Sept. 13, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Jay Graham knows a thing or two about breaking streaks with ESPN's College GameDay in town.
As a junior for the Vols in 1995, UT's current running backs coach ran for 117 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run, to help lead Tennessee to a 41-14 win over Alabama, breaking a streak of nine consecutive years without a win over the Crimson Tide.
The memory of that win at Legion Field in Birmingham is one that has stuck with Graham through the years.
"Just to see the fans in the corner of the end zone and just the feeling that we had after that game, I guess you can say it lifted a weight off your shoulders," Graham said.
This year, the Big Orange is looking to snap a seven-game skid against Florida with College GameDay making the trek to Rocky Top this time. Graham hopes this season's squad has the same mindset going into the game as the Vols did in 1995.
"We were aware of [the streak], but we knew it came down to one game," Graham said. "We knew we had to take it one play at a time. At least that's the way I remember it."
Since last beating Florida, Tennessee has had trouble generating offense on the ground against the Gators being out-rushed by an average of 108.3 yards during those seven games. That is a stat Graham says has to change for the Vols if they want to celebrate after the game on Saturday.
"Most games in this conference are won by the team that rushes for more yards," Graham said. "The key for us is not trying to get them all in one play, but how many times can you run for four to five yards, not as much the average. The thing that I have seen is that on certain plays, I've seen the best of what we can do. So I tell them, this is the standard that I'm holding you to, so try to be that guy you were on that play on a more consistent basis."
Accomplishing that feat is easier said than done, however, especially against a defense as talented as Florida's is.
"It's going to be a big challenge," Graham said. "They're going to be in the backfield. They have a defensive front that will get after you. They are fast, explosive. The key to it is when you see a hole, you better take it, because it may not be there if you hesitate. They play you straight up and it kind of looks like stunting and standing sometimes because they're moving so fast."
BRODUS' BIG SHOTLast season walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus gained national headlines for the wild story of how he became the Vols' kicker in the Middle Tennessee game. Brodus went from his living room couch, to a police escort, to starting kicker for the Vols in less than an hour after injuries felled UT's top two kickers. On Saturday, Brodus has a chance to be on the national stage once again, but this time for his kicking prowess, rather than the tale of his arrival at Neyland Stadium.
On Monday, head coach Derek Dooley announced that Brodus has supplanted Michael Palardy as the team's primary kicker on field goals and extra-points after Palardy's inconsistent start to the season. Brodus is perfect on all of his collegiate kicks, even though it is a small sample. He is 2-of-2 on field goals and 4-of-4 on PATs.
Special teams coach Charlie Coiner has confidence in Brodus and is quick to point out that the opponent isn't as pertinent when considering kickers.
"We look at it whether it's Georgia State or Florida, they're not going to move the goal post," said Coiner. "The football field is going to be the same. The only thing you're asking me is there more pressure when you're playing Florida over Georgia State? I don't know. We hope not. We hope that what they do is go out there and perform. You block out. That's what kickers do. That's what snappers and holders do. You block out all of that and just get in a zone of what you're doing. If you do that, it doesn't matter if it's the Green Bay Packers or if it's Pflugerville."
With a new kicker comes a new holder as Brodus' fellow walk-on Tyler Dummer takes on the role this week. Coiner says the Powell native is solid and provides a level of comfort.
"He's reliable," said Coiner. "We evaluate everything in practice. Drummer is somebody who has been working with it for awhile. Our kickers are confident with him. Our coaches are confident with him. We feel good about that."
TIME FOR SOME GROWN MAN FOOTBALLAs the Vols head into their toughest challenge of the 2012 season Saturday, coaches on both sides of the ball preached about stepping up and playing tough.
Tennessee's game against Florida will not just be aired to a national audience on ESPN, but will hit the national stage earlier in the day with College GameDay coming to town.
The game will also mark the first SEC game of the year for the Vols. And SEC football is unique in many aspects.
"In the NFL they can only press for five yards so [playing against press coverage] is a little different in the NFL," said wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw. "They get a penalty if they touch you. So it is actually harder in the SEC [to play against it] than it is in the NFL. Honestly. You have to work and be good at press coverage all the time in the SEC. If you look at the SEC, all the teams that play it they all have hands on. LSU, Alabama, Georgia - they all put hands on a lot so you have to be good at that."
As the wide receivers prepare for the press coverage of Florida by practicing against their own teammates, the defense is upping their intensity and readying to play tough for a full four quarters against Florida.
This is the time for grown man football.
"We have one way to go," said cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley. "We can't play three quarters of football, bottom line. In this league and starting conference play, you have to come out there and play four quarters. We challenge our guys to do that. The main thing, it's going to be old school football. The team that blocks the best and tackles the best and gets all the blocks and controls the line of scrimmage is going to be the team that is going to win. They're not going to trick us. We're not going to trick them. Whoever comes out here and wants it the most. This is going to be grown man football this weekend."
DOWNS HURRIES BACKIt appears that Tennessee's injury-depleted tight end corp might get a boost in the arm Saturday as Brendan Downs is recovering from a knee injury much faster than anticipated.
After dislocating his patella in the team's second fall scrimmage, Downs was initially ruled to be out for a significant portion of the season.
As it turns out, he is on pace to be back after missing just two games with head coach Derek Dooley saying he could get 10 snaps on Saturday against Florida.
Tight ends coach Charlie Coiner said his ability to return so quickly is partly because of some lucky genetics, but also his relentless attitude.
"Guy has freakish knee I guess," Coiner said. "There's no way I thought he would be back, but he is. He's doing a good job, we put him out there this week. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a trainer so I can't make decisions about whether he can go or not but I'm proud of him, I'm happy for him.
"He'd done such a good job before then and to see him get hurt like that [was disappointing]. He's one of those guys, like (Mychal) Rivera, he's eating up the football. He's in my ear, trying to get in and get in. He's a guy I've had to hold back a little bit, but I'm excited to get him back."