KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (school release) -- A big win and a long weekend led to a sluggish practice on Tuesday as Tennessee continued its preparations for their home opener against Georgia State.
The Vols were focusing on the outcome rather than the process that got them there, but head coach Derek Dooley does not expect that to be a problem any longer.
"Most teams don't reach or never reach their dreams and I think one of the main reasons is that they overestimate the event and underestimate the process," Dooley said. "That is going to be our biggest challenge this next week is not overestimating the event, not patting ourselves on the back and listening to everybody talking about how good we played and remembering why we had success which is the process these guys have been going through the last eight months.
"It was not one of our better practices today and we have to get it going. We need to exercise a little level of maturity that good teams have, but we're not there yet."
Last week’s win was just another chapter in the story of the 2012 Tennessee football team. Now that those pages have been written it is time for the Vols to write this week’s script, which they plan on putting a more positive spin on starting with Wednesday’s practice.
“Every time you venture into a new segment, you wonder how they are going to handle it, whether it started in the offseason, spring practice, summer program, training camp or the first game,” Dooley said. “Now this is a new segment. Coming off a good win, how are we going to respond? We need to learn from it and get our minds right and ready to have a good practice tomorrow, which I think we will.”
Although the Big Orange is set to take on an FCS-level team on Saturday, that does not mean it is approaching the game any different than it will when Florida comes to town in two weeks.
“We have the same goals every game, offensively, defensively, special teams, intangibles,” Dooley said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, if we achieve the goals we have success in the game. We don’t approach any game any different, because if you do you are setting yourself for embarrassment.”
O-LINE PRIDE ON DISPLAY
For the last few years, the Vols offensive line has used the moniker "OLP" representing Offensive Line Pride. Never was that pride more evident -- in recent times -- than in last Friday's showing against NC State when the line did its part to help the Vols roll up 524 yards of total offense, including 191 on the ground.
"I thought we did a real good job, but there's still a couple things we have to go over," said senior Dallas Thomas, who started his first-career game at left guard. "We're a little rocky on things, some protections and runs, but overall I'm real proud of the guys."
The man who replaced Thomas at his previous starting spot -- left tackle -- was sophomore Antonio Richardson. The Nashville native took note of the line's strong blocking against the Wolfpack.
"The blocking shows, we had 191 yards (rushing)," said Richardson, who drew his first start in the win. "From last year, we averaged 90 so that's 100 yards more. For our coming out game I was really pleased. Just the fact that we can get 100 yards more that is scary about how good we can be."
Richardson drew praise from Thomas, as the two have developed a great bond.
"He did good," Thomas said. "Once he got his first game jitters out, he performed real well. We just have to work on him on just staying calm when it comes to a big game."
Richardson did jump off-sides on the first snap of the game for the Vols, but that wasn't unexpected.
"Well, he jumped offsides the first play, which we had a bet that he would," Dooley said. "Nobody bet on Tiny not jumping offsides. We tried to call a play that was just the simplest and let him flat-back somebody and it didn't matter. He was juiced up. He made a lot of first-game mistakes, he made a ton of them. He's going to be a good player, but he made a lot of mistakes. He's going to get better."
Richardson is looking forward with the first game in his rear view mirror.
"Now that I got that first start out of the way, I can start to mature and do things correctly," said the man they call Tiny. "Once that anxiety came down I was good. (Before the game) I did [meditate]. I had to sit down, had my headphones in my head, bowed my head, meditated a little bit, prayed a little bit."
The line will look to correct its mistakes starting this week with Georgia State.
"Well of course getting the first win gives us confidence, and when you get a big win like that and you see how many corrections you can make," Richardson said. "It just lets you know how much better you can be. You know that's exciting."
WELCOME BACK, HUNTER
The expectations are high and junior wide receiver Justin Hunter likes them that way.
Despite leading the Vols with nine catches for 73 yards in Tennessee’s 35-21 win over NC State, his first game in nearly a year, he was still only willing to give himself a grade just above passing.
“I don’t think it was a great game, but it was a good game to come back to,” Hunter said. “With all those catches and stuff, probably a whole bunch of people didn’t expect me to have a game like that. I give my grade like a C, I wouldn’t give it an A or B. I was kind of nervous the first game, but it’s good to have it out of the way so I can focus on the second one.”
One thing that didn’t cross his mind at all was the health of his knee, a topic of great debate over the past few weeks.
“I think it’s out of my mind,” Hunter said. “I don’t think about it all. When I was running fast, I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was more focused on me catching balls, looking at their defense, reading their defense and trying to get a run.”
Hunter had just one regret about the game, well two actually.
“The two catches that I was supposed to catch that were really easy,” Hunter said. “Dropping those easy passes, one of them was on fourth down and could’ve converted to keep us going on the field. I think I was just a little excited to get the ball and run. I was just trying to make a big play, that’s what I was looking forward to all week. I just need to concentrate better on that.”
Those dropped passes led to some inter-offense trash-talking between himself and quarterback Tyler Bray.
“He came and said something to me after I dropped that hitch route on fourth down, but I told him since he overthrew me on the Denver route, we were straight,” Hunter said.
With one game under its belt, Hunter believes that the best is still yet to come for the Tennessee offense.
“I think we can get good, really good,” Hunter said. “Every day we’re out here focused, trying to get better. Receivers, defensive backs, everybody we’re all going hard in practice going against each other, giving each other our best and I think that’s just going to make us better.
“We are on a mission. We are on a mission to win. We’re not trying to have a losing season again. We’re trying to have a winning season and make it to a bowl game.”
The Tennessee secondary came away with four interceptions Friday night against Mike Glennon and NC State at the Georgia Dome.
It was the first time since the 2010 season that the feat was accomplished and the Vols were one of just two teams to do so in the first weekend of college football.
The achievement was no fluke, however, as the secondary has been, like the rest of the defense, working on being more aggressive since December.
"It comes from a lot of practice," said Eric Gordon. "Getting a lot of repetition and watching a lot of film, and then carry it over to game day so that you know where to be and can just react to the plays."
The pressure brought by all members of the defense helped to create those four (and more) opportunities throughout the game.
Brian Randolph explains.
"That was the main reason [Glennon] was throwing those balls up there," said Randolph. "Our front seven was getting in the backfield and pressuring him. We were able to hurry up the quarterback."
Marsalis Teague agrees and notes that when the whole defense is working together, beautiful things can happen.
"It all goes hand-in-hand," said Teague. "The more pressure they get [up front], the easier it is for us, the better we cover the better it is for them. We definitely noticed those plays on film."
Gordon nabbed his fifth career interception, while Teague was fortunate enough to record his first career INT when it mattered the most, in the endzone to halt an NC State drive and solidify the win for the Vols. And it felt good.
"I realized it was my first interception as soon as I caught it," said Teague, "but like I said it felt even better just getting the win. I am not going to lie it did feel good."
The secondary disagrees slightly on how aggressive they thought they would be asked to be by defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"I didn't [think we would see that many blitzes]," said Gordon. "A lot of people were talking about it though, and I know a lot of people have been excited about this new scheme and things like that. A lot of people are very excited and so are we. We've put in a lot of time in practice and it felt good to go out there put it to use."
"We felt like he would do it," said Randolph, "and I believe we could do even more a couple games down the road, because for the most part we kept it kind of simple. We still have a lot more up our sleeves."
"That is the beauty of our defense," said Teague. "We have a lot of different things that we can do. It is not surprising to us because we know our calls and are comfortable in our calls so we just go out there and try to execute."
Last season, the Vols didn't earn their fourth interception of the season until week nine. Even though the Vols are happy with their drastic improvement they aren't about to sit back. This competitive secondary is out win at all levels of the game.
"It's exciting," said Randolph. "We all feel like we can make good plays and it gives us an energy boost, because we're seeing who can try to get the next interception."
"I feel like we are all competitive guys," said Teague. "We don't really talk about it that much but just the natural competitiveness we all want to get the most [interceptions] but it is not a selfish thing. The more interceptions we get individually, it helps our team collectively. We look at it from that approach more than an `I got more than you, you got more than me type deal.’"
The Vols are excited to get out there and try and get more interceptions as the year continues, but they aren't looking past Georgia State.
"We take every opponent seriously," said Gordon. "We don't overlook any team, even if they're in a different division or conference. We treat it like every game is our last and every game is a championship."
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On Herman Lathers)
“He is doing better, but he is still probable.”
(On hiring defensive line coach John Palermo)
“He obviously has a lot of experience and has been at it a long time. What really impressed me was his longevity at Wisconsin. When you see coaches who aren’t moving a lot, it says something about them as a coach and their character. I was surprised [he was available]. The reason we got him is because his wife is from Tennessee and he has a farm down here, that’s the reality. He’s not looking to coach another 15 years, so it was a real good fit. Sal [Sunseri] knew him from their NFL days, so that made it a good fit and I felt like our linemen needed some of that veteran, I hate say the word gray-hair, but that kind of experience and maturity at that position. He’s been a good addition for us and has done a great job.”
(On Tyler Bray)
“The poise that he demonstrated all through camp and the offseason paid off in the game. You never saw Tyler get frustrated or effected like maybe you saw last season or the year before when he was young. I just think it is his level of growth, maturity and experience. He just kept playing.”
(On only playing two true freshmen vs. NC State)
“It just means we are a little deeper, a little more experienced, but it also means a lot of them are hurt. We have a ton of freshmen hurt. I think we would have played more if they hadn’t all been hurt.”
(On playing aggressively on defense)
“That’s sort of what we preach every day. Flying around and being reckless doesn’t mean you aren’t playing with scheme and discipline. There is a level of discipline you have to play with on every snap. Learning to play aggressive and having a little ownership in the play, but still playing within the parameters of the system is key. Sometimes we’re good and sometimes we’re not.”
(On how the defense reflects Sal Sunseri’s personality and energy)
“I’m sure that is a contributing factor, but Dom Capers had some great defenses and I don’t think his voice ever rose over decibel two. I don’t think screaming is why we are having success. It is because we are coaching them well, the players are buying in, the players are invested in it, we have a good scheme and the coaches are doing a great job. I don’t think it is the volume of screaming that is helping us.”
(On whether streaks are extra motivation)
“I’ve never even acknowledged that stuff. Maybe I should have last year because it works both ways I guess. I don’t think the prior seven years has anything to do with what this game is, unless you let it. They used to say that Touchdown Jesus was the reason Notre Dame was winning. Teams who went in there and didn’t acknowledge that Touchdown Jesus had anything to do with winning or losing probably played better. It’s all what your mindset is. If you think there is a jinx or you can’t break this streak then it is going to affect you, but if you don’t even acknowledge it and just understand that it only comes down to how we perform then it shouldn’t matter. I never even talked about the Georgia Dome streak. I don’t know why you would. I’ve never coached in the Georgia Dome at Tennessee and none of these kids ever played there, I don’t think. A few of them did in the  Chick-fil-A bowl game, but it isn’t because of the dome. It’s probably because we stunk when we played there or the other team was better.”
(On Marsalis Teague)
“He played really well. He played the way he had been performing in camp, aggressively, put his hands on guys. I think he had one little breakdown on a third down, but I was really pleased with him. I think he believes in the techniques he is using. I think that has helped him kind of mandate that he play a little more aggressively.”
“[Pig Howard] is slowly getting there, but he’s not there. He’s starting to jog and move around. Christian Harris we’re starting to integrate a little bit, so we’re hoping in another week or two he’ll be ready which we need him to be. [Curt Maggitt] is alright. He’s dinged up a little bit.”
(On putting the game away on offense)
“The disappointing [drive] was when we got down to the two and jumped offsides, we certainly don’t need to do that, and then we had two throws one-on-one and we didn’t execute the throw-and-catch. We got three points there, but then we dropped a fourth-and-five. It was just simple execution, I don’t think it was us not really performing. We dropped a ball and threw a bad pass, that’s what it really came down to on two drives. I thought we had a real good drive when we got the ball with five-and-a-half minutes left and grinded it down to a minute and kicked a field goal. To me, that is a win. We went from 11 [points ahead] to 14, ate four minutes off the clock and they got the ball back with a minute to go and down two scores. We needed one more early in the fourth.”
(On depth on the offensive line)
“Marcus Jackson and Alex Bullard, we played both of those guys, so we played seven in a game which is rare. I don’t think we’ve ever done that unless injuries or we were just struggling so bad. Then, of course, you have Kyler [Kerbyson] who is starting to develop pretty good and Mack Crowder. We’ll see how they keep developing, but it would be nice to get them in there for some time.”
(On whether Tiny Richardson had any jitters)
“Well, he jumped offsides the first play, which we had a bet that he would. Nobody bet on Tiny not jumping offsides. We tried to call a play that was just the simplest and let him flat-back somebody and it didn’t matter. He was juiced up. He made a lot of first-game mistakes, he made a ton of them. He’s going to be a good player, but he made a lot of mistakes. He’s going to get better.”
(On playing through injuries)
“I just want him to go out there and lay it all out there. He’s never going to feel 100 percent. There is a level of acceptance that not many football players do during the season. At some point you just accept that I’m going to be hurting and play or I’m not going to play. It’s hard to play this game halfway in wanting to be 100 percent. You just can’t go a little bit, you have to throw it all out there.”
JUNIOR QB TYLER BRAY
(On the no huddle offense)
“It is quicker, I don’t have to call the plays, spend all that time in the huddle. We just line up and play. You get a bunch of snaps, more throws. Instead of having to reset, go in the huddle, call a play and line up, you are already there, you just have to snap the ball.”
(On staying cool under pressure)
“I’m from California. I never get effected, or I try not to.”
(On the stats from game one)
“I am happy we got a win and got to start off with a win. The stats, CP had a good game, Justin [Hunter] had a great game, Zach Rogers had a great game, but that doesn’t mean anything we have Georgia State.”
JUNIOR WR JUSTIN HUNTER
(On what he saw of his play on film)
“I liked the speed that I was going. I felt like I was running full speed every play and just contributing to my routes and helping my teammates.”
(On whether he had issues with the lights at the Georgia Dome)
“No it wasn’t lighting. I got poked in the eye. They went through my visor and got my eye so I had to come out for a play but the light was fine. We practice out in the middle of the day with the sun so it didn’t bother me.”
(On being excited to get back on the field)
“Yeah, I was really excited being it was my first game. I was real focused before the game started. I was out there pre-game running around and making sure I had everything right before I went out there.”
(On Tuesday’s sluggish practice)
“ I know everybody is tired from the weekend. We had a game on Friday so we had a lot of down time. I don’t think I handled it right. We came in real slow today and should’ve been better.”
(On whether it will be a challenge to stay focused after a big win)
“I don’t think so. We all think about our season last year. We had a good run and then started falling off so I think everybody is staying focused and trying to keep the streak going.”
SOPHOMORE OL ANTONIO RICHARDSON
(On film review)
“Well we could have done a lot better on our double teams and inside zone plays, but other than that on our pass protection, some of our wide zone plays, power play worked out pretty well. Overall we grade it out about a B minus. We could’ve done a lot better but we’re just going to continue to improve.”
(On how he would grade himself in the NC State game)
“On film I was about a B. There were a lot of mental errors that I should have corrected. Really it was more of just a different environment and my mind was just a blur. Sometimes when you are in that environment, your assignments just go out of your head and you just start playing. Sometimes I just played, and just played and didn’t think about what I was doing and who I was committed to.”
SOPHOMORE LB A.J. JOHNSON
(On his performance Friday)
"I could have played a little harder and I was real winded. I just don't think I was ready mentally. I was thinking more about being home and having my family around instead of focusing on the game."
(On how far he has come understanding the defense)
"I think I've come pretty far since the first day. It's coming better to me as player as far as knowing what other people have to do and helping people check and stuff. I still need help myself, but we are all just trying to get better."
(On how long it takes to get in game shape physically)
"I say getting in game shape just comes from busting your tail in practice. Once you get tired in practice, you just got to push through it so you can get ready for the game."
(On Dontavis Sapp)
"I think Sapp came in and did great. I know he came in on the first play and made a big hit. I was really excited for him."
SENIOR DB MARSALIS TEAGUE
(On the second half against NC State)
“As the game went on we got a little more in sync and on the same page more often. That is obviously a good thing but like I said we still have a lot of mistakes that we have to clean up and for the most part we did that today and we will continue to do that as the season progresses.”
(On the defense)
“I feel confident in our defense as a whole regardless of what package we use. Like I said, if we can keep doing what we are doing, we will be a special team.”
(On creating turnovers)
“That is one thing as a defense that we have tried to hone in on. Turnovers have a huge impact on the game. We try to force more turnovers, create more turnovers, but that just comes with doing the drills that we do and the attention to detail.”
(On preparing for the next game)
“It is as challenging as you let it be. It is all mental preparation for yourself. For me personally, I like to focus every day. No matter who the opponent is, act like it is the national championship, like it is that last game. You hear the coaches say all the time play each game like it is your last. You really have to take that approach to it and it will make it a lot easier.”
RS SENIOR OL DALLAS THOMAS
(On what he saw in the film)
“It was us making our calls faster. That was the biggest thing. We weren’t surprised by anything they did. Coaches had us prepared very well.’
(On Alex Bullard)
“He just opened up the run game more for us instead of having the tight end out there. It’s basically having an extra lineman on the field and was able to get the ball outside, inside, whichever way we needed the ball to go. We have him now to get the job done on our side.”
(On no huddle)
“At first it was tough to get used to with the pace and all that. But that just came down to conditioning and all that, but now it’s nothing to us now.”
On the benefits of the no huddle as offensive lineman)
“It wears the d-linemen down because they get their subs in. They have to keep the same of d-linemen in, so I like it.”
RS SENIOR LB HERMAN LATHERS
(On not playing in the second half against NC State)
“I didn’t know what it was until I got back to Knoxville. It was a tough blow, not knowing what it was and not knowing what to expect. Once I got back to Knoxville I learned it was just a little sprain so that was good news and I will be ready to go tomorrow.”
(On resting this week for Florida)
“There really is no time to rest especially when you are the leader of the defense and of this team. Guys look to you for moral support and when you aren’t out there the guys tend to fall off and not be as enthused as they were when I am out there. It means a lot to me to get back out there and just inspire the guys.”
(On the defense)
“It was really good. Out main focus during camp was to grid out games and make plays when plays need to be made. No game is going to be perfect. Sometimes you are going to get an offense that is going to drive the ball on you. When it is time to make a stop you have to make a stop.”
(On the big plays on defense)
“I think both of them should of scored but that is something we will work on during the week. Just making those plays and turning the game around. It meant a lot. Our guys worked hard during camp and it paid off during the game.”
(On Dontavis Sapp)
“He played great. We always study together and I make sure he knows what he has to do just in case so that we are all ready when our number is called.”
(On coming together as a team)
“We worked hard ever since December of last year. We just united as a team, came together as a team and built that trust in one another. It carried over into the summer workouts and fall camp and Milligan was a good experience for us to get together and just focus on football. Once we built that trust, and got that confidence we were able to play fast.”
SOPHOMORE DB BRIAN RANDOLPH
(On getting the first game behind them)
“We feel like this allowed us to get the Kentucky game off our backs, so it was a confidence booster. I think we felt like we're Tennessee again, which is of course a good feeling.”
(On if they simplified things after the first quarter)
“We simplified our hand signals and got our hot words. We have long calls and it takes a lot of words, so we just made one hot word for it, so it was easier to relay the calls.”
(On if he likes being more aggressive)
“As a defensive player, we always want to attack them instead of sitting back and getting attacked ourselves. This mentality fits us better. It is fun, but you have to study a lot and know what you're doing at all times. You've got to be on the same page with everybody.”
(On what he expects from the atmosphere at home on Saturday)
“I expect it to be very loud. It'll be hard getting those calls in but we will prepare for it nicely throughout the week.”
(On what he's seen from Georgia State)
“We've seen that they have a couple of good skill players. We have to watch out for them because they can make big plays at any time. We just have to make sure that we don't take them lightly.”
RS JUNIOR DB ERIC GORDON
(On if it has helped a lot being able to focus on just playing one position on defense)
“It's helped me a lot. I don't have to worry about switching around and I've been getting full reps at one spot at starter, so I can work on my technique in practice.”
(On if it feels good to have gone out there and made a lot of good plays)
“Every time I'm out there I try to make something happen and leave it all on the field. It just feels good to be out there making plays.
(On if he's seen more respect from his teammates with how he's played since the end of last year)
“Most definitely. I put a lot of work into what I do, and I feel like they guys see that and they respect hard work.”
SOPHOMORE TB DEVRIN YOUNG
(On being surprised with the number of carries he got versus NC State)
“I was a little bit but it was the first game and there were a lot of wrinkles. Coach told me to keep my head up and just stay with it and that is what I am going to do.”
(On Marlin Lane)
“Marlin wasn’t at number 3, we were all right there neck and neck. Coaches, if they feel like one of us is producing more than that is who is going to play a little bit more. You saw last Friday that when they put him in he made big plays. So he will do that the rest of the year.”
(On getting into a good rhythm)
“A big play can happen at any moment, no matter if you get two carries or you get ten. I just have to be ready, I just have to remember my points and whenever I make a good play that is when I am in rhythm.”