KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- While there was a lot of pain and heartbreak in the Tennessee locker room on Saturday, the Vols didn’t let that carry over to the practice field on Monday, putting the loss to Florida in the past and moving on.
“The [players] were gutted,” Dooley said. “There was a lot of emotional investment in that game by the fans, by everybody associated with Tennessee. It hurt. I think it’s a good sign that kind of pain is on us because we felt like we could go toe-to-toe and we did and we screwed it up.
“They hurt more than I’ve seen one of our teams hurt after a loss, which they should, but today they were great because it is time to move on. We have a lot of confidence in who we are and where we are headed and that little stretch of bad ball that we played, we have to make it what we did and not who we are.”
That stretch began with the Vols leading, 20-13, with just over three minutes left in the third quarter. Florida then proceeded to score the game’s final 24 points, including three touchdowns in a span of just eight minutes and 32 seconds.
“We had a great game going and then we had a series of events that we obviously weren’t ready for,” Dooley said. “The thing about adversity is you can’t pick what kind of adversity you are going to hit. I don’t think there is any question that 21 points that happened so quickly shocked everybody. There was a moment where too many people were not listening to the voice of reason.”
One positive about going through that tough stretch on Saturday is that the Vols hope they have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of staying positive and avoiding negative thoughts.
“I told the team that down 14 with 9:55 to go against anybody in the country, we should have the confidence that we can come back and win,” Dooley said. “We always have to keep our focus on the voice of reason because there are plenty of times when doubt can creep into your mind and then it starts affecting how you play. The best thing about it is that the issues that happened are correctable. They are going to get corrected and we’ll move on.”
A.J. Johnson played on all sides of the ball Saturday night against Florida.
In about 30 seconds, Johnson scored his first career touchdown, got back on special teams for the kickoff and returned to his spot as the starting MIKE linebacker on defense.
Johnson was just happy to help.
“It was exciting to get a few touches and get that one score for the team,” said the sophomore. “I tried to us get the win.”
Running the wildcat offense is nothing new to Johnson who excelled at it in high school.
“In high school I ran the wildcat quite a few times,” said Johnson. “It worked pretty well. I know some games I had three touchdowns, over 200 yards rushing, something like that. I believe that is one reason why they picked me to run the wildcat, because I did it in high school and I ran it well.”
According to the Vols head coach Derek Dooley that is exactly why he was chosen.
“[A.J. ran the Wildcat] in high school,” said Dooley. “I remember even when we were recruiting him I told him we would do that. We didn’t do it last year just because he was a freshman trying to learn the defense. I knew after the first game we were going to do it. We didn’t bring it out the second game because we didn’t think we needed it, so we used it and it helped us.”
Though Johnson loves his role quarterbacking the defense, he wouldn’t mind playing the same role on offense once more.
“I’m hoping that we keep that role in,” said Johnson. “I know coach said that I did good this game, so we can see if I can do it some more.”
He’s even excited to try something in a game that he never has before.
“I had a play set up to throw a pass in the game,” said Johnson, “but we messed it up on the goal line so I just ran it in. I never got to throw it in high school, I ran it or handed it off. But I say I have a pretty good arm and know I can throw accurately.”
According to Dooley it might happen because, “He can do anything, he’s A.J.”
HUNTER PUSHES ON
Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter has turned the page on Saturday's loss to Florida and isn't letting the loss keep him down.
"If you focus on the past, the past will be repeat itself," said Hunter, who had five catches for 76 yards vs. the Gators. "I think that if we push this game behind us and just focus on this game we will be good. I’m just telling (my teammates) we have to play 60 minutes against good teams."
The Vols led until late in the third quarter on Saturday, but Florida turned the tide and scored the game's final 24 points.
"We see how we can play in the first three quarters we just have to be able to finish," said Hunter. "That is going to determine how we are going to finish up. Coach Dooley has put emphasis on that, playing for 60 minutes. You can't just play the first half."
Personally, Hunter had some dropped passes late in the game that contributed to the adverse times for Tennessee.
"I just think I didn't get my head around quick enough to see the ball. It was kind of unexpected," Hunter said of his miscues.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
The Vol defense was broken for a few big plays in the second half that led to Florida's 37-20 victory. The players know that it was due to communication issues, which they know are easily correctable.
"It is pretty frustrating to know that we were just a few little plays off, a few little reads off, a few little alignments off of stopping those plays and having the win,” said starting linebacker A.J. Johnson. “They didn't out-physical us or anything, it was on our part for not being aligned right."
Johnson's counterpart Curt Maggitt agreed.
"[The problem was] communication on our part," said Maggitt. "It was a lot of good noise, but we didn't communicate well enough. We didn't get the calls all around. Even when we did get the calls, we didn't adjust well."
The Vols took the loss, learned from it on Sunday's off day and are ready to move forward and make some changes for this week's game against Akron.
"What is different about our team from last year to this year is that people are more concerned about our loss and were hurt about losing," said Johnson. "We came out today and had a great practice today and we were ready to work. We just went out and went over the checks and corrections to get them right."
Again, Maggitt concurred.
"After games go by, we just get closer," said Maggitt. "We've come a long way since spring. The defense is tough. If all 10 guys got the call and one guy on a different call, then it can be a big play given up. We experienced that last weekend. We're just trying to eliminate communication errors."
With the Florida game behind them, Johnson, Maggitt and the Tennessee defense are moving forward and striving to better themselves.
"Our mindset right now is to go out and get the next win and look forward to the other games to get those wins," said Johnson.
"We are just going to continue to communicate and try to make sure everybody is on the same page," said Maggitt. "It's not easy. We have a lot of checks and a lot of calls. We just have to make sure everybody is on the same page and it's going to take time. We're going to continue to work hard at it."
RANDOLPH OUT WITH TORN ACL
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley confirmed the loss of starting sophomore safety Brian Randolph due to a torn ACL on Monday.
The Marietta, Ga., native, who suffered the injury in the fourth quarter against Florida, currently leads the Vols with 22 tackles, including 17 solo stops and one TFL.
“It was a sad, sad moment,” junior linebacker Jacques Smith said. “I knew he wasn’t okay when I saw him lying down and he didn’t pop right back up, because that’s the type of guy Brian is. We’re going to miss him a bunch back there, but we need the next guy to step it up and I know Brent (Brewer) will be able to do that for us.”