KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (school release) -- After a weekend off, Tennessee returned to Haslam Field on Monday morning to begin preparations for Saturday’s game against Buffalo.
“We had a couple days off there and they came back ready to go,” Dooley said. “Obviously, we’re looking at some new things and new players out there in new roles. Hopefully, we can show a little improvement this week.
“It was good energy. We lifted and ran them on Friday morning so we didn’t do any hitting. They had a good two days to relax and they were ready to go today.”
The Vols used their “off” week to clean up their own game and improve, which first and foremost, took a change in mindset.
“The open week is always tough, especially for a young team,” Dooley said. “When they say open, they think spring break. Coaches think double work. We’re on polar opposites. We had to have a meeting of the minds. For the players, it’s more fun to practice when you’re preparing for a game.”
That’s just what they’ll get to do this week, as they get ready for the 1-3 Buffalo Bulls of the Mid-American Conference. Tennessee’s high-powered offense will be put to test when they face what Dooley called a ‘very physical defense.’
UT will have its hands full with Bulls’ sophomore linebacker Khalil Mack, who leads the team with 31 tackles, nine for loss, nine quarterback hurries, three sacks and an interception.
“He’s as good as anybody we play,” Dooley said. “The production he’s had in the (four) games, he’s a train wreck on an offense. We have to make sure he doesn’t disrupt the game.”
Buffalo has already played a pair of BIG EAST opponents in Connecticut and Pittsburgh. Although both resulted in losses, the Bulls put together strong efforts, holding UConn to 17 and held Pittsburgh to 21 through three quarters, before the Panthers broke things open in the final quarter and finished with 35.
Despite the Vols’ remaining October schedule boasting a combined 14-2 record, including three undefeated opponents, no one in orange and white is looking past Saturday.
“I’m not worried about that,” Dooley said of the October slate. “We have Buffalo. If we start worrying about that, we’re going to get embarrassed on Saturday.”
TENNESSEE-GEORGIA SET FOR 7 P.M.
The Georgia at Tennessee football game will be a 7 p.m., start on Saturday, Oct. 8 and be televised nationally on an ESPN Network. The game will be shown on either ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU based on this Saturday’s results.
Vanderbilt at Alabama and Auburn at Arkansas are the other two games that will fill the ESPN schedule.
LANIER TO START
Heading into the fourth game of the season, the Vols have one starter change on the depth chart. Junior college transfer Izauea Lanier has taken over at left cornerback. True freshman Justin Coleman began the year as a starter and will continue to see significant playing time, but Lanier is slated to start against Buffalo on Saturday.
“He has good size and speed at the position,” Dooley said. “He’s a tough guy. He makes tackles in space. As time is going, he’s getting a little more confident with the defense. He’s playing a little faster. He played pretty good against Florida so hopefully he can progress.”
Lanier was a Junior College All-American at East Mississippi Community College in 2009 before redshirting in 2010. He totaled 66 tackles, had nine pass break-ups and four interceptions while playing safety at EMCC. Lanier enrolled at Tennessee for the 2011 season with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“It was kind of a shock, but not really,” Lanier said of earning the starting nod. “There was a lot of rust I had to work off, especially moving to corner.
“I was going on my ability (when I came here). I really didn’t have the technique down pat. So with me getting the technique down, it is making me more comfortable.”
Lanier has not played cornerback since high school so he had to adapt to new surroundings and a new position in Knoxville.
“In high school, it was different,” Lanier said of playing cornerback. “They just put me on the best receiver and told me to run with them.”
“He’s a really good player,” right corner Marsalis Teague said. “He has good ball skills and good cover skills. The more we improve individually, the more we help our team. Size (like Lanier’s) is always good in the secondary, especially at corner with bigger receivers. Size is a good advantage.”
Sophomore Rajion Neal, one of the fastest athletes on the team, appeared in the most recent Tennessee depth chart Monday. Hampered by a preseason injury and used at both tailback and wideout, Neal’s effectiveness was limited.
“I think it’s been a lot of things,” Dooley said. “The injury set him back big time. Then there’s a little of bouncing around between running back and receiver. We just needed to commit to a position. That’s kind of what we’re doing and we’ll see if it works.”
Neal has kept his head up and continued to work through the adversity.
“It’s been frustrating,” Neal said. “Everybody knows and anybody will tell you, great players have to adapt and roll with it. You have to keep playing and do what you have to do to get on the field.”
With leading wide receiver Justin Hunter out for the season, the opportunity to produce exists.
“They need all of us to step up and help out as much as we can and definitely try to fill that gap that’s missing,” Neal said.
The Tennessee offense had trouble developing a consistent rhythm in its last game at Florida, but the Vols feel that the solution for one of the causes of that issue – low snaps in the shotgun from center James Stone – is in good hands.
“We struggled with the rhythm of our offense and James is the most accountable young man you will ever find,” Chaney said. “It bothered him greatly what took place and he has been trying to work on that every day out here.”
For Stone, the solution is as simple as concentrating on the task at hand rather than trying to do too much at once.
“I’ve really honed in, especially in situations where I’m tired and I have to really rush and think a lot,” Stone said. “That’s what I’ve been working on and then just working on following through and getting it all the way back there. I feel like I was thinking ahead of myself, trying to look at the defense, and then I was just doing the motions and not really following through with it.
“I didn’t change routine. I just focused on it a little bit more and focused on keeping it consistent and keeping good communication with Tyler (Bray) to let me know where (the defense) is at. If you start overthinking it, it will get you. You just have to focus on the motion and make sure you follow through.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On his in-studio appearance at CBS this past weekend)
“It was good, but I’m glad I’m back on the grass. That’s a good thing to be a guest on. They do a good job. I thought they were real professional and it was a good experience to see what it’s like up there.”
(On whether he can criticize officials on TV)
“They tried to get me to. I wasn’t going there. I think I’d get fined pretty big.”
(On Tennessee’s freshmen)
“Time is going to tell. They still make a lot of mistakes. They still don’t play as fast as they need to every down. In time, we’ll see. This time last year, Da’Rick (Rogers) and Justin (Hunter) weren’t doing much of anything. We’ll see how they progress.”
(On freshman Devrin Young)
“Devrin has shown what we signed him for. He’s shown he’s quick and he’s elusive. He has good speed and he has good ball judgement. Now it’s just a question of whether he can take those traits and turn them into some production on the field.”
(On the running game)
“We’ve been working at it pretty hard. Time will tell. I wish I could give a good, clean answer to it. We have to play a little better at every position and we have to commit to it a little bit. (Buffalo) is going to be a big test because these guys are really good against the run. They pack the box and they play physical. We’ll see if we can create some air.”
Senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson
(On having the weekend off)
“The weekend helped a lot with a three-day weekend Coach Dooley really gave us a bone there. He could tell people were really sluggish. We really picked it up out here (today) and had a good day of practice.”
(On moving past the loss to Florida)
“It’s pretty much behind us. We knew we had a lot of mistakes and we could have won that game. We have a whole season left and we have to go out there and fix our mistakes.”
(On the offense responding to hardship of losing Justin Hunter)
“I see these guys responding really well. We have more than one guy behind Justin, we have Matt Milton, we have VD, Vincent Dallas. We have a bunch of guys that can step up and play the role. I think these guys are really taking it serious. They know Justin is down and somebody has to step up.”
Junior defensive lineman Willie Bohannon
(On the defensive line)
I always feel like if you aren’t doing superb at one part you have to do good somewhere. So – at least we have been doing that as far as stopping the run and playing the run good. At least we have some positives.
I am not too sure about their team. They are going to be like any other team. Fast paced and try to get the ball on the edges real fast. A lot of screens – so we will just see how it goes.
(On looming October schedule)
“You have to focus on a game like this, unless you want to get beat. We don’t want to do what we did against UAB. We will be going into Georgia feeling horrible. You have play this team and you will beat them like you should. Then we can go into those big name teams with confidence.”
Senior tailback Tauren Poole
(On whether it is hard not to look at the rest of the October schedule)
“It is, but the most important game is the next one on the schedule. We have to take that approach out here every day. We can’t overlook Buffalo. We can’t overlook anybody. We’re definitely not the football team we want to be right now. We definitely have to come out here and get better.”
Senior linebacker Austin Johnson
(On the rejuvenation factor of the bye week)
“I needed it. Getting to my senior year, I don’t really realize it, but my body starts to feel a little bit older and I’m aching a little bit more. I kind of needed it, but I felt fresh today. I felt good. It was good to get back out here.”
“Buffalo is a good team. They pretty much run all personnel like our offense. The quarterback can run, they have a good receiver, a decent running back and a good (offensive) line. We have to bring it and we’ll prepare for them.”
(On staying focused on Buffalo)
“It’s hard not to look ahead because of who we have coming up, but we can’t. We have to take it one game at a time. We have Buffalo this week and have to focus on them. Then we can focus on the next game after that.”