KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Sixth-ranked Georgia comes to Knoxville on Saturday, but the buzz around town is all about the Vols breaking out their smoky gray uniforms.
Back in August, coach Butch Jones unveiled the new duds at a preseason press conference in Neyland Stadium without providing the exact date for the one-game extravaganza.
Over the weekend, Jones said it’s now.
It’s a national television weekend.
It is a long-anticipated debut for something new, something exciting for players and fans who haven’t had a lot be thrilled about since 2007, the last time Tennessee had anything to brag about in the Southeastern Conference and on the national college football scene.
It’s Georgia week.
So, break ’em out.
The big, never-blinking CBS eye will help there to showcase the – for Tennessee, at least – new experiment with gridiron attire. It’s a huge departure from the traditional orange-and-white garb that’s been worn for more than a century.
In 2009, Tennessee rocked the Vol Nation simply by wearing a black jersey with orange trim and beat South Carolina, 31-13.
Saturday will be of earthquake proportions.
"First of all, it's an opportunity to be on national television at 3:30 against a great opponent in Georgia," Jones said. "In recruiting, players look forward to seeing different uniforms and I think it's something that our fan base has been waiting for."
However, it remains to be seen if the new uniform will make a bit of difference in the game’s outcome.
Georgia is, after all, Georgia – a team that has already beaten two top 10 teams. The Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0) has won three straight against Tennessee and have averaged 37.3 points doing it.
And Tennessee (3-2, 0-1) remains the Tennessee of recent past, a team struggling to be competitive.
But Jones is about positive things these days.
"I know our players have been looking forward to wearing them," he said. "But that makes no impact in the outcome of the game. We have to play the game, the game is won between the lines.’
Said center James Stone, "We’ll use them for extra juice, but it's all about how we play, not what we wear. It's something cool, an incentive to go out there and play as hard as we can."
When the Vols take the field in gray tops and pants, it will mark just the third time since the 1930s that a Tennessee team has worn anything other than orange on Shields-Watkins field.
In 2004, the Vols wore a throwback white jersey with orange shoulders for the home opener against UNLV, a 42-17 Tennessee victory. In 2009, Tennessee wore a black jersey with orange numbers and orange pants for a 31-13 win over South Carolina.
Gray isn’t without a history at Tennessee. The undefeated 1914 Vols wore gray uniforms while beating nine straight opponents, outscoring them, 347-37. In that season, coach Z.G. Clevenger’s team allowed only one team to score more than seven points in a 16-14 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville.
The uniform itself features a solid gray jersey with orange numbers with a checkerboard pattern, outlined in white. "Vols" appears in block lettering below the neckline, marking the first time the UT nickname has appeared on the football uniform.
The pants are gray with two orange stripes, trimmed in white, that mirror the stripes on the normal home and away pants. There is a Power T on the hip, a logo previously featured in that location from 1995-2005. The only previous time the "T" and a stripe were on the pants together was in 2002.
Here are highlights of the Vols’ session with media on Monday:
Coach Butch Jones
"Good afternoon, thanks for coming out. To start off where we are at program-wise, a little bit about last week and then moving on this week against Georgia. I think everyone needs to understand, I think we do, but when you are building a culture, when you are building an environment, when you are working on changing habits, it takes time.
"We talk about playing disciplined football, we talk about learning how to play winning football. I think before we really get started there is an inordinate amount of positive things that are going on in our football program right now. I think in the world that we live in today everyone wants to focus on negativity, but let's focus on the positives, I call it `Positive Monday.' First of all Rajion Neal had the most yards rushing by a running back at Tennessee since 2009, he had 169 yards. This football team, has had three 200-plus yard rushing games. We had three combined from 2010-2012. We currently lead the SEC and we are eighth in the country in fewest penalties, a little over three penalties per game. We lead the SEC and we are fourth in the country in fewest penalty yardage. We are tied for number one in the country for interceptions with 11. We lead the SEC and we are third in the country with 15 forced turnovers. We lead the SEC and we are tenth in the country with points off of turnovers. Our first two touchdowns on this past weeks game were scored by two true freshman, both making their first career touchdown receptions. Right now we have played a total of 14 true freshman and 22 freshman overall.
"As we continue to progress, the evolution of this football team is understanding what it is to compete for 60 minutes. It is a 60-minute game. I spoke to our team about this, there is a different between playing the game and competing. We are searching for competitive greatness. High achievement takes place in the framework of high expectations. We have extremely high expectations for every member within our football family and our football program, from the coaches to the players to the support staff. It is our players understanding that every play has a life of its own, you have to play that play to the best of your ability and then snap and clear. But you must have that mindset that every play has its own life. That is part of that mental conditioning, that snap and clear mentality that we talk about all the time. We talk about playing winning football. I understand that that is a very broad term, a lot of things go into it. Our players are responsible for getting themselves ready to play, week in and week out. We live in a society where everything is based on productivity but everyone in our program and everyone in our football organization is going to be held to the highest standard. It is that high level of accountability that we talk about.
"Right now we have some major depth issues and I think it is starting to be revealed, I think it is starting to show itself. We had two individuals who had monumental games for us, A.J. Johnson took 83 snaps at linebacker, Dontavis Snap took 82 snaps at linebacker plus 12 snaps on special teams. Every single rep you take accumulates over time throughout the course of the grind of a long season. That is where we are at and we have to continue to recruit and develop depth upon our football team. We have too many individuals playing way to many reps. Both starting corners were in the high 70s in the terms of repetitions on Saturday. And again throughout the course of a long season that can't happen.
"I thought we had some tough circumstances Saturday, a lot we created for ourselves. At the end of the day our players made the plays that they needed to to win the football game. We had a game winning stop defensively. We had some red zone stops prior to that. We had to run the clock out running the ball, we were able to do that. I thought we had some individuals really give tremendous effort, the first individual that comes to mind is Corey Miller. I thought he played his best, most complete game since we have been here, his effort was outstanding. We have to be high achievers, we have to be overachievers. We have to have '63' effort and strain. I thought the first half we had that. I thought we played pretty well in the first half and then I thought we got sloppy as the game wore on. That is illustrated by the way we played in the third and fourth quarter. We can't do that. Our players have to learn what it takes to play winning football for 60 minutes. I have said it, we are going to be a disciplined football team, I think those are illustrations on how far this football team has come.
"I liked the work ethic, I liked our mentality of our players, I like everything that we are doing but we just have to continue to progress. One of those areas is, we cannot turn the football over. It is inexcusable, that is making good choices and good decisions with the football. I think that has been the one area when you look to in terms of being a disciplined football team where we have to take great strides and continue to move forward. We have been careless with the football when we throw it and we can't continue to have those catastrophic mistakes as we move forward with this football team."
Senior offensive lineman James Stone
(On offense's performance this season)
"I feel like we've shown some good things, but overall we haven't been playing up to what we need to be playing. I feel like we've had too many turnovers, too much inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball, but I feel like I've seen enough good from the guys on the offense that I see we have stuff to work for and stuff that can be promising going deep into the season."
(On offensive line's performance)
"I feel like we've had some good moments, but at the same time I feel like there's been too much inconsistency in the offensive line play, especially with the expectations that we place on ourselves as an offensive line with the experience that we have. We're trying to raise our caliber of play each week."
(On Rajion Neal's big day Saturday)
"That gives us a tremendous amount of confidence because we always respect Rajion, and we were just very happy to see Rai go out there and get those yards the way he did last Saturday."
(On Antonio Richardson's tweet)
"I feel like Tiny, he's just really proud. We had challenged ourselves that we were going to have a good rushing attack. He was probably just really proud about the fact that we were able to accomplish that in the rushing game, but we see where we have our inconsistencies at as an offensive line, and we place high expectations on ourselves as well, so we're always working to improve on the offensive line."
(On expectations for Georgia's defense)
"I expect them to play their game. They're a very talented defense. We watched them. They're very talented and athletic, so we're going to have to bring everything we have and play with a level of physicality in order to be successful against a defense like this."
(On not having to face 360-pound nose tackle anymore)
"They've got some pretty good guys in there this year. It's a different job, the job's different for having to block guys that are very massive because now you've got guys who are a little more quick, a little more get-off, but it's still going to be a task and I'm still going to have to come through with the right mindset."
(On using gray uniforms as a positive)
"You just use them for extra juice. You use them to motivate guys. Like you said, it's all about how we play, it's not about what we wear. It's something cool, it's something fun, it's just something of an incentive to play as hard as you can."
(On Georgia's defense being different from last year)
"They still play with the same mindset. They just have different personnel."
(On having faith in defense to shut down Georgia's offense)
"I have a tremendous amount of faith in our defense, but I do feel like, as an offense, we are going to have to score and be more effective. We have to be more effective down in the red zone, and when we have the ball and sustaining drives."
(On preparing for October)
"We just have to continue to focus on the process and listen to what the coaches have to say. We have to continue to focus on the process of the group and continue to improve. I feel like we will attack this month the right way. We are focusing on Georgia right now, and not the past Octobers."
(On "Positive Monday")
"I think it is directed to anyone who hears it. The players need the positives to have something to work on, and it helps to get our spirits up because we are going to need a great week of preparation for Georgia on Saturday. It gets our minds on Georgia and the task at hand because they are going to be a tough team."
(On reaction to fans booing Justin Worley)
"I didn't hear it while I was on the field. I didn't know about it until after the game. I support Justin to the fullest. I will always have his back, and the entire offensive line will have his back. We have confidence in him."
(On watching Georgia this year)
"I have seen a couple of their first few games. I think they have a talented defensive front, and they are athletic. We are going to have to play with good technique, and a level of physicality in order to be successful, among the offensive line for our offense to be successful. I haven't seen anything on their offense."
(On Georgia being a big game)
"I feel like it is a big game because it is an SEC opponent. It is going to be a home game for us. It's our first SEC game at home for Team 117. It is a real big game for us, and I feel like that should be everyone's mind and focus should be likewise."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)