Tennessee senior linebacker Colton Jumper, redshirt senior wide receiver Josh Smith, junior defensive back Micah Abernathyand sophomore offensive lineman Marcus Tatum met with the media on Tuesday afternoon in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio to talk about the team's preparations for this Saturday's game against South Carolina.
The Vols' showdown with the Gamecocks at Neyland Stadium will be broadcast at noon ET on ESPN.
Sights Set on South Carolina
The Vols made valuable use of their bye last week by getting some much-needed rest and recovery while also setting their sights on a talented South Carolina team that is riding high after a dominant 48-22 victory over Arkansas last weekend.
UT players and coaches have made it clear this week that the Georgia loss is in the rearview mirror and that the team's focus is solely on the Gamecocks.
"Georgia is in the past and it's South Carolina now," Smith said.
"That's our main focus right now and it has to be that. We can't end our season versus Georgia. We have seven games left. It's a long season and we can still finish with a great record."
Vols Gearing Up for Another Competitive Matchup with Gamecocks
It's no secret that the Tennessee-South Carolina game has been extremely competitive over the past five years with every matchup in that span being settled by three points or less. The Big Orange have come away victorious in three of those contests, including a pair of triumphs at Neyland Stadium in 2013 and 2015.
However, South Carolina earned a signature win over the 18th-ranked Vols last season in Columbia with a 24-21 victory in head coach Will Muschamp's first season with the program.
"It's a big rivalry game and we've been emphasizing that this week," Jumper said. "Over the past few years, these games have come right down to the end. It's always close each year."
Tatum Talks About New Starting Role
One of Tennessee's main priorities during the bye week was to find a cohesive unit up front and give them time to gel. The Vols seem to have found that in the starting five of Drew Richmond, Brett Kendrick, Jashon Robertson, Trey Smith and Tatum, who is in line to make his second straight start at right tackle this Saturday afternoon against the Gamecocks.
Tatum talked about how he has adjusted to being moved into a starting role and what the offensive line is looking to improve on overall.
"The biggest change is being more focused on the details and things like that," Tatum said. "Also, not letting the hype get to you and still practicing like you're competing for a position. Even though I feel like I still am all the time, you still have to give your all in practice no matter what. So never getting too comfortable in a spot is important.
"As a unit, we really just need to be more consistent. We need championship consistency, and that's what Coach [Walt] Wells stresses a lot. We need to keep getting that, and then we'll be good."
Eight Former Vols Set to Be Inducted into Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame
Tennessee Athletics announced its eight-person 2017 induction class for the Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame back in August. The star-studded class includes Monica Abbott (softball), the late Ray Bussard (coach; men's swimming), Phillip Fulmer (coach; football), Justin Gatlin (men's track), Todd Helton (baseball), Jeremy Linn (men's swimming), the late Gen. Robert Neyland (coach; football) and Delisa Walton Myricks (women's track).
The Class of 2017 will be celebrated this weekend with events and activities surrounding the Vols' game against South Carolina. The Hall of Fame activities will include a private induction ceremony on the evening of Friday, Oct. 13. The inductees also will be recognized on the field at Neyland Stadium at the end of the first quarter.
Senior Linebacker Colton Jumper
On if any special blitzes have been drawn up for him specifically:
"There's never been like a 'Colton blitz' or anything, but certain blitzes are just designed to defeat certain things, and so it's kind of just worked out that way."
On being able to maintain chemistry between the offensive and defensive side of the ball:
"We're a team, it's not just one side of the ball. So it doesn't matter if one side is doing better, it just comes down to who you are as a team."
On making adjustments during the Georgia game on the sidelines:
"Our coaches are really good at changing things up. We might not have been on the sidelines that much, but when it comes down to it, it's our job in that amount of time to get things fixed."
On educating the younger players about the competitiveness of the South Carolina game:
"I don't think we really need to tell the younger guys about it because it's an SEC East game. It's a big rivalry game and we've been emphasizing that this week. Over the past few years, these games have come right down to the end. It's always close each year."
Sophomore Offensive Lineman Marcus Tatum
On adjusting to being a starter on the offensive line:
"It's been good. The biggest change is being more focused on the details and things like that. Also, not letting the hype get to you and still practicing like you're competing for a position. Even though I feel like I still am all the time, you still have to give your all in practice no matter what. So never getting too comfortable in a spot is important."
On what the offensive line needs to improve on as a whole:
"As a unit, we really just need to be more consistent. We need championship consistency, and that's what Coach Wells stresses a lot. We need to keep getting that, and then we'll be good."
On what the team worked on over the bye week:
"Over the bye week, we just worked on our toughness: going back and getting in full pads and just doing a lot more full team work, just competing against each other and winning our one on one matchups."
Redshirt Senior Wide Receiver Josh Smith
On looking ahead to South Carolina:
"Georgia is in the past and it's South Carolina now. That's our main focus right now and it has to be that. We can't end our season versus Georgia. We have seven games left. It's a long season and we can still finish with a great record. This team believes in this team. I love this team and I'm ready for South Carolina."
On redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's improvement:
"Jarrett has a good story because he's unselfish. They're both competing and he keeps competing. That just shows his character. I think highly of him and I think he's growing. I think he's just going to keep getting better."
On South Carolina's defense:
"I think their linebackers and defensive backs are strong. Their linebackers are really aggressive. They make plays and they're always around the ball. You have playmakers in the secondary as well. They have the ability to make plays. Last year, they had two picks. They have good ball skills and they're good in the cover game. That's just makes our job that much more important. Our route technique and execution will be huge and that's on us."
Junior Defensive Back Micah Abernathy
On the bye week:
"It was definitely progressive. We had a productive week of practice, just getting back out there, going back to our crafts, our fundamentals and getting better."
On if the focus of the bye week was to get back to fundamentals:
"Yes, that's what the bye week is for. You get to assess half of your season or almost half of your season, wherever your bye week is, and you get to see what you need to improve on and focus more on that."
On Nigel Warrior's progress as a sophomore:
"I would say every week he is maturing more and more on the field, even off the field and in film room and things like that. Really, it's just maturity."
On if the team uses the 2016 loss to South Carolina as motivation for this week's game:
"We are obviously going to watch the film from last year to see how they attacked us. But that's pretty much it."
(Contact Dennis Norwood at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter at @DennisENorwood)