KNOXVILLE - Tennessee has opened the season with a rough stretch of forcing turnovers, recording five in as many games, but the Vols know they’re just a couple plays away from a potential snowball effect.
“Sometimes, you get a little mojo,” head coach Derek Dooley said after the Vols’ practiced Wednesday at Haslam Field. “We saw it last year. So much of this football thing is things start rolling, the confidence goes, you’re feeling good and then you get hot. It’s a psyche a little bit.”
Dooley knows that all too well as the Vols head into Saturday’s contest against No. 1-ranked LSU. In 2010, the Vols forced multiple turnovers on eight occasions, including at LSU, where they notched four.
“We had it going there for a little while and it happened last year,” Dooley said. “We started off just grinding and struggling and then we got a little juice. The defense played good, created turnovers and it just starts coming together. You just have to fight through the dips. Every team goes through them. When you get that energy flowing, you try to keep it going as long as you can.”
Part of doing that is the ability to stay focused on every play and maintain composure, including the coaching staff.
“We all need to catch our breath,” Dooley said. “Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to win now. Everybody wants to have all of our players play perfectly. We forget sometimes the journey involved in that. When we show a lot of frustration, it doesn’t help the players.
“We have to make sure we stay composed because they’re looking at us just like parents. We’ll stay composed, motivate them, develop them and teach them. We won’t get too down when they make a mistake, we’ll correct it and move on. We can all do better.”
MILK AND HONEY
Sophomore wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who ranks second in the SEC in receptions (6.4) and receiving yards per game (102.6), was a primary focus of Georgia’s defense last week.
Rogers, who had a pair of receptions for 25 yards at halftime, made adjustments, stayed focused and finished with five catches for 71 yards.
“A lot of really good receivers can go three quarters, not touch the ball and then they catch four big ones in the fourth, they win the game and everybody feels good,” Dooley said. “The other coaches get paid pretty good and they have a lot of good players on the other side. They’re going to make some plays, they’re going to do some good things and you just have to keep playing.
“That’s a very common thing for youth because we have all of these high expectations and then when things aren’t flowing like milk and honey, we can’t believe it.”
The Calhoun, Ga., native can expect the same kind of attention this weekend from a Tiger defense that has allowed under 200 yards passing and just 12.5 points per game.
“They have great players at every position,” Dooley said. “The margin of error against a team like this is really thin. It’s very difficult to get any kind of big plays because they have so many guys that can run to the football. This will be a big challenge as we all know.”
Facing the No. 1 team in the nation is no small task and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is fully aware of the talent of the LSU Tigers.
“They are very physical, obviously,” said Wilcox. “They run the ball extremely well. Their offensive line is very physical. The backs run downhill. They have a lot of speed on the outside. They create match-up problems if you try and play more coverage, they can run the ball at you.
“If you try and stack the box, they can throw it down the field so it’s a heck of a challenge for us. They are probably the most physical downhill run game we have seen so far.”
Among the top priorities on Wilcox’s checklist of the Tigers’ many weapons is tailback Spencer Ware.
“He’s a big violent runner,” Wilcox said. “He gets downhill in a hurry. He breaks a lot of arm tackles. You have to have a lot of bodies on him. He’ll do it in the first quarter and he’ll do it in the fourth quarter. So, it’s going to have to be sustained effort on our part.”
The Tigers’ quarterback duo of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson present different possibilities that Wilcox’s defense will seek to thwart.
“They are doing exactly what you want them to do,” Wilcox said. “When people try to stack it up on the run game, they will throw the ball down the field. Obviously, Jordan Jefferson is back and he creates another set of problems for you in terms of agility and things he can do in the zone-read game. Both guys are proven winners and can do exactly what they need them to do.”
The Vols have been hurt by long plays all season on defense. Opponents have racked up eight plays from offense of 40-or-more yards and five of more than 65 yards. Trying to curtail that trend is chief amongst Wilcox’s tasks.
“You just have to know the weaknesses of every defense,” Wilcox said. “Each week, we are going to have a plan going in of what we need to do to win the football game. We need to know the strengths and weaknesses of that. Again, any defense you run there’s going to be a strength and a weakness to it. Obviously, we will mix it up and try and give certain people help on certain downs, but have to win on a one-on-one situation and we are going to have to do it again this week.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will be calling plays down to a different quarterback this week in senior Matt Simms, something he did during the first eight games last season.
“I think he’s stayed the course trying to improve his skills along,” Chaney said. “It was tough on Matt what we had to do last year in moving Tyler in front of him. It’s always tough initially. You learn from it and you move on. He’s been die-hard loyal to our program. He’s worked hard to develop his own skills and I think he’s ready to go out there and lead this team.
“It’s going to be fun to watch him play. Things are a little different. Matt does things a lot better than Tyler in some issues and other things maybe he doesn’t do as well as Tyler. We have to tilt the thing to him and give him a chance to be successful.”
Chaney has the advantage of not only using a quarterback with experience, but one that’s had the opportunity to view things from a different perspective.
“I think he sat back and watched defenses a lot,” Chaney said. “He has a lot better understanding of some of the things you’re seeing in the SEC now. I believe that about any quarterback that’s played that has a chance to calm down a little bit and go back in and play. I think it always benefits them. The game, they always seem to understand more when they walk out on the field.”
The Franklin Lakes, N.J., native, along with the entire Tennessee offense, will have its work cut out.
“I see those guys flying around and hitting just like they were when we went down and played them last year,” Chaney said of LSU’s defense. “The corners are very good. They have their playmaker out there in the (Tyrann) Matheiu kid. He makes plays everywhere. He’s a good player. The defensive line, it just seems like it doesn’t even matter what number it is, the next guy in is just as good as the other guy. They get constant pressure on the quarterback with those four guys. That’s kind of the trademark of who they were last year.”
“RALLY ON ROCKY TOP”
A pep rally entitled “Rally on Rocky Top” will be held on Friday afternoon (October 14) at 5:15 p.m. at the Gate 21 amphitheater in advance of Saturday’s Tennessee vs. LSU football game, which is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Dooley will speak to the crowd, with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band and the University of Tennessee cheerleaders also present. There will also be several giveaways for fans, including autographed items and officially licensed University of Tennessee gear. Two tickets for Saturday’s game against LSU and pregame sideline wristbands will also be featured giveaways, while the first 400 fans at the rally receive a free appetizer card from Texas Roadhouse.
Free parking is available for this event in Lot 9, and there is no charge for admission to this event.
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On Matt Simms and Tyler Bray)
“Every player has strengths that they do really well. Every player has things that they have to work on and keep improving on. Matt has some strengths that he does really well and he has some things that he needs to work on. They’re very different quarterbacks.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
(On what he took from last year’s game against LSU)
“I thought we played hard. I come off of that game and I thought one thing. The things we’re trying to build the program on with toughness and effort, I felt like we laid that on the field last year. I want to do that again and again.”
(On Matt Simms being ready to play)
Just watching him at practice, he’s excited. Tough loss for us, but we come out on the field we have a young man that’s going to play that has a lot of renewed energy and is excited about getting on the field. That’s helping with getting on the field right now and practice is upbeat for us. He’s tickled and I’m excited for Matt to let him go out there and play again.”
(On maintaining his composure during games)
“I try to calm down and breathe a little bit. I take my headset off and think about the game. It always happens. It happens to you throughout every ball game, the emotions of the ball game get into you. You have to learn how to calm down and that’s been something over the years I’ve learned how to do.”
(On avoiding LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu)
“You scheme away from him and you go to the other one that’s just as talented. You run plays that you feel like can approach their defense to get your players the ball. You have to go out and be ready to play. This is a very talented defense that’s playing very good. You can say this in this league about every week, but these guys seem a little special right now. They’re playing with a little chip on their shoulder. I don’t know where the chip came from, but I wish it would fall off.”
(On the recent play of tight end Mychal Rivera)
“I thought Mych played an excellent ball game. (against Georgia). Mych has played good for the most part all season long for us. He’s been a consistent performer for us. When you open up the field and give him the opportunity to make a play, Mych does. Mych has very good ball skills. He’s a very competitive kid so we would expect him to do that against anybody we play.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
(On making third-down stops)
“You have a goal every time you go out there to have a three-and-out. Third downs are going to be critical. We have to do a great job in the run game of hitting our fits because they are so physical and push you around. It’s going to be quite a challenge for us.”
(On stopping the LSU offense)
“There are certain things you do. At times we are going to stack it in there and try to stack the box for the run game and there are other times where we have to try to mix it up with a blitz or a coverage to not hang out corners out the whole game. If they told us what they are doing that would help, but at the end of the day we are going to have to win some one-on-ones to be successful. We are excited for the challenge.”
(On Jordan Williams and Allan Carson)
“Obviously, they give us a couple of guys we can rotate in there. Each of them has a different role for us. Allan is a big body and is hard to move. In terms of pass rush, he’s not our best guy, but Jordan is definitely more of a pass rush guy now. They are both learning a lot and things are moving kind of quick for them, but we are excited to have them in there.”
(On Maurice Couch)
“I think Mo is a guy that we need to continue to develop and he will get better the more and more he plays, but he has some ability in there.”
(On Corey Miller not being on the depth chart)
“Sometimes the depth chart is (deceiving). I wouldn’t read too much into that. Corey is a guy, in certain situations if a team is playing a lot more one back, Corey is going to play more reps. It’s hard to know going into a game when they don’t tell us what they are going to run. We have an idea, but against one-back teams, Corey is going to have a bigger role.”
(On A.J. Johnson)
“He is labeled as a Will linebacker for us, but it is very rare for him to play out in space for us. The way we use him is very much a box linebacker. He very rarely plays on edges. That’s more his game to play inside. (He has good) instincts behind the ball. When he plays off the ball he sees things really well. Sometimes you can teach guys when you see the guard pull you have to do this, and some guys do it naturally. He is one of those.”
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