far as the flag, I wasn't too sure if it was a flag or not. I just played the technique that I was coached to do. I probably looked back a little too late, but it is what it is."
FRESHMAN DEFENSIVE LINEMAN DANNY O'BRIEN
»(On what the team worked on in practice)
"Coach you know, you guys probably heard him over the microphone yelling, "Back to the basics," stuff like that. Just really perfecting our technique, stuff like that. I think we're going to get more of a South Carolina look tomorrow, and I know the d-line, we were in there studying South Carolina's film. It's not like, just because we weren't repping it out there, doesn't mean we're not getting ready for them. We'll be ready for those guys."
»(On the punt coverage being good against Georgia)
"We've got a lot of great athletes on our punt team. You know J.R. (Carr) and Mike (Palardy). They're picture perfect on the snap and the kick, and kick placement is great, and everybody you know. Sapp, all the guys that are on our defense, and mostly on the punt team. They really get down on the ball and you know they don't let the guy breathe. So they do a great job. That has nothing to do with me or any of the shields. We're always the last ones down there. So those guys can make the plays."
FRESHMAN WIDE RECEIVER JASON CROOM
»(On his improvement)
"Just my style of play on the field. I am able to think more because I understand the game a lot better, as in techniques, how I am going to run my route, how I am going to get off the ball."
»(On Pig Howard)
"I feel like he is stepping up as a leader. We have been together outside of the field, talking about the game and he is just making sure we are all doing the right thing, now it is translating on the field. He is a playmaker."
»(On Tennessee's final offensive play against UGA)
"That was an effort play. It wasn't like he just threw the ball away. He was trying to make a play for us to win. Stuff happens."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)