Oct. 8, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The schedule may not have a game on Saturday, but the Vols are practicing like they do according to Butch Jones.
"You have to bring it every single day," said Jones. "It is energy in practice. Again you are building habits. It is every individual in our football organization understating the importance of this bye week, the sense of urgency is heightened because we have to get better as a football team and as a football program."
Jones talked about the tough overtime loss to #6 Georgia last Saturday, knowing that every aspect of the game is important. He was proud of how Tennessee battled all game against a Top 10 team.
"Our kids went out there and they played, they played with great energy and they played with a level of toughness that we expect and demand of our football team, said Jones. "They were passionate and unfortunately we were one play away. It is everything, we go back and we talk about the inches. The inches make the champion. The inches are the difference between winning and losing. There are a number of plays that when you go back and push rewind that maybe occurred.
"It's third-and-four on the four ad we get an illegal procedure penalty and now it is third-and-nine on the nine. It is the little things, that tipped ball on fourth down. It is all the different things that occur throughout the course of a football game that may mean the difference between winning and losing. Our players understand that."
HOWARD LOOKING AHEAD
On Saturday night against Georgia, all Pig Howard could see was the defender coming at him and the pylon in the corner.
The 5'8" slot receiver, on third and goal from the seven, raced four yards and leaped into the air looking to hit the pylon and score the go-ahead touchdown for the Vols.
Initially it looked good. Upon further review it was a fumble and gave No. 6 Georgia a chance to win it.
"I haven't really been thinking about it," said Howard. "After the game I sat there and thought about it over and over but I don't think I would have done anything differently. I was just trying to make a play for my team. Things happen and there is nothing we can do about it now."
As it says on the sign that Howard gets on his toes to hit every time he walks out of the Peyton Manning Locker Room, the Orlando, Fla. native was trying to give it his all for Tennessee.
"Everyone knew that I was trying to give it my all, stretching out for that pylon," said Howard. "I play for my team, my brotherhood. At the end of the day, it was third down and I wasn't settling for a field goal. I was trying to win it for my team."
"I saw the angle he was coming at and I thought if I just get to that pylon, it would be good," continued Howard. "In the replay, they saw that I lost possession of the ball. There wasn't anything I could do about it. I don't think I would do anything differently. If I was, I would probably lower my shoulder on the guy."
Howard led the Vols on the night with four catches for 70 yards, also adding six rushes for 46 yards, all career highs for the sophomore.
"I think that was one of my best games," said Howard. "Just getting after it, stepping up and just playing for the players beside me. That is the biggest thing."
Howard is proud of those players beside him and the fight that they brought to the No. 6 team in the country last Saturday night.
"All I can say is, I am proud of all of them," said Howard. They stepped up when they needed to step up. They stepped up when plays needed to be made. They blocked. We gave them a fight. A lot of people didn't think it would be a four quarter game and we came out swinging."
While the Tennessee Volunteers came just short of upsetting the No. 6 Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday, there is still a strong sense of confidence around the practice field this week as the Vols have begun preparation to host the South Carolina Gamecocks on Oct. 19.
Currently in an open week, Team 117 is taking the next two weeks to reassess all aspects of their team.
"This week we're all about focusing on our fundamentals--going back and really working on our habits we've developed, working on our fundamentals that we may have strayed away from and also trying to get a jump on South Carolina," said Justin Worley.
Statistically, Worley bested Georgia's Aaron Murray, going 17-of-31 throwing for 215 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs. Murray threw for 196 yards on 19-of-35.
"Whenever you do something good, you gain a little bit more confidence," said Worley. "We struggled and smothered a little bit in the past few weeks, especially passing the ball. A lot of that falls back on me--my decision making and accuracy and things like that, but going out there and having a good second half and playing the way I did--it helps my confidence and it helps me develop a little bit more like a leader in situations like that."
The Rock Hill, S.C., native isn't the only one assured of his team's ability. Rajion Neal, who ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns this past Saturday, also knows the importance of building confidence throughout the season.
"I think confidence is a big key for every competitor's play," said Neal. "Just to keep building on it week after week feels good."
Head coach Butch Jones has challenged Neal this season and the senior has answered the call.
"I think he is playing with a level of toughness," said Jones. "We challenged him with his durability. He is really running with good pad level, he is very determined right now. He hasn't missed any practice. I like his approach in the meetings, in the running back meetings. I like the way he is providing leadership right now."
Worley knows though, that just because his team has an open week, doesn't mean it's an off week.
"I think it's nice to have a week to reevaluate everybody, reevaluate your game and what you're doing," Worley said. "I think a bye week can help us definitely get a jump on our opponent and also help us regain what we might have lost through the season. "
"It is every individual in our football organization understating the importance of this bye week," Jones said. "The sense of urgency is heightened because we have to get better as a football team and as a football program."
The Volunteers head into next week's game against South Carolina with a 3-3 (0-2) record and plan for a victory against a ranked opponent since last beating the Gamecocks when they came to Knoxville in 2009.
"We got right to the top, but now it's time to go ahead and stand on top," Neal said. "It would be great to pull one off."
PLAYING WITH PASSION
Maybe it was the sixth-ranked opponent. Maybe it was the Smokey Grays. Maybe it was the 102,455 in attendance.
Or maybe that's just Butch Jones.
Whatever the reason, from sideline to sideline, checkerboard to checkerboard, the Vols were amped up at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Since taking over the program, Coach Jones has stressed his dislike for emotional teams, stating that he prefers a passionate and intense squad.
Based on Saturday's performance both on the field and on the sidelines, it's clear Team 117 has received the message.
"We talk about that all the time, maintaining that level of intensity, that level of focus and that passion," said Jones. "That is why I say I don't like emotional football teams; I like passionate teams. When you are passionate about something it boils over."
That message is not just sent from Jones to the Vols on gameday. It all starts on the practice field.
"I think we have done a good job all year with our sideline," said Jones. "You only have so many games that you are at your peak performance in terms of the energy, and for a lot of it you rely on your habits and your habits are established on the practice field. That is the standard that is expected from our football team week in and week out."
Nowhere has that passion been more on display than in the defensive box.
"We came out with that kind of energy at the beginning of the year," said senior defensive lineman Jacques Smith. "We amped it up a little bit [against Georgia]. It just showed how hard we've been working.
"You have to continue to feed off of it. That's how our defense is. We thrive off of our offense making big plays, and the offense thrives off of us making big plays too. That is why we are One Tennessee."
Linebackers A.J. Johnson and Dontavis Sapp - the Vols' defensive glue - certainly noticed the sidelines on Saturday and plan on using that energy through this open week and into the South Carolina game.
"The way we played with a lot of emotion and a lot of enthusiasm; our sideline was all hyped up," said Johnson. "It's something we can build on. We just had a great day of practice today. People on the sideline were all into practice; coaches were all into practice. It isn't like we're going to drop down. We're just going to build up and get better."
Channeling that passion, the Vols moved on from Saturday and focused in on the start of a critical week of practice.
"We're not going to hang our heads," said Johnson. "We know we fought our tails off. We're just going to come this week, off week, and just get a little better."
"We had a pretty good practice today," said Sapp. "We went out there with the right mindset. We attacked the day, [there was] a lot of energy out there. I could tell that we're not down on ourselves and we're ready to come back and play."
ONE TEAM. ONE TENNESSEE.
If there is one thing that any Vol fan can see, it is the defense coming together as one.
Two weeks ago against South Alabama, the Vols put up a goal line stand to save the game, last week against Georgia, the Tennessee defense was one play and five seconds away from helping the Vols to another 31-24 victory.
The togetherness is also apparent to Team 117.
"We played as one team," said A.J. Johnson. We played as a team and we made plays when they counted. As a defense, we're getting better each game. We're communicating better as a defense and playing as a whole."
Head Coach Butch Jones wants each and every player on his team to be a leader regardless of age or experience.
The Tennessee defense is chalk full of leaders including senior Dontavis Sapp, who said what needed to be said after the game Saturday telling his teammates to not let this game bring you down repeatedly and passionately.
"That's just the way I was feeling right then," said Sapp. I could look at the faces of some of my teammates and pretty much tell that it hurt them to the core, which it should have. I was just trying to keep the guys and let them know we've got to come back and work for the next game."
Redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien believes though Saturday wasn't a victory in the books, the Vols learned a lot from their play against the No. 6 team in the country.
"I think one of the biggest things we've improved on as a team that we're going to come out every game and play like that," said O'Brien. "Now that we see what we can do, and see that we can compete with the best, and we really know it."
"I think that's the standard now," continued O'Brien. "That's what we have to play like. Coach said now we're not going to sneak up on anybody. No matter who we play. They're going to be expecting our best game, and we got to expect their best game as well."
O'Brien's linemate Jacques Smith concurs.
"We have always had our confidence in the way that we train and the way that we conduct ourselves," said Smith. "It showed last Saturday. We have been telling everyone, and now people finally believe."