Sept. 27, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - For the first time this season, Tennessee will play in front of a crowd that isn't predominately decked out in bright orange when it takes the field against No. 5 Georgia at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
Heading into an atmosphere like the one it will face in Athens requires a different type of mindset according to UT defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"You know it is going to be a very hostile environment," Sunseri said. "We have to go in there knowing that there are going to be 70,000-plus people going to the game and it will be us 70 playing against the state of Georgia."
If senior tight end Mychal Rivera's attitude is an indication of the same for the rest of the team, the Vols will be ready to go.
"I know the team will go out there and we will have a chip on our shoulder," Rivera said. "We want to prove to people that we're better team than what's written out there."
As is the case for opposing teams in most SEC venues, crowd noise will be a factor on Saturday. The Vols, however, feel confident that they will be prepared to handle anything the Bulldog faithful can verbally throw at them.
"You just have to be accountable," junior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said. "Each and every one of us has to be. It's going to be loud so we are going to have to take it upon ourselves to watch film so you can see the looks and know what you are supposed to do even if you can't hear."
One thing that will make it easier for the Big Orange is the no-huddle offense it is running this season. Not only are the calls based on hand signals instead of verbal calls, but it also provides the Vols more time to make adjustments.
"The communication set is signal based, so I would like to think that there wouldn't be a heck of a lot of difference as we move in the ball game," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "Obviously, when you have a bunch of people yelling at you and being mean to you it affects you sometimes."
Although the on-field atmosphere will be a new experience for the Orange and White this season, it already had a walk-through for the logistics of traveling to a game earlier this season when it played NC State in the Georgia Dome.
"I believe this is our second road game, in my eyes," Sunseri said. "We went to Atlanta, you still had to travel, you still had to sleep in a hotel and all that. To me, we've already experienced that when we went down to Georgia and beat NC State. Now we have to go down to Athens to play Georgia and we have to play good, solid football."
MORE TIME FOR MACSTwo players who did not see much time in the Akron game but will see more action at Georgia are nose tackle Daniel McCullers and freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil. The pair of newcomers are expected to play larger roles on the Vols' defense according to their position coaches.
The limited playing time against Akron was due to the spread offense the Zips ran. The No. 5 Bulldogs run a more traditional scheme which will benefit both McCullers and McNeil.
"He will play a lot more this week," defensive line coach John Palermo said of McCullers, "because they will be in a lot more traditional formations."
McCullers was not on the field for a single snap on defense against Akron, seeing time solely on special teams.
"It's not so much conditioning; it's more so personal groups," said Palermo."When we're getting spread offenses and stuff and we have to change personal, he lumbers a little bit getting on and off the field sometime."
In McNeil's case, the true freshman has seen his role expanded with the injury to starting free safety Brian Randolph. McNeil has been slotted in as the backup strong safety with Byron Moore moving over to start in place of Randolph and Brent Brewer taking on starting strong safety duties.
"He is going to be a guy that will probably take some reps this week," safeties coach Josh Conklin said of the Texas native. "He is becoming more and more confident and I am confident with putting him out there. I think anytime you look at a player and the more you become confident as a coach and understand that this guy can get the job done."
MORE MOORE MEANS MORE SUCCESSJunior Byron Moore has made major strides in his season on Rocky Top. After making just six tackles in his entire debut season with the Vols in 2011, Moore is second on the team in stops with 30 through four games.
Moore's responsibilities have grown and changed already in 2012 with the injury to Brian Randolph in the Florida game. Moore had started the first three games of the season at strong safety but has slid over to start at free safety with Randolph going down for the year.
"He has stepped it up," Conklin said about Moore. "He has gone to work every day. He understands that he is the leader back there, he has to be the guy in charge, and be the one that takes control of it and make sure everyone gets on the same page. You can see him start to take over that role that Brian was doing a little bit more by making sure everyone is on the same page out there."
Moore became the first Vol since Eric Berry to intercept two passes in the same game when he did so against Akron and ranks fourth in the NCAA in INTs with three through four weeks.
"Bryon is getting better," said Conklin. "The thing that I like about Bryon is when he goes about this day-to-day process, there isn't a lot of flashiness to him. He isn't what you would call a dynamic guy as far as personal. He doesn't draw a ton of attention to himself. But in my opinion, that's what the great ones do."
SEE THE HOLE AND GOThe Tennessee running backs have a tough test ahead of them this weekend against a big and fast Georgia defensive front seven.
The Vols are averaging 172.5 rushing yards per game in 2012 heading into a meeting with the Bulldogs who have just allowed 135.5 ypg on the ground.
The key to putting up big yards against the Dawgs? Decisiveness.
"[The defense] is big, they can run but they are big," said running backs coach Jay Graham. "They close down the holes. They close down the space in between the tackles. They have some nose guards and defensive tackles that are 345+ pounds that can get off the ball and push your guys back. The key is when you see a small gap you have to go you have to hit it, there is no time for indecisiveness."
Something the Vols have been doing better at as of late is hitting those small gaps for big gains.
"We are doing a better job of speed on the line of scrimmage too. You have to have patience in your footwork, but you have to read the speed. See the hole and go. So you can fall forward, so you can get the four yard gains. There is always going to be someone at the line of scrimmage trying to hit you."
Leading the way for the Vols is junior tailback Rajion Neal. In the last two games, Neal has combined for 238 rush yards, including a career high 151 against Akron.
Graham is pleased with Neal's improvements.
"It is not as much about the stats," said Graham, "it is about what you do beyond what the offensive line blocks for you. That is the most important thing. And he is doing a better job breaking tackles and getting yards after contact. It is not always easy once that ball is snapped in a game situation to do those things. He is starting to do them more consistently."