Sept. 24, 2012
PHOTO GALLERY | DOOLEY TRANSCRIPT
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee is about to embark on a five-week gauntlet in which it will face four ranked teams, including three currently ranked among the top six teams in the nation. First up is No. 5 Georgia in Athens this Saturday (3:30 p.m. CBS).
With the Bulldogs leading the SEC in both scoring offense and total offense and a defense full of talented playmakers, the Vols know they have quite the challenge in front of them.
"We all know about Georgia," UT head coach Derek Dooley said. "There is no sense in me talking about how good they are. They are probably playing as good as I've seen them in a long time. The quarterback is averaging 10.5 an attempt, the runner is averaging 9.2 an attempt, [they are scoring] 48 points and only giving up 16. They are probably one of the most talented defenses in the country, so we've got our work cut out for us. Hopefully we can take a lot of the lessons we have learned in the first four games and try to go play as good as we can play in Athens and see how it turns out."
Saturday's game will be the first true road contest for the Big Orange this season. While the hostile atmosphere at Sanford Stadium is tough for any team to play in, the Vols feel prepared and excited about the opportunity.
"It is [a concern]," Dooley said. "The good news is that a lot of our guys have been in these environments, so it shouldn't be as overwhelming as it has been in the past, at least I hope it isn't. You look on offense and I think everybody except CP [Cordarrelle Patterson] and Tiny [Richardson] played at Georgia two years ago. Defense probably not as many but we had a lot of hostile games last year, so hopefully you learn from it. You have to learn to enjoy playing in that kind of environment."
Much of Georgia's success this season has been due to their ability to run the ball with true freshman Todd Gurley leading the way as the SEC's leading rusher (101.5 ypg) and scorer (42 points). To stop him will require a total team effort from the Orange and White.
"We have to win at the line of scrimmage first, play good scheme discipline and then have a lot of hats to the football because one guy isn't going to bring him down. It's very hard when he breaks through the first seven to bring him down with those little guys in the back. Scheme discipline, winning at the line of scrimmage on your man and then a lot of hats to the ball. Then you have to do it every play. That's what happens."
Gurley isn't the only weapon the Bulldogs have on offense though as junior Aaron Murray has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.
"He is playing with a lot of confidence right now," Dooley said. "He has a very strong arm and a lot of snaps under his belt. They don't change a lot offensively in what they do, so it is that deliberate practice where he's had a lot of work at getting good at what they do. You can just see him triggering the ball a lot quicker than he ever has, he's a lot more accurate than he has been and that just comes with experience."
The list of playmakers carries over to the UGA defense as well, where the Big Orange will have to find a way to slow down SEC sacks leader Jarvis Jones.
"If you are not aware of where he is he can just wreck your game plan because of his athleticism and ability to win on pass rush and be disruptive in the backfield," Dooley said. "He just has one of those playmaking personalities. He wants to make a game-changing play and they move him around a little bit. You just have to be very aware of where he is and you have to be very disciplined on how you block him, so we'll try to do both of those."
The son of former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley, Derek Dooley will be making his second trip back to Athens as the head coach of the Vols. Although Georgia emerged with a 41-14 victory back in 2010, Dooley feels that his team is much more prepared for the challenge this time around.
"We are a lot more prepared and we are certainly a lot better than we were two years ago," Dooley said. "We didn't play very good down there and obviously need a lot better effort than what we put on two years ago."
FROM DAWG TO VOL
Growing up 30 minutes from Athens, Ga., A.J. Johnson was a fan of the Bulldogs as a youngster.
His high school uniform was even modeled after UGA, red and black with the famous Georgia G on the helmet.
Being a fan, Johnson thought it would be great to play his college ball in Athens, but the Georgia staff didn't feel the same way and the Freshman All-American wasn't highly recruited.
"Growing up I was always a Georgia fan," said Johnson. "They didn't really recruit me in high school but I am ready to go out this week and play and get a win. I guess I am thinking [this is for not recruiting me] in the back of my head, but I am just going to go out and play it like any other game and try and get this good win."
"Everybody in my family was a Georgia fan," said Johnson, "people around you were Georgia fans; it was just 30 minutes away from my high school and town."
Johnson, who started playing football as soon as he could run, officially started in the parks and rec leagues of Gainesville at the age of nine imitating the likes of NFL running backs and later modeling his game after a Tennessee legend.
"When I was growing up I was a running back type of guy like Marshall Faulk," said Johnson. "I used to run the ball a lot. As I have gotten older, Leonard Little and Ray Lewis are who [I model my game after]."
Johnson will have a lot of support this weekend as he steps between the hedges and likely plays on both sides of the ball in Athens. So much support that he isn't able to provide all his family and friends with tickets to the game.
But Johnson, who is laid back by nature, isn't putting too much pressure on himself for his `homecoming'.
"I would say no pressure on myself," said Johnson, "you are just going out and playing another football game."
CONFIDENCE BREWING FOR NEAL
Saturday night was a breakout game for tailback Rajion Neal. The junior went over the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career with a personal best 151 yards on 22 carries. It has been a long path for Neal to get to the point where he is the number one back for the Vols.
Last season Neal was bounced back and forth between tailback and receiver. He has made major strides on the field with his skills and off the field with his mindset in being the team's top back
"I have confidence in myself and I just get more and more confident in the guys around me that are helping me," said Neal, who has rushed for 356 yards this season. "It is big, because you know in the perimeter; those guys are going to do what they have to do. So, if we get the running game started, it's going to be a long game." The line in front of Neal can tell the difference for the man they are blocking for.
"I have really seem him progress, going all the way back into camp," said center James Stone. "He is getting more downhill. He is breaking arm tackles more and more and I hope he continues to build on that."
Neal dishes the credit right back at his linemen and other members of the program.
"Coaching, offensive line, fullbacks, my guys on the perimeter and just staying under these coaches," said Neal. "They've given me a good opportunity and given me great coaching and my guys up front are steady believing in me, and I've got guys around me that want to see the run game and myself and others see the run game."
CARTER's ROLE GROWS
Former walk-on Jacob Carter has been a valued member of the Vols' receiving corps early in 2012. Carter, who was a scrimmage sensation last spring and during this season's training camp, has been given a chance to contribute during the regular-season and he has taken full advantage of this opportunity.
Carter earned a scholarship prior to the opener vs. NC State then proceeded to make his first college catch -- on his 21st birthday. This past weekend in the Akron game, Carter scored his first college touchdown on a 24-yard grab.
"[Bray] just threw it up and I couldn't stop smiling the whole time," said Carter, a native of Nashville. "I definitely had a few texts after the game and everybody was happy for me. It was a good time."
Dooley gives Carter a lot of credit as he came in unrecruited coming out of Ensworth High School.
Carter's role has continued to expand to where he is backing up starter Justin Hunter. All of the increased action isn't something he expected.
"I didn't really expect all this. I was just told when Justin Hunter gets a little tired, just sub in whenever you can," said Carter. "So, Justin called me over to go in for him. Luckily, we were in the red zone so I was able to score. But I wasn't expecting this much. My role kind of right now is like the fourth or fifth guy."
IF YOU CAN'T GET UP FOR IT, SOMETHING IS WRONG
This Saturday marks the first true road game of the season for the Vols.
Tennessee will return to the state of Georgia, where the football team played its first game of the year on a neutral site at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
After three home weekends, and three homer crowds, the Vols have a tough test ahead of them between the hedges in Athens.
But they aren't too worried, they are just prepared.
"I know it is going to be a good environment," said sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson. "I have never played there before but I have been to games there and they are going to be really rowdy. We are going to go down there and be ready to play. Going in you have to be prepared. Wednesday or Thursday we will have a sound system we will do to simulate the crowd and we work at that each week in practice."
Beginning the season with a tough contest against NC State at a neutral site and playing under the national spotlight against Florida has helped the Vols build confidence heading into this game.
"First game of the year we came out," said senior tight end Mychal Rivera. "We were in a dog fight and we came out on top. That just shows us that we can do that every time and going into Georgia we know that we need to come out and execute and play like we did against NC State."
Rivera noted that playing on the road will be different than anything the team has experienced this year.
"It'll be a change," continued Rivera. "We experienced a lot of adversity in the Florida game. We just have to get ready for that in this Georgia game and just to prepare and fight through."
One of the senior leaders on defense, Prentiss Waggner believes this 2012 Vols are confident in this matchup.
"I think our confidence is real good," said Waggner. "We have a veteran group of guys with a lot of senior leadership on the team, and I know we're going to be pumped about the game this week."
"We love it," said RS junior defensive back Byron Moore. "That's why you come to SEC to play these big games. If you can't get up for it, something is wrong. We are just worrying about ourselves, trying to get our minds right, and when Saturday comes just let it all hang out."