KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It's not easy to do.
Stopping a Bobby Petrino offense can look daunting and after a season's hiatus, Petrino is back as the head coach of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
The Tennessee Volunteer defense could be one of the few to do it however. Coming off a 45-0 shutout performance against Austin Peay, defensive coordinator John Jancek and his young defense will be tested Saturday.
And a game that was a heavy Vol favorite before Petrino's arrival became a little closer.
"I have a lot of respect for coach Petrino," said Jancek. "He's got a great mind, a lot of the things he does are very well thought out. He knows how to attack coverages. We know that there are going to be times when they're going to be in a good call, we got to play through the call and allow our fundamentals and technique to carry the day."
Fundamentals and eye discipline have been a driving focus throughout the week of preparation. Coach Butch Jones and his staffed have said they were less than impressed last Saturday with the secondary spending too much time peeking into the backfield.
With the way Petrino exploits undisciplined defenses, it will be critical to play sound assignment football. Several of the Hilltoppers' offensive players have caught Tennessee's eyes.
"Well I think that the quarterback is really accurate with the football," said Jancek. "You know they've got some really good schemes and concepts that they're going to work within and we got to be sound all over the field, upfront and also on the back end."
Western Kentucky is fresh of a victory over SEC East member Kentucky. Their offense put up 487 yards of total offense with 271 yards coming through the air and at the hands of quarterback Brandon Doughty.
Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen combined for 191 yards rushing as well against the Kentucky defense.
"He has some really good thought," said Jancek. "He has some really good concepts with his passing game. Very solid in the run game so it's going to be a challenge."
So what are the keys to stopping a Petrino offense according to Jancek?
"Put your eyes were they belong, play with your fundamentals and play hard."
THE BEAT GOES ON
Saturday against Western Kentucky the Vols will be without starting wide receiver Devrin Young.
Young finished practice early on Tuesday and will miss 4-6 weeks of the season with a broken hand.
With Young not in the starting line-up that means another member of Team 117 needs to step up.
"He hurt his hand yesterday, went and saw the doctor today," said wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. "It's plug in the next guy right now. Pick up the rifle and move on and that's the way we have to do it. He was certainly getting better, there's no doubt about it, but now the next guy goes in and we roll."
Those next guys would be Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson according to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
"We talked to all of our guys about being ready to play and preparing every day as if you were going to be the starter," said Bajakian. "It's no different than the group that we saw last Saturday. At the slot position, we're expecting Alton (Pig) Howard to be a playmaker. Johnathon Johnson got some good snaps last Saturday. He should fill in pretty well."
Even the multi-talented Vincent Dallas could be seen in the slot.
"Vincent Dallas is a guy who can play multiple positions," continued Bajakian. "He's been around a while so he can really fill in wherever needed. We teach our offense conceptually so it's important for all the guys to know where all the pieces of the puzzle fit in. I think when they learn it conceptually they're able to move around a little more easily."
Young is not only a leader among the wide receivers, but is also the go-to guy for returns and handled all but one on Saturday night.
But special teams coach Mark Elder is prepared for Saturday with Young a no-go.
"A couple of the guys are excited about the opportunity to show what they have as well," said Elder. "Obviously Devrin is a good player, but we have some other guys that are going to step up and we won't miss a beat."
CARRY THE FIGHT TO WKU
The Vols sent a message last Saturday. And it wasn't the final 45-0 tally they put on Austin Peay. The young squad showed discipline.
Just one of two teams at the FBS level not to commit a penalty on week one, the Orange and White proved that it truly has bought into the new staff and system.
"We always preach attention to detail and focus; and that was evident," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "Coach Jones obviously wants a very disciplined program. Being penalty free is part of discipline.
"We preach it every day. Not just on the field, but in the meeting rooms, the weight room and throughout our entire program. That was evident in the performance on Saturday and obviously we need to build upon that and continue to play at that level."
Speaking of the next level, Bajakian noted this Western Kentucky team has talent and is a massive step up from last week's matchup. One reason for that is the linebacker play from Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd.
"They're very talented defensively," Bajakian said. "Their back seven -the defensive backs and the linebackers - are very athletic, very physical. It starts with Jackson in the middle and Boyd, the other linebacker, is very athletic. We've challenged our guys to step up their level of physicality.
"They play football very similar to the way we like to play football; with great effort, great intensity and great passion. You can see that on video. They're an exciting group; they won't be intimidated and they'll be ready to fight. Our guys are well-aware of their abilities and we made it very clear about what we need to do to be competitive this week."
One of those things is to continue establishing a running game. The Vols ran for over 300 yards against Austin Peay, but Coach Bajakian saw areas that need improvement.
"You walk away from that game and you can always get better," said Bajakian. "As well as we may have executed, we'd like to see better ball security from our running backs. We held the ball away from our body a little bit. We want to finish blocks at the second level. We want to be more physical and attack. We're always looking to improve every day."
The majority of the Vols' offense checked out after 30 minutes last week. Coach Bajakian knows he may not have that luxury come Saturday.
"We emphasize competing for 60 minutes," Bajakian said. "We emphasize making conditioning a factor. We want to make sure that we're playing with a tempo and a level of strain that will help us get through those four quarters and will be a competitive edge for us."
THE BIG MAN IN... 63?
At practice Wednesday, there were multiple No. 63's on the field.
Joining Brett Kendrick in donning the number was Daniel McCullers who Coach Jones called out and made an example of at the beginning of practice.
This wasn't the first time Jones has pointed out McCullers.
"That is just the point of emphasis," said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. "Coach Jones in camp said that we will go as far as Dan McCullers takes us. Wearing the 63 jersey today, point of emphasis."
Jones theme for the Western Kentucky week is 63. Six seconds, three great efforts.
This can mean many things for the multiple positions on the field.
For the lineman there is a specific formula.
"An effort for a defensive lineman would be addressing the blocks, one effort, getting off of the block, another effort, making a tackle is an effort," said Stripling. "Big Dan is big. But, big people have the most trouble at doing that. He has been the point of emphasis that we are going to strain every play, it is going to be harder for him, but he has to get it done."
Jones has made sure that the 63 is visible for McCullers and all of Team 117 to see this week plastering 120 63 stickers all over the complex.
"You go anywhere in our complex, you are going to see those 63 stickers," said Stripling. "That is what it is."
Here are sound bites from Coach Stripling, Coach Jancek and Coach Bajakian:
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH STEVE STRIPLING
(On improving from Austin Peay)
"Your first game you always talk about there are lots of question marks. Playing the game and having the ability to have played a number of players I think gives you a better idea, maybe gives you an area of focus for your improvements during the week. But this is going to be a big test. This is a totally different game. This is going to be a physical fist fight of a game compared to last week so we are looking forward to the challenge."
(On Western Kentucky)
"Western Kentucky is very well coached. Those coaches are excellent and it is going to be a very good game plan. For us it is just really a matter of winning the line of scrimmage. Which means, they are going to run the ball downhill at us much more so than we got in our first game. We have to be able to control the line of scrimmage and win at the point of attack. When it is passed we have to get to the quarterback because he has been very effective when there has been no pressure."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
(On the WKU quarterback)
"I think he's very accurate. I think he makes really good decisions with the ball, very poised in the pocket so he looks good to me."
(On the WKU running back)
"It's going to be critical. He's a very good back, he has great vision and balance. He has good feet in the hole, he's got good lateral quickness so he's a really good back."
(On what the defensive line needs to do Saturday)
"Getting off blocks, that's the big thing with those guys up front. To be able to separate and manage your gap and have some sort of gap integrity and gap control, that's going to be big in this game."
(On the pass rush)
"You know that's always important. Curt (Maggitt) is going to be a big part of that. Whoever is in there they have to understand the situation of the game and if it's third down or an obvious passing situation, you've got to pin your ears back and get at this quarterback and make him feel uncomfortable."
(On Bobby Petrino's scheme)
"I think a lot of the same concepts that he ran at Arkansas is something he believes in so I know that he's not a grab bag, he knows what he wants and he's going to execute it."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
(On what Justin Worley needs to gain)
"I think a little more confidence. Again, it's a process. He was efficient last Saturday and we're looking to build and improve on a daily basis."
(On who impressed him on the No. 2 offense)
"Mack Crowder came in and competed his butt off and I love his mentality and what he brings to the table, he's a smart player and he really came in and stepped up his game and got some valuable reps there. It was good to see Paul Harris make a difficult catch- we always talk about making a difficult play and he was able to do that, and then just some freshmen in general came in and got valuable reps. The more they can get exposed to that, the better off they will be in the long run."
(On Nathan Peterman)
"Nathan, again, managed the game. I'd like to see better ball location on some of his throws but some of the things that might not be so evident, I was very happy with. He came in, he's a very intelligent player, and the run game was right on with all the checks and procedurally, really did a good job on coming in and managing the offense."
(On if he'd like to have played his starters more)
"I'm happy we won. First and foremost, that's our goal. It's a long season and every rep is valuable as long as they're continuing to improve from snap to snap and week one to week two: that's the important thing."
(On Worley's awareness of WKU DB Jonathan Dowling)
"It's very important for Justin to be aware, we talk about how Dowling does a great job of keying the quarterback and reading route concepts, and we need to make sure that we do a great job when it comes to how we control defenders with our eyes or with our shoulders or the simple innuendos of body language that can help hold second-level defenders whether it be secondary or linebackers."
(On Johnathon Johnson)
"He executed what we had asked him to execute, he did make the one difficult catch on the out-cut which was nice to see. As I've often said, in this offense we're looking to get the ball into the hands of those guys that can do something with it and Jonathon demonstrated that `Hey, the ball doesn't have to be perfectly thrown right at the numbers or right at the facemask.' He can open his hips and make the catch on the ball behind him and we were able to execute the first down on that one."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)