Sept. 4, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A big win and a long weekend led to a sluggish practice on Tuesday as Tennessee continued its preparations for the 2012 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, HUNTERThe 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 intra-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."
SECOND NATUREThe 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."