Oct. 12, 2011
KNOXVILLE - Tennessee has opened the season with a rough stretch of forcing turnovers, recording five in as many games, but the Vols know they're just a couple plays away from a potential snowball effect.
"Sometimes, you get a little mojo," head coach Derek Dooley said after the Vols' practiced Wednesday at Haslam Field. "We saw it last year. So much of this football thing is things start rolling, the confidence goes, you're feeling good and then you get hot. It's a psyche a little bit."
Dooley knows that all too well as the Vols head into Saturday's contest against No. 1-ranked LSU. In 2010, the Vols forced multiple turnovers on eight occasions, including at LSU, where they notched four.
"We had it going there for a little while and it happened last year," Dooley said. "We started off just grinding and struggling and then we got a little juice. The defense played good, created turnovers and it just starts coming together. You just have to fight through the dips. Every team goes through them. When you get that energy flowing, you try to keep it going as long as you can."
Part of doing that is the ability to stay focused on every play and maintain composure, including the coaching staff.
"We all need to catch our breath," Dooley said. "Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to win now. Everybody wants to have all of our players play perfectly. We forget sometimes the journey involved in that. When we show a lot of frustration, it doesn't help the players.
"We have to make sure we stay composed because they're looking at us just like parents. We'll stay composed, motivate them, develop them and teach them. We won't get too down when they make a mistake, we'll correct it and move on. We can all do better."
MILK AND HONEY
Sophomore wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who ranks second in the SEC in receptions (6.4) and receiving yards per game (102.6), was a primary focus of Georgia's defense last week.
Rogers, who had a pair of receptions for 25 yards at halftime, made adjustments, stayed focused and finished with five catches for 71 yards.
"A lot of really good receivers can go three quarters, not touch the ball and then they catch four big ones in the fourth, they win the game and everybody feels good," Dooley said. "The other coaches get paid pretty good and they have a lot of good players on the other side. They're going to make some plays, they're going to do some good things and you just have to keep playing.
"That's a very common thing for youth because we have all of these high expectations and then when things aren't flowing like milk and honey, we can't believe it."
The Calhoun, Ga., native can expect the same kind of attention this weekend from a Tiger defense that has allowed under 200 yards passing and just 12.5 points per game.
"They have great players at every position," Dooley said. "The margin of error against a team like this is really thin. It's very difficult to get any kind of big plays because they have so many guys that can run to the football. This will be a big challenge as we all know."
Facing the No. 1 team in the nation is no small task and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is fully aware of the talent of the LSU Tigers.
"They are very physical, obviously," said Wilcox. "They run the ball extremely well. Their offensive line is very physical. The backs run downhill. They have a lot of speed on the outside. They create match-up problems if you try and play more coverage, they can run the ball at you.
"If you try and stack the box, they can throw it down the field so it's a heck of a challenge for us. They are probably the most physical downhill run game we have seen so far."
Among the top priorities on Wilcox's checklist of the Tigers' many weapons is tailback Spencer Ware.
"He's a big violent runner," Wilcox said. "He gets downhill in a hurry. He breaks a lot of arm tackles. You have to have a lot of bodies on him. He'll do it in the first quarter and he'll do it in the fourth quarter. So, it's going to have to be sustained effort on our part."
The Tigers' quarterback duo of Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson present different possibilities that Wilcox's defense will seek to thwart.
"They are doing exactly what you want them to do," Wilcox said. "When people try to stack it up on the run game, they will throw the ball down the field. Obviously, Jordan Jefferson is back and he creates another set of problems for you in terms of agility and things he can do in the zone-read game. Both guys are proven winners and can do exactly what they need them to do."
The Vols have been hurt by long plays all season on defense. Opponents have racked up eight plays from offense of 40-or-more yards and five of more than 65 yards. Trying to curtail that trend is chief amongest Wilcox's tasks.
"You just have to know the weaknesses of every defense," Wilcox said. "Each week, we are going to have a plan going in of what we need to do to win the football game. We need to know the strengths and weaknesses of that. Again, any defense you run there's going to be a strength and a weakness to it. Obviously, we will mix it up and try and give certain people help on certain downs, but have to win on a one-on-one situation and we are going to have to do it again this week."
"I think he's stayed the course trying to improve his skills along," Chaney said. "It was tough on Matt what we had to do last year in moving Tyler in front of him. It's always tough initially. You learn from it and you move on. He's been die-hard loyal to our program. He's worked hard to develop his own skills and I think he's ready to go out there and lead this team.
"It's going to be fun to watch him play. Things are a little different. Matt does things a lot better than Tyler in some issues and other things maybe he doesn't do as well as Tyler. We have to tilt the thing to him and give him a chance to be successful."
Chaney has the advantage of not only using a quarterback with experience, but one that's had the opportunity to view things from a different perspective.
"I think he sat back and watched defenses a lot," Chaney said. "He has a lot better understanding of some of the things you're seeing in the SEC now. I believe that about any quarterback that's played that has a chance to calm down a little bit and go back in and play. I think it always benefits them. The game, they always seem to understand more when they walk out on the field."
The Franklin Lakes, N.J., native, along with the entire Tennessee offense, will have its work cut out.
"I see those guys flying around and hitting just like they were when we went down and played them last year," Chaney said of LSU's defense. "The corners are very good. They have their playmaker out there in the (Tyrann) Matheiu kid. He makes plays everywhere. He's a good player. The defensive line, it just seems like it doesn't even matter what number it is, the next guy in is just as good as the other guy. They get constant pressure on the quarterback with those four guys. That's kind of the trademark of who they were last year."
"RALLY ON ROCKY TOP"
A pep rally entitled "Rally on Rocky Top" will be held on Friday afternoon (October 14) at 5:15 p.m. at the Gate 21 amphitheater in advance of Saturday's Tennessee vs. LSU football game, which is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Dooley will speak to the crowd, with the Pride of the Southland Marching Band and the University of Tennessee cheerleaders also present. There will also be several giveaways for fans, including autographed items and officially licensed University of Tennessee gear. Two tickets for Saturday's game against LSU and pregame sideline wristbands will also be featured giveaways, while the first 400 fans at the rally receive a free appetizer card from Texas Roadhouse.
Free parking is available for this event in Lot 9, and there is no charge for admission to this event.