KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) – Florida has won seven in a row over Tennessee. That is a fact that can’t be argued. Fortunately for the Vols, it will have absolutely no impact on the upcoming showdown between the two top-25 teams on Saturday.
Whether UT has lost seven consecutive games or won 10 in a row like it did to open the series with the Gators, streaks like that only come into play if you let them, something the Vols are intent on not letting happen this season.
“Those things don’t matter unless you talk about it and you make it matter,” Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. “They don’t. What matters is what team is going to show up and play for 60 minutes in the best possible manner. That’s all that matters.
“The streak has nothing to do with it unless you think it does. If you think it does, then it does. Who was it, Nuke LaLoosh? If he thinks he’s pitching good because he is wearing the garter, he is pitching good because he is wearing the garter.”
Set to play in his fourth career game against the Gators this weekend, senior Zach Rogers won’t be looking for anything to help him breathe through his eyelids on Saturday as he has clearly heard and embraced Dooley’s message.
“We try not to focus on that streak,” Rogers said. “It’s in the past and we can’t do anything about it now. What we have to do is game plan for these guys this week and come out Saturday ready to fight. It’s Florida-Tennessee, it’s one of the best rivalries around. Regardless of what happens Saturday we are going to come out fighting.
“We know we’ve been through a lot, we know we’ve been through ups and downs and haven’t had the greatest seasons here, but this season is a new season. We can’t look at the past anymore and have to focus on what is ahead.”
FROM 100 to 100,000
Although some of this week's hype is channeled elsewhere, first-year at Tennessee juniors Cordarrelle Patterson and Daniel McCullers are focusing on their SEC debut this Saturday against Florida.
Though they are in just their first year with the Vols, this duo is taking to the starting line with plenty of experience to shine on their biggest game yet.
At 6-foot-6 and 377 pounds, the Vols' biggest defensive lineman, McCullers, is starting to make a well-known name for himself around the conference. And the Raleigh, NC native is prepared.
"It is [the biggest game I've played in]," McCullers said. "It's SEC Florida, it gets no bigger than that so far, so we're going to be ready."
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Patterson ranked as the number one JUCO recruit in the nation this year coming from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. In just two games so far this season, he has recorded 360 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns against NC State as well as one against Georgia State.
"I'm just ready to be out there and compete with the best conference there is," Patterson said. "[We just have to] go out there and execute."
"It's my first SEC game," McCullers said. "I'm very excited, ready to take on Florida. We'll get ready through the week."
Even though he didn't get much playing time against Georgia State, McCullers is glad to be on the field this week. He wasn't worried about it and says it was good for him to rest up for Florida.
"I think I did pretty well [against NC State]," McCullers said. "I didn't make many plays, but I helped stop the run, and that's the number one key for my position."
Neither McCullers and Patterson are new to the national publicity or how they need to prepare for their matchup this Saturday.
"I'm hyped for it because I feel like I've waited two years for this day and I'm just ready to get to it," Patterson said.
"This is a big rivalry," McCullers said. "In my classes, people are talking about Florida, 'you gotta take on Florida, just do good.' We're going to get ready though. It's a big game. Wherever I sit [in class, the students] know me. It's all good."
Before coming to Tennessee, McCullers says that the biggest crowd he played in front of in junior college was "about 100."
"I get more fired up [playing in front of a bigger crowd]," McCullers said. "When I played my first game at Tennessee last week, seeing all the people, I got pretty excited, I just wanted to do well, so I went hard every snap that I was in there. It's good playing in front of all those people."
Looking forward to the weekend, the wide receiver and defensive lineman stand-outs aren't the only ones on the team that are prepared and excited.
"We're just keeping it like we have been doing, just relaxing and doing what we have been all week," Patterson said. "We don't pay any attention to [the national publicity] we just go out every day at practice and compete and get ready for the game. We don't listen to the distractions."
"That's my type of game," McCullers said on Florida's offense. "I like physical games with the running backs that like to run it, so it's time to play well."
Both stars are continuing to prepare themselves mentally and physically, on and off the field this week to make a mark on their first SEC game this Saturday.
Junior quarterback Tyler Bray leads a ranked team into action for the first time in his three years with the Vols on Saturday. He is well aware of the recent history between the Vols and the Gators, and says UT has keen focus on the the 2012 meeting.
"(The seven-game losing streak) bothers us, this team is more mature than last year," said Bray. "We probably didn't think about the streak and just wanted to win. This year we are taking some pride and some ownership and we need to beat them."
For Bray, he sees the positives of the Vols being back on the national stage, with a Top 25 ranking and ESPN's College GameDay in Knoxville for most of the week.
"It's good for the University of Tennessee," said Bray. "It's good for the state. We're ranked again back to what it used to be like, so if we could get a win on Saturday it would be great.”
The impact of a victory over Florida is one that is not lost on Bray either.
"(A win) would be huge," he said. "Just to get back to how Tennessee used to be and beating Florida would be great."
Bray of course knows that taking on the the 18th-ranked Gators is a tall task.
"I mean they have two NFL picks (on the defense line) someday and their secondary we'll try to go after," said Bray. "The linebackers, (Jonathan) Bostic is really good and really smart so it's going to be a tough game.”
"They're going to bring a bunch of exotic blitzes like our defense so it's nothing we haven't seen before."
With the Vols' 2-0 start, a lot of praise is being heaped on Bray, which is working hard to deflect. Dooley was quick to point out that a season is 12 games long and that the Vols have played less than 20 percent of their schedule.
"He's got 10 games to go prove that," said Dooley. "You can't prove that in two games. I've said all along that it is a body of work over time and he knows that. This is game three, so that question will be answered at the end of the season. I wouldn't trade him.
“He's playing good, he has a good demeanor. There are going to be games where he struggles, every quarterback goes through it. What I am interested in is when he hits that little piece, how does he handle that.”
Bray isn't interested in the personal accolades, for him it is team first.
"I could care less," Bray said of the recognition. "The team is 2-0, team is doing good, we're 23rd so I can't complain."
Last season in Gainesville, on the fourth play of the game, Justin Hunter went down hard after nabbing his 17th reception of the year.
Hunter missed the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL. The wide receiver knew the prognosis wouldn't be good as soon as it happened.
"I knew immediately it was serious," said Hunter, "as soon as I landed I felt something pop and I fell to the ground. It just started stinging."
The rest of 2011 was spent on the sidelines cheering his team on, something that he knew he needed to do, but still bothered him.
"Being out there watching them practicing and having fun and playing in the games and knowing that I couldn't help them, it hurt me the most," said Hunter. "I just had to be there physically cheering them on."
But the injury helped Hunter grow both as an athlete, and as a human being. He learned to express himself more.
"They just said not to keep everything to yourself and bottled inside because that can hurt you in the long run," said Hunter. "Talk with people, stay around the team. When you are hurting you don't want to be around anyone or talking to anyone. That was the biggest thing for me.
The Virginia Beach, Va. native returned to the field this past spring and was able to take part in practices right away. At the beginning of the year, he felt 100 percent.
Hunter feels the need to prove something in this Florida game. He hasn't had the chance yet.
"I think [I have extra motivation]," said Hunter, "I played my freshman year and my second year I got hurt. I just want to show them what I can do for real, when I am 100 percent.
"I think as soon as I got hurt I wanted to play so bad that when I had to come back out and just watch I was hurt," continued Hunter. "Ever since that day I have been wanting to play [Florida] again. Florida is the game that I left on the field and I wish I could have it back."
Though this game means a lot to Hunter, he is not letting the hype get to him and things around the practice facility are business as usual.
"It is the same as every week," said Hunter, "trying go out there and work hard, be productive in practice and get better every day. I have seen fans here already. It is College GameDay, fans are excited and everything but the whole team is just preparation as always."
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley addressed the status of a number of injured Vols on Tuesday, including two who could see action on the field for the first time this season on Saturday.
Although linebackers Curt Maggitt and Herman Lathers remain day-to-day and questionable for the contest against the Gators, Dooley was pleased with what he saw out of redshirt freshman Christian Lathers on his first full day on the practice field.
“He was moving around good,” Dooley said. “If he’s not back this week he should be for next week.”
At the injury-depleted tight end position, the Vol head coach got a pleasant surprise on Tuesday as sophomore Brendan Downs is coming back quicker than expected.
“Before today I would have said no way [he is going to play],” Dooley said. “Is there a chance he could get 10 snaps? Maybe, we’ll see how it goes.”
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On the running game playing fast)
“That’s part of the offense. I think it is important that these backs hit the holes fast because if you dance around on these guys, it is negative two. Any hesitation at running back, it is negative two. Their d-line and linebackers are too good. You have to hit the hole, make a decision and hit it fast.”
(On Florida’s tempo)
“They are going to want it slow and they are going to want it fast. It’s no different than it was last week. In the first half, Texas A&M did a good job and in the second half Florida annihilated them. One of the keys is to get first downs. If you go three-and-out, and that’s what happened in the second half. I think the first four possessions in the second half it was three-and-out. That’s hard. You aren’t going to control the tempo when that happens. You have to get the ball moving.”
(On whether he got the sense the team did think about the streak in previous seasons)
“No, I got the sense we got our butts whipped. Not because of the streak.”
(On getting defensive pressure)
“We’re getting some good pressure with the front four, but it’s a little bit like everything. There are times when we do a great job and there are times where we screw up the game or lose our pass rush lane. It’s a work in progress, but I think it is much improved from a year ago.”
(On the difference between last season and this year)
“It’s a great question. Last year at this time we were 2-0, we were feeling good, we were chucking the ball around the park, we thought we were pretty good and we went down there and got our tails whipped. It’s a great question. We’ll answer it after the game.”
(On being able to rotate different players in and out of games on the D-line)
“Guys like Corey Miller, Steven Fowlkes, we are a little deeper than we’ve been. You can keep some fresh legs in there. This game is going to be a little different. We have to keep the QB in the pocket because he runs well and they are going to be head-butting us running the ball.”
(On how depth makes a team more suited to play in big games)
“[The team] is more suited than we were in the last two years. Whether we will be better, we will have to see. I just say that because we have more guys. That doesn’t mean we might play better.”
(On Daniel McCullers’ playing time)
“He has been good. He played a lot in the first game with about 20 something snaps. The last game, [Georgia State] was in its sub package the whole game. [Daniel] is not going to wow you with his space play.”
(On guys being role players on the team)
“It is not a bad thing to have a role. Eric Gordon is a Nickle, and he is good at it. [Daniel] is a nose guard, and he is good at it. Let him be a nose. Why not embrace that? Why do we have to beat him up for not being a three technique that can do all these fancy moves. Embrace what he is. There is good in everybody. Let’s embrace that. Don’t beat them up for what they cannot do.
(On Darrington Sentimore and roles on the team)
“He’s a little more of an in-between guy. He has the ability to hold up in base and has some quick twitch to do well in subs. It is no different with offense. You have big power backs and little backs. You have big tall receivers and little quick guys. We beat up the little quick guy because he cannot jump up and eat peanuts off the corners head, and we beat up the tall guy because he cannot be shaky in the slot. Let’s just embrace what they do, and that’s our job as coaches; to try and put them in a position to have success.”
(On the importance of roles on a team)
“Convincing them what their value is on the team. That doesn’t mean they won’t work on improving in those other areas. Everybody wants to be a complete player. Embracing your role and value and doing what you can to help the team win is what makes a good team.”
(On getting pass interference calls last season)
“I think sometimes we aren’t doing a good job of getting separation and got lucky. I’d rather them separate where they can’t interfere.”
(On the physicality of DB’s in the SEC)
“I don’t know if it is about physicality, those guys at NC State were physical players. It is style, philosophy on what they play. Are they hands on deny the ball, or are they zone read the quarterback? [Florida] is more hands on deny the ball.”
(On the dynamic of the WR unit)
“I hope they are happy if our unit is having success and our team is having success and that’s not to be collect the obvious everyone wants the ball but we have a pretty good team dynamic so there are not a lot of self-absorbed issues about not getting the ball. We want to get it to the guys who have earned the right to get it. The more they make plays, the more they have earned that right.”
(On Derrick Brodus starting vs. Florida)
“He made his field goals today so he looked the same. He is probably [nervous], and was probably nervous the other two games. We will see.”
JUNIOR QB TYLER BRAY
(On his confidence)
It is just from finding confidence. The whole team has confidence. The maturity helps too. As long as we keep our confidence we’re ok.
(On making improvements)
I feel pretty good, there is always stuff that you can improve on. I could hit the two passes that were incomplete. The one to CP I should have dumped it down and the other one for Mych Rivera I should have brought it down, I would have been 20-for-20. There are always things you can improve on.
(On his 13-completion streak)
I had no idea. I just knew we were winning the ball game and having fun. As long as we win I don’t care. I could throw all day and we win and I wouldn’t care.
(On winning their first SEC game)
It will be a big boost. The last two don’t count, we are 2-0 and that is fine but we are 0-0 going into this game.
JUNIOR WR JUSTIN HUNTER
(On knocking the rust off)
“I know in the first game I was just trying to do too much. In the second game I was more comfortable. I think I am just focused in and trying to play.”
(On Florida’s defense)
“They press a lot and have two safeties dropping down. They have a good front seven, that is their strength, so we just have to get off of the line and work hard.”
“I think they are trying to beat us off the line, but that is what we are going to work hard on this week. We are just going to take advantage of the small corners that they have.”
(On playing against Florida)
“I think that is extra motivation for me because of the way my size is. I am tall but I am also skinny and people don’t think I am strong or that I can’t get around. When they come up and try and press me I will be like ‘thank you, because that is a gift for me’.”
JUNIOR DL DANIEL MCCULLERS
(On if he's noticed getting double-teamed every play)
“I've noticed that. I'm pretty much used to it. My whole football career I've been getting double-teamed.”
(On what challenges he thinks he'll face against Florida)
“They're very physical. The offensive line is very physical, but I like that. You know it's going to be a tough game, but the whole d-line is going to come ready to play.”
(On if they've been working on communicating the calls better on defense)
“We've gotten pretty good at it. It's becoming instinct to us now. We know what they're talking about. We know where to go. We're just going to keep getting better and the sky's the limit for this d-line.”
(On if it's hard to be patient)
“It's been difficult, but you know, it's my first year so I'm working on everything just trying to get better. The more I get better the more I can be on the field so I'm going to continue to work.”
SOPHOMORE LB A.J. JOHNSON
(On Florida’s run-right-at-you style of offense suiting Johnson’s play)
“That’s what I came to the SEC for, to play SEC ball. When they run straight at you, that’s what I love.”
(On importance of Lathers and Maggitt to the defense)
“It’s a boost to everybody on the team. We know we’ve got two good players back, ready to go and lead us to a win.”
(On memories from Florida game last year)
“I know I got that strip ball. I thought I was going to get a touchdown.”
(On Florida offense without Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps)
“I say they’re still a Florida team. They’ve still got speed on the outside that you have to contain and take the fight to them.”
(On Texas A&M getting eight sacks last week)
“I believe they were just busting after the ball and kept going. That’s what we’re trying to do, keep our rushing lanes and get to the quarterback.”
RS JUNIOR DL DARRINGTON SENTIMORE
(On the Florida game)
“I’m excited but I’m just going to play like I play in the other games. The approach is that I just have to work hard.”
(On the Three-Man: McCullers, Sentimore and Couch)
“We are very comfortable. We have Daniel (McCullers), a very big guy in the middle and two solid ends. I think we are a lot stronger at that position.”
“I see a lot of guys triple-teaming him because he’s a big guy and they’re afraid of being ran over.”
(On preparing for Florida)
“We’re excited, we just have to adjust and listen to the calls and play our technique and that’s pretty much it. If we play our technique then we’re going to win. This week, guys are stepping up and there’s a lot of energy out there. I can tell when I walk on campus and people are just saying that Tennessee is back.”
JUNIOR WR CORDARRELLE PATTERSON
(On Florida’s Defense)
“They’re pretty good, their front seven are pretty good and their cornerbacks like to put pressure on you and get up on you and get physical.”
“We have [that good defense] here every day at practice, so I don’t think it will be a big deal. We’re just going to go out there and play like [we do at practice].”
SENIOR WR ZACH ROGERS
(On the senior class)
“We know we’ve been through a lot. We know we’ve been through ups and downs and haven’t had the greatest seasons here. But this season is a new season and we can’t look in the past anymore and have to look at what’s ahead.”
(On Bray heading into Saturday)
“He’s a proven quarterback and needs a signature win like this, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him. He knows it’s not all on him. It’s about the whole team. Offensive. Defense. Special teams. Three phases right there and we’re ready to play Saturday.”
(On Tennessee/Florida game being back in national spotlight)
“It’s a great feeling. Gameday’s coming in, and there’s a lot of hype surrounding it. We know that but we can’t get caught up in the outside attention. We have to come out here and focus and practice each and every day on the offense.”
(On how the uptempo offense suits the UT personnel)
“I think it’s real good for us. It gives the defense less time to adjust to what we’re going. We kind of play our game instead of sitting back and seeing what they’re going to do, we’re pushing the ball down the field every play.”
(On Bray spreading the ball around)
“He does spread the ball around. I think in the first game, he had 10 different receivers or something like that. You’ve always got to be on your toes because he’s going to hit the third reads, like I said. You can’t take a play off, thinking ‘I’m not going to get the ball’ because Tyler’s progressing in his reads now. It’s great to see.”