KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) – Jay Graham knows a thing or two about breaking streaks with ESPN’s College GameDay in town.
As a junior for the Vols in 1995, UT’s current running backs coach ran for 117 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run, to help lead Tennessee to a 41-14 win over Alabama, breaking a streak of nine consecutive years without a win over the Crimson Tide.
The memory of that win at Legion Field in Birmingham is one that has stuck with Graham through the years.
“Just to see the fans in the corner of the end zone and just the feeling that we had after that game, I guess you can say it lifted a weight off your shoulders,” Graham said.
This year, the Big Orange is looking to snap a seven-game skid against Florida with College GameDay making the trek to Rocky Top this time. Graham hopes this season’s squad has the same mindset going into the game as the Vols did in 1995.
“We were aware of [the streak], but we knew it came down to one game,” Graham said. “We knew we had to take it one play at a time. At least that’s the way I remember it.”
Since last beating Florida, Tennessee has had trouble generating offense on the ground against the Gators being out-rushed by an average of 108.3 yards during those seven games. That is a stat Graham says has to change for the Vols if they want to celebrate after the game on Saturday.
“Most games in this conference are won by the team that rushes for more yards,” Graham said. “The key for us is not trying to get them all in one play, but how many times can you run for four to five yards, not as much the average. The thing that I have seen is that on certain plays, I’ve seen the best of what we can do. So I tell them, this is the standard that I’m holding you to, so try to be that guy you were on that play on a more consistent basis.”
Accomplishing that feat is easier said than done, however, especially against a defense as talented as Florida’s is.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Graham said. “They’re going to be in the backfield. They have a defensive front that will get after you. They are fast, explosive. The key to it is when you see a hole, you better take it, because it may not be there if you hesitate. They play you straight up and it kind of looks like stunting and standing sometimes because they’re moving so fast.”
BRODUS' BIG SHOT
Last season walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus gained national headlines for the wild story of how he became the Vols' kicker in the Middle Tennessee game.
Brodus went from his living room couch, to a police escort, to starting kicker for the Vols in less than an hour after injuries felled UT's top two kickers. On Saturday, Brodus has a chance to be on the national stage once again, but this time for his kicking prowess, rather than the tale of his arrival at Neyland Stadium.
On Monday, head coach Derek Dooley announced that Brodus has supplanted Michael Palardy as the team's primary kicker on field goals and extra-points after Palardy's inconsistent start to the season. Brodus is perfect on all of his collegiate kicks, even though it is a small sample. He is 2-of-2 on field goals and 4-of-4 on PATs.
Special teams coach Charlie Coiner has confidence in Brodus and is quick to point out that the opponent isn't as pertinent when considering kickers.
"We look at it whether it's Georgia State or Florida, they're not going to move the goal post," said Coiner. "The football field is going to be the same. The only thing you're asking me is there more pressure when you're playing Florida over Georgia State? I don't know. We hope not. We hope that what they do is go out there and perform. You block out. That's what kickers do. That's what snappers and holders do. You block out all of that and just get in a zone of what you're doing. If you do that, it doesn't matter if it's the Green Bay Packers or if it's Pflugerville."
With a new kicker comes a new holder as Brodus' fellow walk-on Tyler Dummer takes on the role this week. Coiner says the Powell native is solid and provides a level of comfort.
"He's reliable," said Coiner. "We evaluate everything in practice. Drummer is somebody who has been working with it for a while. Our kickers are confident with him. Our coaches are confident with him. We feel good about that."
TIME FOR SOME GROWN MAN FOOTBALL
As the Vols head into their toughest challenge of the 2012 season Saturday, coaches on both sides of the ball preached about stepping up and playing tough.
Tennessee's game against Florida will not just be aired to a national audience on ESPN, but will hit the national stage earlier in the day with College GameDay coming to town.
The game will also mark the first SEC game of the year for the Vols. And SEC football is unique in many aspects.
"In the NFL they can only press for five yards so [playing against press coverage] is a little different in the NFL," said wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw. "They get a penalty if they touch you. So it is actually harder in the SEC [to play against it] than it is in the NFL. Honestly. You have to work and be good at press coverage all the time in the SEC. If you look at the SEC, all the teams that play it they all have hands on. LSU, Alabama, Georgia - they all put hands on a lot so you have to be good at that."
As the wide receivers prepare for the press coverage of Florida by practicing against their own teammates, the defense is upping their intensity and readying to play tough for a full four quarters against Florida.
This is the time for grown man football.
"We have one way to go," said cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley. "We can't play three quarters of football, bottom line. In this league and starting conference play, you have to come out there and play four quarters. We challenge our guys to do that. The main thing, it's going to be old school football. The team that blocks the best and tackles the best and gets all the blocks and controls the line of scrimmage is going to be the team that is going to win. They're not going to trick us. We're not going to trick them. Whoever comes out here and wants it the most. This is going to be grown man football this weekend."
DOWNS HURRIES BACK
It appears that Tennessee's injury-depleted tight end corp might get a boost in the arm Saturday as Brendan Downs is recovering from a knee injury much faster than anticipated.
After dislocating his patella in the team's second fall scrimmage, Downs was initially ruled to be out for a significant portion of the season.
As it turns out, he is on pace to be back after missing just two games with head coach Derek Dooley saying he could get 10 snaps on Saturday against Florida.
Tight ends coach Charlie Coiner said his ability to return so quickly is partly because of some lucky genetics, but also his relentless attitude.
"Guy has freakish knee I guess," Coiner said. "There's no way I thought he would be back, but he is. He's doing a good job, we put him out there this week. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a trainer so I can't make decisions about whether he can go or not but I'm proud of him, I'm happy for him.
"He'd done such a good job before then and to see him get hurt like that [was disappointing]. He's one of those guys, like (Mychal) Rivera, he's eating up the football. He's in my ear, trying to get in and get in. He's a guy I've had to hold back a little bit, but I'm excited to get him back."
FLORIDA HEAD COACH WILL MUSCHAMP
“Tennessee, very explosive offensively with nine starters returning. Jim Chaney, their offensive coordinator, they’ve gone to a no huddle tempo, they will hurry up at times and they’ll look back at times as well. Tyler Bray is a guy that’s very accurate with the football and can make all of the throws. You turn on the tape and he’s got a touch on the ball, he can throw the ball downfield, he can throw it on the line, but he makes all of the throws. (Justin) Hunter and (Cordarrelle) Patterson are outstanding at wide-out. Two explosive guys that can stretch the field vertically and have very good ball skills down the field, they can make all the plays. Their tight end’s back, got 300+ up front, 4-5 starters return on the o-line, certainly have been very explosive in their first two ball games. Defensively, Sal Sunseri is a new coordinator from Alabama, they’ll be multiple in what they do and some odd and even fronts but they’ve been very aggressive in the first two ball games and I think they’ve forced 5 interceptions. They’ve done a nice job of getting the ball back to their offense.”
(On Derek Dooley’s overriding philosophy)
“I think that he’s done a nice job at Tennessee, especially if you look at their football team right now from a year ago, and obviously the injuries they had last year decimated their season; the QB position, Hunter getting hurt here, different positions that happened. They’ve got an experienced team back, they want to be physical and run the football, and they want to take advantage of their strengths offensively, which are at the QB and receiver positions at this time. He wanted to get more aggressive defensively and I think they’ve done that. His background has always been in special teams and they’re really good on that, so I think you’re kind of seeing a little more of his identity and personality in this football team as opposed to the previous two years.”
(On Muschamp’s recollection of the UT/UF Rivalry)
“Well they were two of the top 5 teams in the 90’s, basically the 3rd Saturday in September, whoever won that game had the leg up in the East. It certainly was not the answer, if you go back in history and look it up, the winner of the game didn’t mean you were going to win the East, but it certainly helped you throughout the season. A lot of great players, great coaches, what Spurrier did here in the 90’s has been unmatched as far as his success in a 12 year run.”
(On Tennessee Quarterback Tyler Bray)
“The guy has got great arm strength, he can make all of the throws. The thing that jumps out at you, as far as some of the vertical throws down the field to get there in a hurry, he’s got a great touch on the ball, he’s got a great rapport with his receivers, he throws the ball into tight coverage’s. So it’s not like he’s throwing it against zone all of the time, he’s throwing it against man to man and pattern coverage’s, and those are the things to me. He’s put up very impressive numbers when he’s been healthy.”
CORNERBACKS COACH DERRICK ANSLEY
(On what the team needs to do better)
“We have to cover our guy better. We have to have the right control, the right technique and get down on our guys. We play a lot of man-to-man going into the games so the answer is run a quick crossing route so we have to do a better job of covering those guys.”
(On playing more physical against Florida)
“I think the contact speed has been there. I think the kids have come out and done a great job of trying to compete and trying to win the line of scrimmage. I don’t think we have to do anything different as far as changing who we are. We are who we are. We want to put a physical stop on running defense and offense and special teams. I don’t think the guys have to do anything but match their level of excitement.”
TIGHT ENDS/SPECIAL TEAMS COACH CHARLIE COINER
(On Michael Palardy)
“I wouldn’t describe it as a downslide. I answered your questions all during the screening about how great he was doing, and all during camp about how great he was doing and my response was always, ‘When you turn the lights on.’ Let’s face it, you guys care about how they do on Saturdays. And rightfully so, that’s what matters. The deal is right now he’s had two rough Saturdays. Right now what he needs to do is find his way back. Work out there, work on whatever he needs to work on and make sure next Saturday is a good one. And then you guys will be talking about an upset. And that’s fine, that’s how it works. It is what have you done for me lately and I think Michael understands that.”
(On Cordarrelle Patterson)
“It’s not hard to see he’s good, you know mom called me from Virginia last week. She can see that. It’s not hard to see that CP is really good. What we do is try to get him started. We talked to the return team this week to get CP and Devrin (Young) started. If you notice, more with CP than Devrin, to try to get people out of their faces. If you’re back here and you catch it and all of a sudden there’s somebody breathing on you as you do it, it’s hard. But if you keep people out of their face and give them a little window of 10-15 yards, that’s when guys like that let the genie out of the bottle so to speak.”
SAFTIES COACH JOSH CONKLIN
(On Florida’s wide receivers)
“They’ve got a lot of speed, obviously. You see them catch the ball really well, and I think they cause some problems with space. We came out of last week’s game and the open-field tackling wasn’t as solid as it was against N.C. State, so that was a big area of emphasis for us. Getting those guys into the open field and being able to tackle them in the open field is a concern going into this week and knowing what they’ve got on their side.”
(On playing deeper against Florida’s WRs)
“Every week changes a little bit. I don’t know if Coach will deepen up too much more than we were at N.C. State. Things change when you look at the skill match-ups you’ve got based on what they’re doing, what they’re giving you conceptually from a pass-route concept. It changes, here and there, a little bit.”
(On Florida players breaking tackles and the importance of wrapping up this week)
“It’s really important, especially with the heavier guys, to be sure you’re wrapping up. Again, looking back at last week, that’s something that I don’t think we did a great job of, so we came in this week and really focused on that.”
RUNNING BACKS COACH JAY GRAHAM
(On short running backs)
“Actually, I think it’s a plus for them. It’s hard for them. You’re behind big offensive linemen and it’s hard for linebackers to see you back there. The most important thing is that you’re hitting it with speed. You have to run fast and you’re still reading it the same way, but those guys run inside as well as outside. I guess for the most part they have a little chip on their shoulders, but that’s a good thing.”
(On ball security)
“You try to keep it in perspective and [Marlin Lane] needs to understand that it’s not an issue. It’s what you did technically. When you hold the ball low, things happen. He needs to understand that ball security is the most important thing and I think he understands it.”
(On bracketing three starters)
“More than pressure, I think it is competition. It’s helping them and they’re competitive guys and I think it ups their intensity and ups their game.”
(On yards after contact)
“We’ve done well at times and it can always be better. I think we’ve done well at times as far as running through, but we’re always pushing for more, always working on breaking tackles. That’s the key to the whole thing.”
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH DARIN HINSHAW
(On Pig Howard)
“I am really excited to see him in action. You have to be patient with him because the learning curve isn’t there. He hasn’t had the chance to go through it and make mistakes. I always compare it to riding a bike. You can talk about riding a bike and all that but when you get on it you fall off. Well he is falling off right now and we have to get him to pedal faster and we will learn how to do wheelies later.”
(On Zach Rogers)
“Zach Rogers can play all three positions. He can just repeat the offense to you. He knows what the quarterback is looking at. He understands the routes, he understands all those things. That is really valuable.”
(On having tall receivers)
“I think it is always an advantage to have taller receivers but you have to have that speed and elusiveness too. Justin Hunter has just a large catch radius. We can throw the ball in a lot of areas and he will make that play. Same with CP, he does a good job with that also.”
(On CP’s ability to run after the catch)
“He is pretty special at that. If you look at assets, that is one thing he does a really good job with. His elusiveness in tight spaces. He plays like a little guy but he is big and he is really fast. He can make those cuts and he understands the game. That is something you can’t really teach. That is something that is really special.”
(On CP’s attitude)
“He is a great kid, an unbelievable kid. He has been through a lot in his life. He understands where he comes from. He loves his mom and his sister to death and he understands his family and where he comes from. He goes out and works every single day and he will continue to get better every single day. I love coaching him.”
(On Florida’s secondary)
“They are a really good secondary. They play really physical and they do a really good job back there. They play a lot of different coverages to try and mix it up on you and try to confuse you. So we have to be ready for a lot of things. They are really good in the secondary, they do a really good job.”
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH SAM PITTMAN
“They have great linebackers. They brought in Antonio Morrison for Jelani Jenkins, and he’s playing his tail off. We have a great challenge. Saturday will be what it’s all about, and I’m excited to see what happens.”
(On how Tennessee’s O-Line is playing)
“I think we’ve protected the quarterback pretty well this year. We’re running the ball pretty well in our 21 package and our big package. When we’re spread out, we’re not running it very well. We have to do a better job of getting movement when we’re spread out, and getting on the faster, smaller linebackers that they’re playing. I think we are doing a pretty good job when we’re getting into the I-formation, things like that, and running Smash Mouth football. The main disappointment is we didn’t get the first down on a couple of third-and-ones last week.”
(On not getting too hyped too early)
“Coach Dooley does a great job with the team. All we’re trying to do is know the match-ups that we have and we’re trying to prepare both mentally and physically for that match-up. Each guy has a tall order in front of him. I think that pretty much prepares your mental outlook for the week, but you don’t want to get too hyped too fast, so we’ve been going business as usual the past couple days.”