KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - After an opening two-game home schedule, Tennessee is preparing to get its first road experience in Gainesville this Saturday when the Vols open SEC play against the Gators. Or as head coach Derek Dooley sees it, the Vols will get their first ‘scars.’
“It’s hard,” Dooley said. “I say it a lot. ‘How many scars do you have?’ As much as you try to teach them and train them, until they get in those environments, it’s hard to say how we’ll perform. What did we have last year I guess with Tyler? We played Vandy on the road and we struggled. We played Memphis on the road but that’s a little different environment than The Swamp.
“We haven’t really been truly battle-tested on the road against a good team when they’re loud and ready to go. This is going to be a good test for our young guys. I don’t know how we’re going to handle it.”
As the Vols have seen at Neyland Stadium, the crowd noise can become a hazard to the opposing team, which is made up of a couple factors.
“The noise is one thing,” Dooley said. “What you’re trying to simulate with the noise is just an ability to communicate when it’s loud. But there’s a second component to it and that’s the anxiety level that comes with it when you’re in the stadium.
“Generally, when that’s happening, when the noise is coming on offense, it’s probably a big third-down play. Maybe second down didn’t go as good or this is a real critical play in the game. Maybe it’s at the goal line. The margin of error is really tough. You’re concerned about just an ability to focus and stay calm in the midst of all that chaos. It just is impossible to simulate in practice. You have to go do it.”
Junior left tackle Dallas Thomas hurt his knee against Cincinnati, but the elder offensive lineman is still expected to make his 16th consecutive start against Florida.
Junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner and freshman linebacker Curt Maggitt are also expected to be full-go Saturday, but wore red practice jerseys for precautionary reasons.
Senior defensive end Ben Martin’s status, however, is uncertain.
“I knew it was going to be a management issue the whole season,” Dooley said. “Certainly, this was a little bit different. You hope nothing else would come along. It’s kind of an ankle sprain. What we were hoping was if we could get 15 or 20 snaps a game, that was kind of our goal. But we didn’t last week and I’m not sure if we’re going to his week. We’ll see. If he doesn’t play, we have the open date to heal. Maybe he can help us in October.”
FOCUSED ON THE FACILITATOR
While much of the talk has been around Florida playmakers such as Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, the Vols have still maintained focus on the individual that’s getting them the ball.
Florida quarterback John Brantley has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 424 yards and a touchdown this season.
“I think he’s playing really well,” Wilcox said. “He gets the ball to the right people at the right time. As the coverage dictates it, he’s throwing the ball in the right spots so he’s done a good job. He managed the game really well for them. He can make all the throws.”
Tennessee’s defense is getting ready for anything and everything Saturday. Facing Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, the possibilities of what the Vols might see are endless.
“If you go look at Charlie’s history, if you just pulled up the first two (Florida) games and then last year’s Kansas City Chiefs, there’s 10,000 different plays,” Dooley said. “You do the best you can but it’s going to come down to number one, playing the defense on principle. There’s going to be plays that we didn’t prepare for and you have to play the play on principle, and you have to play the play on principle, on the principles of the scheme.
“Number two, our ability to get off blocks and run to the ball and tackle. Those two things make up for anything you’re going to be minimized in preparation.”
The Vols are expecting something different than what the Gators have shown so far this season.
“I would expect to see something new other than what we have seen the first two games,” Wilcox said. “Who knows? Coach Weis is excellent at what he does. If you go look at 10 games of his, you’re going to see every play there is and every formation, shift and motion. For us, it’s going to be more about playing on principles, getting our eyes right and executing. That’s what is most important.”
While the Gators have played two games, their overall combined margin of victory, 80-3, hasn’t forced them to be too creative.
“We haven’t seen anything from them because of the two games they played,” Dooley said. “Same thing on defense. They played vanilla defense the whole game. They’re not going to do that against us. We’re going to have to be able to handle stuff that our guys are not prepared for and that Florida hasn’t shown. It’s a new staff and they played two games where it was over at halftime. They haven’t shown their stuff. We’re going to see it this week.”
CHANEY’S OUTLOOK ON FLORIDA D
The Vols have shown a prolific offense through two games this season, piling up 485 yards per game. Tennessee will receive its stiffest test of the season on Saturday at Florida. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney spoke with the media Wednesday about the Gators and his thoughts on the UT’s offensive game plan.
“I see talent at all levels of their defense,” said the 26-year assistant coach. “From their D-line, the linebackers, the secondary. They are very good. I look around and try to find weaknesses in their physical abilities and I don’t see a lot of that. It will be quite a challenge for us.”
One area that has been emphasized in the public this week is the Vols’ height advantage when it comes to UT’s receivers vs. Florida’s secondary.
“I don’t think much about that,” Chaney said. “Some people do, but I don’t. I’m into running what we do as well as we possibly can. I don’t necessarily think because he’s short or he’s heavy — maybe because I have always been one of those short, heavy guys — I don’t put too much into that.”
In terms of the Gators’ front seven, Chaney is impressed.
“I see a very, very talented front seven,” he said. “Their interior defensive line and ends are very, very good. They will be a very formidable foe, no doubt about that. They come off the ball, they are aggressive and fast. I look forward to the challenge, but they are super talented up front.”
VOLS PASSING EARLY SAT TEST
With the early season success on offense, Chaney has had the ability to continue to add to the Vols’ offensive play book. With that, the team has continued to grow. But it’s not without some headaches.
“It’s fun to call plays when the plays work,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who those 11 guys are out there. No matter where I have been calling plays, it’s always good when they work.
“I am comfortable with who we are playing on offense. Calling plays is like taking the SAT Test every Saturday. You walk out there with a headache, regardless of who you have playing on the field.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On Florida’s Chris Rainey)
“He’s a problem on defense because if you can’t catch him when they flip him the ball. He’s a problem in the return game for the same reason, you can’t catch him. He’s a punt block guy so he’s a problem there. He always shows up as a difference maker in the game and those guys scare you to death because even when you do it pretty good they’re just so fast and have that playmaking skill that sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it but watch them.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
(On going on the road for the first time)
“It‘s something new. The difference for us is when we’re out there now, it’s going to be a little quieter. The communication should be better. When you’re at home on third downs, it’s loud, which is great.”
(On Florida’s offense)
They have good speed everywhere. It’s Florida, you are always going to have that. Especially the two backs are extremely fast – they get on the edges pretty quick. Even when we have people have them leveraged outside in they will run around the leverage players on the defense. It’s something we have been working on all week.”
(On trying to prepare for Florida’s speed)
“It’s hard to do. You show them the video so they get an understanding of it. You do some with our scout team as best you can to simulate some of that speed but until you play them, it’s hard to simulate unless you have somebody that fast.”
(On sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith)
“He has some great qualities. We are trying to find different ways to use him and get him isolated in the pass game so he can do his thing. The key there is to give us enough options and not slow things down.”
(On how to pursue the ball against the Gators)
“I think the term “breakdown” is a vastly overused. If you breakdown in space, if you have ten yards between you and that running back and you break down you are just going to look bad. You have to be aggressive to the ball carrier and you have to play great fundamentals. And the key is to we have to make some great open field one-on-one tackles but we also have to hunt the football. If one guy does miss, which you aren’t going to get through one game without missing a tackle, even though we want that is probably not realistic. So we have to ten more guys hunting the football.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
(On building a running game for the Vols)
“I feel their defensive line is a very strong part of their defense. Any type of run game you can do will help you solidify the line of scrimmage. We go into every game with the hopes of being able to do that. It’s important for us to be able to run the ball efficiently in this ball game.”
(On the offense’s confidence)
“I think we walked off the field from the Cincinnati game feeling pretty good about who we were in some aspects of our offense, (but) questioning some other things. When you have young kids, doubt can fly in and out of their heads very quickly, as can confidence. You try to continue to have a little bit of swagger when you are doing the things you do well and you try to continue on the ones you are not.”
(On going on the road for the first time)
“Going on the road with a youthful team with communication and crowd noise is always an issue. We try to work on it. It’s difficult to simulate. Quite honestly, my history is you do a good enough job of that in practice. You crank those speakers louder than any place you will ever stand in your life. Hopefully, it pays off for us and that’s our intention and we will go play.”
(On heading to The Swamp)
“Several of them (Vols veterans) have been there before and had to deal with it. We will have a few plays we will wonder what’s going on. Everybody does the first time on the road. I wish I could say we wouldn’t, but we will and I will try not to jump out of the press box.”
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