Sept. 5, 2011
KNOXVILLE - While people around the country enjoy Monday off of work, the Tennessee football team is doing the same with practice - a schedule that will be consistent throughout the season. The Vols won their season-opener, 42-16, Saturday against Montana at Neyland Stadium.
Like every game, it had its obstacles. One of them showed up in a different form Saturday.
"First of all, how we managed the adversity that hit us with the lightning starting out," head coach Derek Dooley said. "I thought our team did a great job in the locker room, especially given the anxiety of a first game. There was so much anticipation to that moment, and then all of a sudden it's like, `We can't go.' I was worried a little bit, but we did a good job. "
Not only did the Vols deal with adversity in the sky, but on the field as well.
"Our youth showed up a lot, because in games it's never going to be how you plan it," Dooley said. "They're always going to come out and throw different things at you, and you have to have an ability to go to the sideline and make adjustments. And we really struggled at that, especially some of the newer guys. We have to do a better job with that. I also felt (the lack of) an overall commitment on each play by the players, the new faces. What I mean by that is you run these plays a certain way for four weeks, and you have confidence and you're going fast. Then you get out in the game and you get a little bit unsure and you don't play as fast. I saw that.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray led the offense completing 17-of-24 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns, while orchestrating a 96-yard drive in the second quarter, the longest by the Vols since a possession covered 97 yards at Memphis in 2006.
The signal-caller was one of many bright spots for Tennessee regarding the administration throughout the game.
"The substitution and operation of the game, when I look back on it, was a real plus for us - especially given their high-tempo, no-huddle," Dooley said. "They're subbing a lot; we're subbing a lot - so the defense did a really good job on that. And then I felt Tyler managed the game really well from an operational standpoint, so that was good.
"Plus-three turnovers; as we know, that's the No. 1 indicator of winning and losing. And, of course, our pass game I felt like on both sides of the ball was pretty good. We gave up that one bad play - you can't get it back. But if you did take it out, they were about four yards an attempt; we were about 12½, which is a huge number."
During Monday's media luncheon, Dooley gave an update as to where the Vols are from a medical standpoint.
"Injuries - Mo Couch had a slight knee sprain; he's day-to-day. We'll probably re-evaluate Devrin (Young) next week, so he's still in the rehab. He can catch punts but we can't touch him. Next week, we'll see where he is and have a better feel for that. Herman (Lathers) update - he got his screws taken out; we're thinking 4-6 weeks. We hope by the second half of the season he can come in and get back in it.
RAMPING UP THE RUN GAME
Tight end Mychal Rivera feels the Tennessee run game has just scratched the surface and that the Vols can make significant strides heading into week two against Cincinnati. The Vols netted 128 rushing yards led by Tauren Poole's 98 versus Montana.
"I feel we need to improve on our physicality up front," Rivera said. "The O-linemen and myself, tight ends, fullbacks, everybody needs to fire out and finish their blocks. That was one thing that we saw when we were evaluating film. The last two seconds of the play, if we strained just a little harder, I feel Tauren and Marlin (Lane) and those guys could gain a few more yards."
Rivera feels these adjustments could be executed rather quickly.
"I feel there are always holes that maybe a fan or somebody (with) that perspective doesn't see," Rivera said. "We know, if that block would have happened, it would have been an 80-yard touchdown. I feel we were a little closer and I feel like that next game we are going to prove a lot."
POPPING THE HOOD
After redshirting in 2009 and spending the 2010 campaign as an offensive lineman, sophomore Daniel Hood has made a seamless transition into a starting role on the opposite side of the ball as Tennessee's nose tackle.
While switching from offense to defense is usually a difficult move, Hood has had no such issues.
"For me it felt more natural playing defense," Hood said. "I'd like to say that it was the hardest thing I've ever done, but it seemed like it was the easiest. Everything seemed to come more natural. Learning the defense seemed a lot easier than it was learning the offense. Learning your steps, the techniques and all those things, to me, that was 10 times easier than doing what I was doing with the offensive line.
UT's starter at nose tackle, Hood was one of nine defensive linemen to rotate in against Montana last Saturday. Although he finished with just 0.5 a tackle, Hood showed how he won the starting spot with his consistency and ability to disrupt the running game.
"Dan played about how he has been practicing all year, which is good," Dooley said. "He's just steady. He plays with good gap discipline and plugs those holes in the middle. He's doing a good job for us."
According to Hood, the Montana game is a good starting point for the defensive line, but also shows how much they have left to improve on.
"We showed some promise, but we made a lot of mistakes too," Hood said. "It's good to get a base starting point to find out where we need to improve. Now we have an idea what our deficiencies are and how to get better from that."
BUTTERFLIES AND JITTERS
As if Tennessee hadn't waited long enough to play its first game of the season, the weather delay allowed the butterflies to float around for an extra 93 minutes Saturday.
"I think the biggest thing is you always get those first-game jitters and butterflies," senior linebacker Austin Johnson said of the most difficult part of a season-opener. "We just need to be more relaxed, calm and collected for the next game and not get too hyped up."
Johnson recorded his first career start at middle linebacker against the Grizzlies, and is looking forward to at least 11 more opportunities to do so.
"I embrace it. It's been a great three years so far. Coming in here my final year, finally getting a starting role and being the leader of the defense, I really like it. Just getting that first game under my belt felt good. I can't wait to keep progressing through the season."
"Curt and A.J. did a great job," the elder Johnson said. "I was never really worried about them. They've always been really calm and collected. They're mature guys. They don't act like freshmen and that's something we need for this team. I though they went out and executed with great poise. The sky is the limit for those two and I can't wait to keep watching them."