KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football coach Butch Jones has filled Rocky Top With countless “Butchisms” throughout his first year with the Vols.
On Tuesday, he added another since the Vols have to win their final two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky to become bowl eligible.
It’s “Game 7 mentality.”
"You've just got to treat it as game seven because you know that if you lose you're done," said defensive lineman Daniel Hood.
"For all of the momentum that coach Jones has created this year, it'd be a shame on every single senior to let him go out without a bowl game this season.
"We've got to treat this week as if it's game seven of the finals and we get two weeks to prepare for it, two weeks to watch more film, two weeks to get in the weight room, to work harder, to rehab more, to get rid of all the little nagging injuries."
On the other side of the ball, the veteran offensive line plans to let their actions speak when it comes to spreading Jones' message.
"It is a must-win for us, for this football team," said senior James Stone. “First and foremost, it is one of our in-state rivals. We have to go out here and have that on our mind each and every day we come to practice and come to work."
Senior tackle Ja'Wuan James knows that getting the Vols to a bowl game would set Jones and Tennessee up for the future.
"It will feel good for me, for the seniors," said James. "And it will definitely be great for this program the next few years - helping in recruiting, helping Coach Jones building that foundation."
For another senior - defensive lineman Corey Miller - next week's matchup against Vanderbilt is very simple. It's do-or-die.
"This is the biggest game of our football careers because it's do-or-die," said Miller. "It's time to make your statement as a team at Tennessee. This is going to be the biggest game we've ever played. It's the situation at hand and you have to win."
THE LITTLE THINGS
The Tennessee defensive line had one of their strongest performances of the season against South Carolina.
The Vols won the line of scrimmage, and came away with four sacks while holding South Carolina to its lowest total offense of the season (384 yards).
Since then, the Vols have faced some tough offensive fronts.
"It's testing our manhood as a D-line," said senior Daniel Hood.
"It just proves that as a `D' we weren't playing smart football, we weren't in the gaps, we weren't doing the little things right," continued Hood. "The little inches that Coach Jones talks about all the time, whether it's a safety being from one yard inside the tackle to one yard outside the tackle, whether it's Big Dan lining up in a three technique or lining up head up on a guy. It's the little things like that that lead to big opponents like that."
The Vols have been looking internally to fix their problems and make corrections to return to the front they once were.
"We're all sitting here asking ourselves the same question - and that's `why?' Every time we come into the film room it's that question," said senior Corey Miller. "So basically what we're trying to do is fix the `why' questions and come out here and be productive."
So what is the answer?
"It's definitely obvious what we're doing wrong. It's all the mentality," said Miller. "It's all about getting our assignments down, being correct with our assignments, being physical coming off the ball, and being fast every time."
"It goes back to the little things, inches," continued Hood. "South Carolina game, you go back and watch that film, our pad level, we were lower than them. When we were in a three technique, we were a three technique. When we were supposed to be in a two technique, we were a two. Our hands were inside in the right spot, the safeties were fitting blocks the right way."
"Then you turn around and go look at the Auburn game," continued Hood. "We were playing too high, our hands were outside of their bodies instead of inside, safeties were a little on the inside instead of being outside. It's just the little inches of doing things the right way."
The last time Tennessee went to a bowl game, the Vols' senior class was brand new to Tennessee.
These seniors are ready to get back. And they are making it known.
"The bowl is a biggest thing a team can make," said senior defensive lineman Corey Miller. "We tell the young guys it's a chance to be close. It's another 2-3 weeks with your brothers. This is what you fight for is another three weeks with your brothers."
A bowl affords a team extra time to practice and improve. But it is also a time to bond and create new experiences.
"We actually had a player led meeting and guys were standing up and telling the younger guys it is beneficial to go to a bowl game," said senior offensive lineman Zach Fulton. "You have a lot of fun, you get to bond with your teammates, on and off the field. You get to go to different sites and see places that you have never seen before."
The senior class also wants to win for their coach.
"It would mean a lot for this entire senior class to lead Tennessee to a winning season," said senior center James Stone. "To give coach Jones a winning season in his first year here."
The underclassmen are ready to make their first bowl appearance and send their seniors off right.
It has come down to winning the final two games in each of the last three seasons on Rocky Top to make it to a bowl believes Senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James believes the team has learned from the past. And is ready to get back.
"I have been in this situation three times," said James. "The other seniors have too, learning from those two other mistakes. The first year we ended up winning our last four games. The next year we lost to Kentucky, the year after we lost to Vanderbilt. We have another chance to get it all right and go out here and perform."
"We just want to end it on a good note," continued James. "Do it for ourselves, do it for Coach Jones, do it for Tennessee. Se the foundation right now. This program should make a statement right now for years to come."
LET'S GO TO THE VIDEO TAPE
If Tennessee isn't on the field or in the classroom, it is because they are in a different kind of classroom - the film room. There you will find coaches helping players analyze their game, but more importantly, you will find players helping players and it's that type of team chemistry which transfers to their game on Saturdays.
Sometimes, watching film can be tough, but with two games left in the season and a bowl game on the line, defensive lineman Dan Hood knows that you just have to show up and analyze it anyway. "You've just got to buckle your chinstrap and come to work," said Hood.
From watching film, Hood has noted that one of the biggest improvements the defense must make is to bring better competition in practice. The redshirt senior wants to see the defensive linemen pushing each other to become better.
On the other side of the ball, the offense is studying film in order to adapt to the team's newest quarterback- true freshman Josh Dobbs.
"Being a quarterback, you have to watch film. Of course, it's more intense here, but it's something I've always done," said Dobbs.
And watch film he has.
"I first like to just go through it and watch all the game played out," Dobbs said. "Then I like to go and critique myself- see the things I could have done better, also see the things I did well, but mainly focus in on the things I could have done better, so I can focus in on those at practice and get ready for the next game."
It isn't just Dobbs you will find in the offensive film rooms though- it's the entire offense.
Running back Marlin Lane is just one of many offensive players that has spent time with Dobbs watching film. "He is trying to find out the little things that he did wrong to help the team win," Lane said.
Dobbs has also committed his time to watching film with his linemen.
"You just know he wants to get better," said Ja'Wuan James. "He is a quarterback and he is a great quarterback. He is a smart kid and he is a smart football player. He is always trying to learn."
"It shows that he cares a lot about the people around him," said Lane.
TAKING A BREATHER
In the last month, Tennessee has had what is probably the toughest schedule in college football.
The Vols came off their first bye week of the season to upset No. 11 South Carolina at home, no easy task.
Then came the top-10 teams. First the Vols headed to Tuscaloosa to face the nation's best team on the road, followed by a game at No. 10 Missouri and wrapping things up with a meeting at Neyland vs. No. 7 Auburn.
To say Tennessee needed a break is an understatement.
"After the four game stretch we had, it is always good to have a bye week and rest up a little bit and work on your technique and things like that," said offensive lineman Zach Fulton.
"We just came off of four very competitive games," echoed defensive back Brian Randolph. "So, giving us a bye week, a chance to focus on our fundamentals and stuff like that is very good for us."
The Vols don't believe that this bye week means any time off however.
"Anytime you have an open week, it is how you approach that week, it is your mindset, how you attack it," said Head Coach Butch Jones. "It is still an opportunity to improve. But also we have to get our health back, we have to get our mindset back, we have to push the reset button. There is a lot of things going into this week."
The Vols, as they did during their first off week, will use this week to work on fundamentals.
"I think [the open date] important because it's going to make our team a lot stronger and better," said quarterback Nathan Peterman. "It's another week to prepare mentally and physically for the next game ahead."
"Everybody thinks a bye week is an off week but a bye week is getting better on fundamentals, techniques, just the little things," said running back Marlin Lane. "We are just coming in with a different mindset of getting better each week, working and getting to what we are trying to build brick-by-brick."
Most Vols are pushing themselves even harder this week, like defensive lineman Daniel Hood.
"To me, I see this week as a time to really hit it harder," said Hood. "There's been a few weeks when we've had to take it soft because we know we've got so many games in a row and we can't go full pads every day. So, I see this week as a great opportunity to come out, go full pads, to hit multiple periods of the day, to go in and get heavy squats in, get heavy bench in, and to really hit it hard."
"We're going to have Friday, Saturday off to really recover, to get that recovery in that you need on a bye week," continued Hood. "To me, I see this week as a time I'm trying to blow out everything that I have right now, to completely exhaust myself, and I'll recover Friday, Saturday."
Here are sound bites from Coach Jones and the players after Tuesday's practice.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On today's practice)
"I thought we had a really, really productive day. Our players came and it was a work day. I really liked their approach. We tried to up the intensity, we had them do some competitive stuff, some one-minute drill, they competed. We will have another full-padded practice tomorrow. Then we will work on getting back to becoming healthy as much as we possibly can. I thought it was a productive day."
»(On the run game)
"I thought we ran the ball with a higher level of consistency than we had in the past. We still lack the big play, we were getting four or five yards, we ran the ball efficiently, which is our goal. We need a 30-yard run, we need a 40-yard run, we need more chunk yardage when we run the football. I thought from an efficiency standpoint we got back to being able to run the football and that was great to see. We are going to need that next week."
»(On the maturity of Joshua Dobbs)
"He has had to grow up in a hurry. All of our quarterbacks have done a great job, particularly the younger players. It is hard as a true freshman. You are talking about four seniors on the offensive line and here you are as a true freshman, whether it is Josh or Riley. They have both done a great job. We want our quarterbacks to be football junkies. We want them to be gym rats. We want them coming around and really studying the game and they have done a great job of that."
»(On Nathan Peterman)
"Probably the greatest word or adjective, resiliency. Very resilient. Obviously was disappointed but he is a great character person and he is a competitor. I think it speaks volumes for Jason McVeigh and our entire training staff and Nate Peterman for him to be back to almost full-strength now with his thumb. I think that shows the inner drive that he has had and the push to be back."
FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK JOSHUA DOBBS
»(On quarterback & wide receiver chemistry)
"It's improved a lot. Those game experiences are extremely valuable. The receivers' timing has improve and with the line- just getting down our communication with what we're seeing on the field. We're starting to see the same thing, so that's improving a lot as well."
»(On second start of the season)
"It seemed a little bit more natural. Of course, it was great to be at home for a start playing in front of Vol Nation, which always makes it seem natural. It's great being at home and then just getting more experience under your belt always helps a lot."
»(On the running game)
"We have a great line. They're always able to dominate the line of scrimmage. They did a great job of that on Saturday and that really helped, as you saw with Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane having some big runs for us."
»(On personal improvements)
"I'm developing. I'm getting more experience. I just have to make sure I'm being smart, protecting the football. Those are the major things. I have a long way to go- just going to take it day by day, it's a process, just keep getting better every day."
RS FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK NATHAN PETERMAN
»(On motivating himself to work during the injury)
"I'm just following [the coaches'] directions. They told me to prepare like a starter and quarterback is such a mental position so I was going to do what they told me and try to be the best player I could be. I couldn't throw a ball, but maybe I could get better mentally."
»(On knowing immediately that he hurt his thumb)
"I don't want to say I knew it. I was kind of willing myself to not be hurt and didn't want to be hurt. I thought it was just a jam or something, but it turned out to be a little more serious. Like I said, I think everything happens for a reason."
»(On how close to 100 percent he is)
"I feel really good. I'm coming out here every day and getting better. Last week they had me wearing a brace and now I'm just in tape. It feels very strong. I'm just happy to be out here and playing."
SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER JOHNATHON JOHNSON
»(On being ready on the sideline)
"Yes, we go in a lot for 11 personnel or 10 personnel, so I'm always behind Coach Z (Azzanni) waiting to see the signal, whoever signals the play that game, so I'm always alert to run on the field."
»(On being recruited from Blinn College)
"Yes, Coach Z (Azzanni) had come down to look at my roommate actually and he noticed me on film. He watched the spring game and I talked to him the next day and he told me they wanted to offer me a scholarship, so I committed on the phone."
»(On relationship with Pig Howard)
"Our relationship is real solid. When I came in in the summer, I spent a lot of time with Pig in the film room and he kind of helped me understand the offense better, so our relationship is real good."
RS SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
»(On today's practice)
"We definitely went over a lot of special teams; try to get full speed game repetitions. So, we tried to nail down our mistakes that we had in the game and just try to correct them."
»(On how crucial it is to nail down open field tackles)
"It's always a focus for us. Tackling in the open field is a very challenging thing. So, we've just got to keep practicing on it and get better with our skills at it."
»(On Cam Sutton)
"He's really showed us a lot. He's showed us we can count on him. We don't have to shade a safety his way. We just go out there and just play regular defense not worrying about anything."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JA'WUAN JAMES
»(On Coach Jones being hard last week in practice)
"At the end of the day, we want to win, so nobody was happy- disappointed that we didn't win. I feel like we played a lot better. We played a lot more physical especially in the run game."
»(On offensive line)
"We're the most experienced group on the team, so a lot of it is our job to keep guys' spirits high- don't let anybody keep their head down, don't let Auburn beat us twice. Go have a great week this week and another great week to prepare for Vanderbilt."
»(On what went well vs. Auburn)
"What was going well was we were complimenting each other. On some plays we were dominating the line of scrimmage we were getting our backs right and giving them holes. Some plays we were messing up and they were making us right. We were just playing complimentary football between each other, but we just have to be more consistent so we can take over the game."
JUNIOR RUNNING BACK MARLIN LANE
»(On Dobbs' maturity in the huddle)
"He is more mature than any of the freshmen that have been around. Just coming in and taking over late in the season. He has been back there doing his role like he has all year."
»(On the run game)
"We were just trying to stay in the game, not making them force us from going away from our game plan. Just keep going with what we were doing in the beginning of the game which was running the ball and protecting the quarterback and we continued to do that."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JAMES STONE
»(On the Vanderbilt/Tennessee rivalry)
"They have a good football team at Vanderbilt. It is just a competitive game and it is something that we have to really focus on, them being a instate rival. It is a very physical, competitive game."
»(On how the offensive line can improve)
"I feel we really need to become a more consistent line, especially coming into these two weeks. We need to be consistent for this football team because I feel when we play with consistency our offense is able to execute, when we have mishaps and pre snap errors it really sets our offense back. We need to be consistent so our offense can lean on our offensive line."
»(On the frustration of false start penalties)
"That is extremely frustrating, that is why today after practice we were getting some extra work in with the quarterbacks. Especially at home, there is no excuse to have mental errors like that."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN COREY MILLER
»(On what the difference was for the line in the games vs. Georgia and South Carolina)
"The intensity we bring to the table. You notice with games against South Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia, it was a `have-to' hungry, want-to-get-out-there mentality. We have to have that mentality every game."
»(On if the poor performance last week hurt their pride)
"It's definitely disappointing. We've had our letdown days. We've come together as a line and we talked about it. We discussed the past guy and what Tennessee needs to be. It's all the mentality."
»(On what he needs to focus on)
"Getting off the ball, high discipline, and things of that nature. As far as the line is concerned, we're just trying to get some physicality moving forward."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ZACH FULTON
»(On the team's confidence)
"I don't feel you should ever let your confidence be effect by a negative performance. We have a mentality of snapping and clearing. We have to move past it and approach the next game. We just haven't been executing as well as we should have. That is basically what it comes down to."
»(On November games)
"I think we have a better chance of doing it. Obviously we are a better team, we communicate a lot better and get along a lot better than we used to."
»(On the O Line's best game this season)
"Either Georgia or South Carolina because we had a pretty good showing on the ground and protected pretty well."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN DANIEL HOOD
»(On their confidence level)
"I don't see it dropping, and that's kind of our job as seniors to keep it from dropping. The past couple of years it's done that. So, we had a meeting. It's just about realizing, look we know we worked harder than other teams this summer, we know we put in the work in the beginning of the season, we know we physically outmatched Georgia, South Carolina. We've got to keep building on that.
"We can't take a step back, and that's why this bye week comes and helps us at a great time. Because it's going back to basics, it's going back to building that confidence up, getting back into the weight room, doing heavier weight than you normally do, doing more reps just to get guys building that up."
»(On it being the seniors' last Vol Walk)
"For me, it's been that way all season. We started the season and you're like, `We've got seven times to run through the T. I've got seven times to do the Vol Walk. Seven times to really be on Neyland again.' So, I'm trying to treat the year with that intensity all year. It's a great place. I'm going to miss it. I definitely haven't slacked on it all year."