Aug. 29, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- When Tennessee takes the field in the Georgia Dome against NC State, it will be doing so for the first time on a Friday during the regular season in 73 years.
It's opponent will look the same as it did back then, however, as that contest was also against the Wolfpack, albeit in Raleigh, N.C., rather than Atlanta. The Vols won that game, 13-0.
Despite the change from the traditional Saturday game day, the Vols haven't seen any significant changes in the way they have prepared.
From a preparation standpoint it really isn't different because we just count the clock backwards," UT head coach Derek Dooley said. "When it is Monday, it is Sunday. We treat it as if it was a Saturday game as it relates to our game week preparation. That doesn't change."
Just because the team hasn't been affected by the change doesn't mean there aren't other factors to consider, something definitely not lost on Dooley.
"What does change is how it affects all of the fans and the high schools," Dooley said. "It is certainly not something you want to do every year. Our leadership [knows] it is not something we want to do because we support the high schools so much and we don't ever want to take away from their support. I think it is a one-time deal. The circumstances with the holiday weekend contributed to it and hopefully once this passes we won't have this scenario again.
In addition to dealing with the change in game day, the Vols have also practiced indoors all week to get ready to play on the turf in the Georgia Dome, something the Vols haven't done since 2009.
"It is really two-fold," Dooley said. "It is about being inside but it is also about being on the surface that is similar to what you are going to get in the dome. We think it is going to help us a little bit, but you never get fully adjusted to a dome environment until you go in there."
SHAKING OFF THE NERVES
Cordarrelle Patterson knows he has some big shoes to fill heading into Tennessee's first game of the season.
The junior college transfer, who came to the university in hopes of playing alongside Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers in 2012, has been thrust into a starting position following the dismissal of Rogers. As disappointed as he is, he sees the starting role as an opportunity.
"It is very serious, you can't let opportunities like that go to waste," said Patterson. "You have to go in, do what you have to do and stay focused. There isn't any pressure, but I think it is a good opportunity for me, even though he is gone. We miss him out here, but we have to move on."
Patterson will fill multiple roles on Friday, like Hunter, at wide receiver and on the return team. Special team's coach Charlie Coiner thinks the extra touches throughout the game will be beneficial to the team.
"You just asked about two explosive guys (in Hunter and Patterson)," said Coiner. "I'll put it like this, how many times does a receiver touch the ball on average during a game? If you told me they got 7 or 8 catches, we would say that was a pretty good game for them. Well I can guarantee you that they will touch the ball returning punts so you can see why we want them back there. We want those guys with the football."
Like Coiner, Patterson's position coach Darin Hinshaw is eager to see what he can do in the Georgia Dome Friday night.
"I'm very excited about seeing him play," said wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw. "He's worked hard up to this point and it's a deal where again we're going in front of 75,000 people, so it going to be exciting to go watch him play."
With the first night excitement, also comes first night jitters. Patterson has already claimed that he is anxious about his first Division I game and his coaches know to allow for some nervousness. They also know he will be able to pull it all together.
"He's figuring it out," said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. "It's all new for Cordarrelle. It's a different environment, trying to learn to practice the way we want, it's a complete learning curve. He's going to make some big plays; he's going to make some blunders. We fully expect that. We have a super talented man that has never been on the field for Tennessee. That's exactly what all first-game starters do; they all make a few mistakes. We are trying to minimize that to the best we can and let that boy be a football player. Because, he has demonstrated on video, too many times, that he's a talented player."
Hinshaw has helped calm some those nerves that Patterson has been feeling this week, by telling him to take it one snap at a time.
"The main thing with CP is I tell him to go play one snap at a time," said Hinshaw. "Go play the best you can one snap at a time. Don't be thinking about anything else or results. Focus on process. Focus on doing the best you can every snap. The rest will take care of itself. All of the little things equal big things. You don't think about the big things. You worry about the little things - the details in routes and how we do things and what we do every snap and what we talk about. Don't worry about big results and that stuff. Just focus on process. That's why I always say in practice, `Imagine you're playing in the game. Focus like you're playing in the game."
There are many connections among the Tennessee coaches and NC State. You have Derek Dooley having played under Pack head coach Tom O'Brien while they were at Virginia together from 1987-90. You have defensive line coach John Palermo, who began his coaching career with NC State as a graduate assistant in 1977-78.Then there are the coaches that coached against the as rivals. Charlie Coiner spent 2010 with the rival North Carolina Tar Heels. That brings us to Sam Pittman, the Vols new offensive coach. Pittman spent the last five years as the UNC offensive line coach. But Pittman didn't have success against the Wolfpack as UNC lost all five games in that span including a 13-0 NC State win over the Tar Heels last season. Pittman does take a positive from those games, as he has extensive experience facing NC State. "I think it's valuable because you will know some of the personal that they have," said Pittman, who joined Tennessee in January 2012. "Obviously they have some new guys as well. I'll say this about NC State. They are physical. They play hard. They play well with their hands and they go hard to the football. That's a sign of a great coached team. Coach (defensive line coach) Keith Willis does a great job over there. I have a lot of respect for him." Pittman cites that NC State hasn't changed their scheme for the last five years, since O'Brien arrived at NC State after coaching at Boston College. He has great respect for their staff and system and know they continue to battle all game. "They are identical to what they have been doing for 5 years and they have beat North Carolina every single time," Pittman said. "They are a physical group. They play hard. They are well coached. They are going to move on you and blitz you. And they haven't changed all that much. This team is going to play hard. Last year, they were down to Maryland 41-14 and came back to win 56-41."
SPEED CENTRAL FOCUS FOR SECONDARY
Tempo and speed have been the buzzwords on the indoor field at the Neyland-Thompson Center this week as the Tennessee defense gets set to unveil its new look against NC State in the Georgia Dome Friday night.
To its credit, the Vol defense appears to have taken on the challenge and hasn't backed it down any in practice, going full bore to get ready for NC State's potent offensive attack.
"They really are [playing fast], and that's the one thing that we've really stressed," Conklin said. "I just told them, when we go into Friday night, the one thing that I want to see is them playing at a high, high tempo. You have to be able to take all those fundamentals and techniques that you have and combine them with your God-given instincts and I think that's important for them to understand. Don't just be a robot out there.
"We are at game speed right now. Our scout team has done a good job of getting the looks that we need and the speed that we need. You're also stressing to your guys all the time that you have to get faster from a defensive perspective."
A primary factor in playing fast, which has nothing to do with the physical side of the game, is the communication between the linebackers and secondary. Making the play calls on the field this year will be senior linebacker Herman Lathers. Having such an experienced and veteran presence in the middle of the gridiron has greatly benefitted the Vols during preseason camp.
"It definitely helps having your alpha dog in the middle calling out the plays for the front and getting the right checks for the back end," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. "Safeties are always signaling the calls from the back end, so a lot of the burden has fallen on them, but that's the way we better our defense.
"Safeties make all the adjustments and checks to the corners and the cornerbacks have to do a good job knowing their assignments, too. It's been better - we're making progress and really getting better this week and we feel good about the people we have here communicating."
When the Big Orange takes on the Wolfpack Friday, they expect to go up against an offense that won't hesitate to put players in motion in an attempt to confuse the defense. That will require discipline to defend, but the Vols feel like the work they have put in on the practice field this week has them fully prepared.
"We're anticipating a lot of shifts; we're anticipating a lot of motion," Conklin said. "I think our comfort level as a defense right now is pretty good. We've worked it a ton, we've worked it against our offense quite a bit, we've done it all of fall camp. We even touched on it in the spring. So, there is a little bit of anxiety early on, but we came off the field today and our guys were pretty sharp. They felt good about the adjustments. But also within that, we're going to allow our guys to play fast as well and that's what it comes down to - those one-on-one battles."
With just one more practice before heading down I-75 to Atlanta, the Vols feel primed and ready to start the season.
"I'm very happy with where [the program] is at now," Conklin said. "I'm excited with where our guys are at now. They've gone above and beyond the call of duty as far as what I anticipated when we first started installing in the spring. I'm excited to see where that carry over is on Friday night."