KNOXVILLE - Lost in the talk of the Tennessee offense’s record-setting day in a 45-23 win against Cincinnati was the protection that allowed quarterback Tyler Bray to dazzle, receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers to dominate and tailback Tauren Poole to dash his way to another 100-yard game.
“We are the quiet guys,” sophomore right tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “We just do the work, but Coach Dooley looked out for us this week. We always do a player of the week and he shouted out all the stats that Justin (Hunter), Da’Rick (Rogers) and Tyler (Bray) had and all the records they broke, but then he gave the player of the week to the whole offense.
“He said it couldn’t have happened without everybody. Tyler and them do a great job, we are just here to protect him so he can make those plays.”
Bray threw for a career-high 405 yards on a school-record (min. 30 atts.) 82.9 completion percentage. Hunter and Rogers became the first wideout duo at UT to each have 10 catches in the same game. Poole rushed for his seventh career 100-yard game.
But the most important stat may have been the amount of sacks the Vols gave up in their second game: zero.
“We’re going to have to block for these guys,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “It doesn’t matter how open you are, if you can’t deliver the ball to them it doesn’t matter. That’s going to be our biggest challenge. This (Florida) is as athletic and big as a defensive front as you’ll see in college football. They’re good. They just roll right through the offensive line.”
The Vols’ ability to contain one of the best defensive lines in college football this Saturday will be pivotal to walking away with the same result as they did in games one and two.
“Number one it starts with personnel,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “They have very, very good personnel. Those guys can get off the ball, show great quickness, play hard and play fast. Then when they line up you have to figure that as you go.”
While the Vols concentrate on a particular area as it is during home games, its importance will carry an even greater weight on the road.
“Communication,” James said. “That’s the one thing we want to focus on as an offensive line. Communicating and making sure we are all on the right guys. Coach Hiestand always tells us in film, when our five guys are on people, this kid behind us, Number Eight (Tyler Bray) is going to make plays.
“And the people around us like Justin Hunter, Da’Rick (Rogers) and Mychal Rivera. We have a lot of playmakers out there and we try to put it on our backs. If we can leave (Bray) untouched, he is going to make us a play.”
Tennessee is hoping ‘Number Eight’ makes plenty of them in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon.
“Obviously, this is going to be a big test for us,” Bullard said. “We’re going in to a different type of defense than we normally go against. We’re extremely confident as an offensive line because we have a lot of talent and depth, so it will be a good challenge and we’re excited to take it on.”
TENNESSEE WIDE RECEIVERS VS. FLORIDA SECONDARY
When the Tennessee offense takes the field this Saturday, it will feature a youthful receiving corps with plenty of talent and speed. Matching up with them on the other side of the ball will be a Florida secondary with very similar attributes.
Of the 10 players listed in the secondary on Florida’s depth chart, seven are underclassmen and just one is a senior. Three of those players are true freshmen, including starting cornerback Marcus Roberson and starting safety De’Ante Saunders.
The lack of experience has not been a hindrance for either side so far this season as the Volunteers have thrown for 716 yards and seven touchdowns, while the Gators have allowed just 248 total passing yards and three points in their first two games combined.
“They have some young guys in there,” wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. “They have some new guys that they are playing this year after they lost some guys from a year ago, but they have a lot of talent and a lot of speed. That’s what I see. I think it is going to be a challenge for us from a receiver standpoint to be able to get off the ball and get open. That’s what we have stressed to our guys all week. You have to be able to get off the ball, you have to get off the press and the bump and you have to be able to get open.”
One quality UT’s wide receivers have that Florida’s secondary doesn’t, however, is height. Tennessee’s top two targets – Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers – stand 6-4 and 6-3, respectively, while the Gators’ starting cornerbacks – Roberson and Cody Riggs – are 6-0 and 5-9.
“We always like big receivers,” Baggett said. “A couple of their corners are not the tallest the guys in the world, but sometimes athletic ability overcomes size. We have stressed to our guys, no matter what size they are we have to win, and winning means getting open from a receiver standpoint. That’s the thing I have told my guys all week and I think they are conscious of it and will do a good job.”
WORKING IN SPACE
One of Florida’s strongest assets offensively is its ability to get the ball to its two speedy running backs – Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps – in open space. The Tennessee coaching staff is well aware of that and has made open-field tackling and setting the edge on defense points of emphasis in practice all week.
Rainey, who is the only FBS player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving in the first two games of the season, has rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns in 27 carries, in addition to making nine catches for 110 yards. Demps, meanwhile, has rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns in just 14 attempts this year.
“They have good speed everywhere,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “It’s Florida, you are always going to have that. Obviously the two backs are extremely fast – they get on the edges pretty quick. Even when people have them leveraged outside in, they will run around the leverage players on the defense.
“You talk about (their speed), you emphasize it and you put the best guys you can to give you a service look, but there is nothing like that game speed. That’s hard to (replicate in practice).”
Tennessee will be looking for any advantage it can get to negate that speed, but the answer will likely come down to simply being aggressive and making plays.
“You have to be aggressive to the ball carrier and you have to play great fundamentals,” Wilcox said. “The key to it is that we have to make some one-on-one, open-field 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, we have to have 10 more guys hunting the football.”
Another key to keeping Rainey and Demps from breaking off big plays will be generating and keeping leverage on them from the outside. That is easier said than done though.
“Obviously with these guys the edges of the defense are extremely important to keeping leverage on the backs, but there are times when the teams that were playing them had leverage on the backs and they out ran the leverage,” Wilcox said. “Sometimes you look at (the film) and wonder why they don’t force the ball back. Well they were trying to, but the guy was so fast he outran them.
“You have to pick and choose your coverage change. You have to be able to set the edges with different people. They will shift in motion to try and mess with your leverages and your eyes, so that is extremely important that we are able to get lined up, get our eyes in the right spot and make sure we get good leverage on the football.”
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand
“It’s everything. Guys have to be on the same page and have to be able to handle what they throw at us. That’s the challenge everybody has. Going on the road, communication, working together and sorting things out. The number one challenge is to block the guy you are responsible for and a lot of their guys are very, very good.”
“Obviously their head coach is a great defensive coordinator so they will have plenty of stuff dialed up and ready for us.”
Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon
(On the pressure of playing in space)
“That’s a huge amount of stress on everyone on the field. Everyone is going to be in different situations to make those tackles. I think the success of our day is going to be largely determined by how often we get those guys on the ground.”
(On Florida’s routes)
“We play our same fundamentals throughout every game. We have to react to those shorter routes. Until they catch it, they haven’t gained a yard. We have to be aware of who has the ball. We aren’t changing out scheme or how we play defense.”
(On Tennessee’s young linebackers going on the road for the first time)
“We have continued to build during practice and I would like to see some more development during the games. I am not too concerned about where they sleep at night and where they wake up in the morning. We will get better and do our thing and continue to play like we practice.”
(On Austin Johnson’s responsibility)
“Austin has done a very nice job. We have played two up-tempo games. The offense has put a lot of stress, that is kind of the ways of the world right now, on our defense. It’s tough getting the substitutions and the calls in. Austin has done a real good job with helping us and getting us right.”
Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett
(On Florida’s bump coverage)
“That is what Will (Muschamp) has done over his years. He and (Nick) Saban were together for a long time and its similar to what Alabama does. They come up and press you and get in your face and try to disrupt your passing game.”
Defensive line coach Lance Thompson
(On what Tennessee has to do to be successful defensively)
“We have to operate within the system of the defense. Whatever Coach Wilcox calls, people have to execute their alignment and assignment. You just have to play assignment football and do what you are coached to do and everything else is going to take care of itself.”