Oct. 9, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Vols have learned a lot this season, sometimes the hard way, but they are ready to translate those lessons into action.
Their next opportunity to showcase their improvement will come on Saturday when they square off with No. 19 Mississippi State in Starkville (9 p.m. ESPN2) and they aren't taking it lightly.
"We've had a good couple of days," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "This is a big time for our team and I told them that. It's time to go out there and start acting on all the lessons we've learned in these earlier games.
"We just have to go out there and be ready on the road, go out there and finish four quarters and be able to execute the plays you need to execute to win a football game. That is where we are."
The Vols know that the Bulldogs, winners of seven consecutive games, are not going to make it easy on them. Patience will be the key to success, according to Dooley.
"Their philosophy is sound, fundamental football and they grind teams out, that's what they do," Dooley said. "The important thing is that you can't get frustrated and you have to play every play. If you play that way, opportunities will come. When the opportunities come, take advantage of them."
In order to create those opportunities, Tennessee knows that it has to eliminate the defensive breakdowns that have plagued it so far this season. While they could delve into the details of the defensive scheme, switch personnel or any employ any number of other fixes in an attempt to solve the issue, the Vols know improvement really boils down to the basics - physicality and attitude.
"We have to be clean, we have to be sound, but we want to be multiple," Dooley said. "More than anything it is whipping blockers and running to the football. That will never change in defensive football because you can sit there and say that I have this gap and you have that gap, but at the end of the day it is 11 hats whipping the guy in front of them and running to the football. That will never change and that is what we can't compromise. That is what we worked on in the open date.
"What happens is it is something that you temper when you get really drawn in to where you are supposed to be and then you have to remind them that it can't compromise what matters. We do the same thing on special teams, whether it is kickoff coverage or punt coverage. There are certain fits and places that you need to be relative to the ball and the blockers, but when you are sitting there thinking about where I need to be sometimes you forget about the most important thing which is showing up in a real bad mood at the ball carrier."
BRAY EYES TEXANS' SCHEME
Vol quarterback Tyler Bray watches a lot of football. He pours over game film preparing for opponents. He also watches the Vols to see how they can continue to make adjustments.
Bray also watches the NFL and takes notes of what teams are doing. On Monday night he was tuned into the Houston Texans-New York Jets matchup and paying attention to the way one of only two undefeated teams in the league use their offense.
The Vols signal caller took special note of how a former Vol plays a key role in the Texans' potent play-action offense.
"You can run the ball, pound and pound and pound and then the play action is wide open," said Bray. "The Houston Texans game from last night is a great example. They ran the ball with Arian Foster and then they play actioned and then Owen Daniels was wide open in the end zone."
Bray hopes to utilize certain attributes of the Texans offense and knows that the Vols' backfield will play a key role in the success.
"Each week you try to learn," said Bray. "I tried to force the ball down the field a little too much and made some mistakes. So I'm working on checking the ball down, getting it to Rajion (Neal), Marlin (Lane), Devrin (Young), and letting them make plays."
Bray is also trying to be more patient with his game can help the Vols' effectiveness on offense.
"As a quarterback, you feel like you can make every throw every time, regardless if your receiver is triple covered or not, so it takes time to learn to check it down," Bray said.
HUNTER'S HEADS UP, READY FOR MSU D
Experience is definitely on junior wide receiver Justin Hunter's side this season as he continues improving each week.
Hunter has been watching lots of film to prepare for Mississippi State's defense - especially their cornerbacks.
"From what I've seen, I know number 13 (Johnthan Banks) is real physical, he's very long and lanky, just like the NC State corner (David Amerson)," Hunter said. "It will be a good test for me to see if I can get around him. The [corners] wait for you to make a mistake. They wait on the quarterback to get a rush and that's just the schemes they do.
"[Their defense] is a lot of zones," Hunter continued. "They have the defense blitzing a lot. I have to keep my head up high, and I have to think that I can beat him going into the game, otherwise I can't [beat him]."
Hunter is prepared to be one of the central focuses in Saturday night's game in Starkville, Miss. He already knows that being double-teamed by the Bulldog defense is a definite possibility.
"You have to learn techniques to get away from [the double-coverage]." Hunter said. "You're not supposed to let anyone cover you. I don't get too mad when I'm double-teamed, though. [Being double-teamed] is kind of just the norm, now. "
With the help of his teammates, the trio of Zach Rogers, Cordarrelle Patterson and Hunter has been making names for themselves on the field each Saturday. The Volunteer offense is currently standing second overall in total yardage, as well as fourth overall in scoring. The Vols are averaging 506.6 yards per game and 39.4 points per game.
"Zach (Rogers) has been doing a good job for us," Hunter said. "He's out there helping everybody. He goes out there to make the deep passes - it's been him with the deep passes all year."
With the solid spread of wide receivers, it helps each of them have plays off in order to rest and be one hundred percent on every snap.
Hunter knows that the win won't come easy, but he knows what he should expect from Mississippi State.
"I think they just try to mix it up," Hunter said. "They don't want to jam every time and then I just have to figure out how to get around it. They just try to keep me confused.
"They like to be real physical and get up in your face," Hunter said of the Bulldog defense. "It's a lot like Florida; they were one of the most physical defenses that we've seen this year, so at least we have something to compare it to. It's about the kill, shot, tackle, jam, just disrupting your route, everything."
Since the last time the Tennessee football team played in Starkville was in 2007, there are no Vols on the current roster that have experienced the cowbells ringing at Davis Wade Stadium.
But one Vol knows his way around a cowbell. And he can thank his mom for that.
"I have never been [to Starkville]," said offensive lineman Dallas Thomas. "But my mom has a cowbell so I am used to that."
When asked why his mom might own a cowbell, Thomas explained, "She had that cowbell since I started playing football. She told me this is how you know you can find me in the crowd when I played in big games. She would ring it; I would look for it and see her."
His mother actually got the idea from his cousin.
"It started back in high school," said Thomas. "Where my cousin played high school ball they had cow bells at their games so she went and got herself one and kept it."
Now that Thomas knows where his mom is sitting every game in Knoxville, the cowbell isn't as necessary, but Mrs. Thomas brings it to each and every game, and when Neyland quiets down, which doesn't happen often, Thomas can hear the ringing.
Said Thomas, "She's the only Tennessee fan with a cowbell."
NO RED JERSEY FOR DOOLEY
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley started his post-practice media session with a short injury update on Tuesday. This time, however, it was a little more personal.
"I have a little hip issue and I'll keep you updated on it," Dooley said. "" I know I am here, I am working and nothing has changed. That's all that matters."
The injury has slowed him down a little on the field, but not quite enough to get him to don one of the team's non-contact jerseys.
"I wasn't in red, but I wasn't moving like I normally move," Dooley joked.
BRAY IS ROGERS, ROGERS IS BRAYThe Vols had some fun after practice as quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Zach Rogers decided they would switch jerseys while talking to the media.
Bray who stands at 6-6 and weighs 215 pounds had to squeeze into Rogers' slightly smaller jersey (6-0, 172) for the interview.
Rogers was more than willing to trade.
"We traded roles today," said Rogers. "He's me and I'm him. I tried to get Tyler's hairstyle. I don't know how it's working out so well."
Bray thought the jersey switch would bring lightness to the media interviews.
"We're just messing around today for interviews," said Bray. "I'm trying to keep things light. Everyone is starting to bare down, so at the end of practice we're trying to still have some fun."
Rogers later commented on Bray's need for a haircut.
"He got to put on the skull cap," said Rogers. "He's got some hair poking out the sides. I've seen better but we're working on it."