Sep 9, 2013
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Saturday's trip to Oregon was the type of environment Butch Jones had in mind when he introduced screaming babies, car crash sounds, sirens and breaking glass to Tennessee football practice. Mental focus has always been a point of emphasis, but the payoff for that will be in how the team responds in famously loud Autzen Stadium.
The focus from outside may be on the physical challenges that Oregon presents for a team. But inside, Jones feels the mental game will be where the matchup will be decided. The challenge will be keeping a mental edge in the face of the physicality and the pace that UT faces.
"We're going to have to be able to withstand without substituting seven, eight, nine plays in a row," Jones said. "Can we get lined up fast, and decipher the call and then execute our assignment when you can't hear, can't communicate, on the road in a hostile environment? That's all part of that mental toughness, mental conditioning. A lot of our younger players are going to have to grow up in a hurry."
The car crash sounds, the sudden change of going into a team period when expecting an individual team and other areas of mental development built for the first road trip to prepare for adverse situations.
"We call it mental conditioning for success in everything we do," said Jones of the overall program. "It's controlling the minds, not only talking about a physical presence, but a mental presence, and how do we respond?"
Tennessee had the opportunity to respond on Saturday. After an opener against Austin Peay where the team experienced very little adversity, Western Kentucky provided challenging moments on both sides of the ball.
The defense allowed a long drive to start the game, but held WKU to a field goal. The offense had difficulty moving the ball in the first half. But both sides recovered, as the defense forced seven turnovers and the offense scored on long drives twice in the early going of the third quarter.
"We had to suffer through some adversity, some momentum swings, that's all mental conditioning," Jones said. "It's how you embrace sudden change. With two or three minutes to go in the first half, we suffered all of that. I liked our focus at halftime, there wasn't any panic. Our team needed to suffer some of that, they needed to go through that."
Jones hopes the experiences in training camp and against the Hilltoppers can benefit the Volunteers on Saturday, and help them fight through the fast pace Oregon sets. It's a pace that has caused adversity to snowball for many Duck opponents, something UT will rely on its experience to avoid.
"They're going to get their plays," Jones said of the Oregon offense. "They're going to make big plays, that's a function of what they do. But it's not letting one big play equal two, equal three, equal four and have a snowball effect. We have to focus one snap at a time and that's going to be at a premium Saturday."