Oct. 16, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Vols hit the practice field with a little extra bounce to their step on Tuesday as they continued preparations to host No. 1 Alabama on Saturday (7 p.m. ESPN).
Despite coming off a difficult loss, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was not surprised to see his squad welcome the challenge of this weekend's rivalry game.
"We had a good practice today," Dooley said. "The players had a lot of energy. It probably had a little more pep than normal but it wasn't surprising to me because of the team makeup. I like our makeup, I've always liked it.
"They've never been a group that gets down or goes in the tank. I'm sure they are frustrated because they want results like we all do, but I think they believe each other and I think they believe in what we are doing."
Having a positive attitude has been one of Dooley's primary teaching points in recent weeks and the Vols appear to have received the message.
"Like I told them, any time you approach your work with a good attitude and a lot of enthusiasm, you will feel good about it. You will feel good about yourself and what you do and they did that today."
SENTIMORE'S SENTIMENT FOR BAMA
If there is one Vol that truly knows what Tennessee is up against on Saturday against No. 1 Alabama, it's Darrington Sentimore.
The redshirt junior defensive lineman spent two seasons with the Crimson Tide before decided to transfer out to Gulf Coast Community College and then to Tennessee.
"I was friends with the whole team, those guys really liked me over there and they were hurt when I left but it is what it is," said Sentimore." You have to make decisions and I had to make a decision."
Sentimore made a decision when he left the Alabama program and had another tough call on where he was going to go after his JUCO days were over. The top three? Tennessee, Texas and Florida.
"It was hard to pick Tennessee, but Coach Dooley was down to earth," said Sentimore. "He was a laid back kind of coach and I liked that about him. I think it helped in the recruiting process. Dooley is a good recruiter and one of the reasons that I came here. I was about to go to the University of Texas or Florida. But Dooley came in, stepped in and is a really good recruiter."
The other UT coach that helped get Sentimore to Rocky Top is current Alabama linebackers coach Lance Thompson.
"Lance Thompson also recruited me to come here, he is the reason that I am here," said Sentimore. "He recruited me out of JUCO and I thought he was a nice cool guy. It was tough to see him go. He is a down to earth guy and I really liked him. I still feel good about coach JP [Palermo] though, he is a great coach and has a lot of experience."
On the field, Sentimore has started five of six games this season and has racked up three sacks including one against a tough Mississippi State offensive line.
That play-tough mentality will need to carry over to Saturday's game.
"You have to play for 60 minutes because they are going to come out hard and try to out-physical you," said Sentimore. "They are going to try and out think you and outsmart you. But you just have to study film and be on top of your game."
"That is the mentality they have, to outsmart the opponent," said Sentimore. "They have a lot of plays on defense and a lot of plays and different types of schemes on offense where they outsmart people."
Sentimore, who will go up against his former team for the first time is ready to win.
"It is a new experience, I am looking forward to it," said Sentimore.
KNEE BRACE? NO PROBLEM.
Quarterback Tyler Bray suffered and injury during the game at Mississippi State trying to earn a few extra yards on a rare downfield run.
The knee injury wasn't enough to keep him out of even one play on offense as he played the rest of the MSU game. It won't hold him back at all against Alabama, a game that he has been waiting two years to play.
But, there will just be a new addition to his wardrobe Saturday, a knee brace. It's the new fashion according to Bray.
"Yes, I'll be wearing it," said Bray. "Their (A.J. McCarron) quarterback has to wear one too because he's a little hurt, so we're all going to be wearing knee braces."
The brace doesn't look like it will affect Bray much, and hasn't in practice this week.
"[The knee] feels great, I went out there and had a good day," said Bray." I wanted to practice [yesterday], but they kept me out. I felt fine today, though and was ready to go since I had more rest."
"We had a great practice, it was a fun practice," continued Bray. "Everyone was energized and just ready to go. Everyone just wants to play Alabama and see what the number one team looks like."
Bray knows that it is his arm that will get the job done against the Crimson Tide, but won't think twice if he sees a hole in the defense.
"It's not like I'm a dual-threat quarterback, I don't need to run anywhere. (But) I'll still run, I'm not scared."
Even though Tyler Bray didn't even miss a snap after getting banged up late in the game at Starkville, his ever-able backup was ready to go. Sophomore Justin Worley has seen a little action in two wins for the Vols this season, but he was ready to step right in against a nationally-ranked Bulldogs team.
"Everybody was telling me to get warm and get loose and take some snaps," said Worley. "Going through my mind, I was just saying `alright maybe I'm going to have to go out and win this game for us.'You always have to be prepared."
The Rock Hill, S.C., native has made major progress in his second full season at Tennessee.
"I feel like I have made huge strides so far and there are still big strides to make," he said, "but I am happy with where I am and I know what I need to work on and I am trying to improve that every day.
Saturday's game against Alabama provides a lasting memory for Worley, who debuted under center for the Vols in last season's game in Tuscaloosa.
"I just remember them telling me to warm up and get loose and get out there," said Worley. "I remember Marlin Lane fumbling the ball, nothing against him, but it was a little bitter sweet to start my career and the next drive we started on the one yard line going out. It was a little bit of a rough start but it was enjoyable."
KEEPING HIM ON HIS TOES
Coming off of a Freshman All-American season, Curt Maggitt has been hampered in his sophomore campaign by a nagging toe injury that won't let him play to his best ability.
"I'm not quite myself, but I am doing the best I can and giving my all every time I am out there," said Maggitt. "That is the best I can do. Because we had that week off, I expected to feel a lot better than I did [at Mississippi State]. Game time came and I didn't feel as good as I expected and it was just frustrating because I wanted to be out there."
Maggitt has been getting treatment every day, multiple times a day from the Tennessee athletic training staff.
"It is not easy, it's tough when you can't go, especially when you are so passionate about it and passionate about being out there with your teammates," said Maggitt. "It is kind of a letdown feeling but I know my teammates have it and I have faith in them 100 percent."
Maggitt won't let the toe injury stop him from playing in one of the biggest games of his career, however.
"I am playing," said Maggitt. "I am going to play Saturday."
A VOLUNTEER COMEBACK
It's the same story that all East Tennessee natives have towards the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry every year on the third Saturday in October - an SEC tradition that arguably nothing can compare to.
Ooltewah, Tenn., native Jacques Smith has his head held high and is expecting big things this weekend.
"It would mean a bunch to me [to get the win]," Smith said. "I know everyone back at home is rooting for me and the Vols in general. It's a big win and if we can get it, it would be great and it would be known for forever."
Smith recognizes the Vols' season thus far, but he has been proving is true Vol For Life mentality and asks the fans to seek faith in their Tennessee team, especially for this special rivalry.
"Tennessee is going to come around," Smith said. "It's in due time and a win this week will definitely change everyone's hearts. If you're really part of the Tennessee tradition, you would want to come to this game.
"I know the fans are probably mad at us and they have every right to be, but this is Tennessee and we're a great team. A win is going to happen, hopefully this week."
That alone should give Vol Nation some optimism coming into Saturday.
Smith knows, however, that it will be a fight all 60 minutes of the game. Number one ranked Alabama has proven themselves this season and in past seasons, but the Vols know they can give the Crimson Tide a run for their money.
"[Alabama] is going to take as many opportunities as they can to just get the ball and do what they can do with it," Smith said. "Whether they're scoring or just holding it. I think that if we can just keep the ball out of Alabama's hands then I think we'll do fine."
Smith spoke very highly of Alabama's offense, including their impressive offensive line. The linebacker said that being a great O-line "is just something we expect."
"It's the SEC and that's what we expect - we play against a great offensive line at practice every day and we're going to be prepared," Smith said.
The last time a Volunteer squad defeated a number one team was against Auburn in 1985. The 1985 Tennessee team was also unranked.
This defense is ready to improve and show their fans what Tennessee football is all about. One thing's for sure - no one is safe in the Crimson Tide versus Volunteer rivalry. On the third Saturday in October, anything can happen.
CROOM, THOMAS OUT FOR SEASONA pair of true freshmen will not participate for the remainder of the year as both wide receiver Jason Croom and defensive back Tino Thomas will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.
"Jason Croom is getting surgery on his shoulder," Dooley said. "This is the shoulder that is kind of popping in and out. We had to make a decision at some point whether to wait through the season or do it now so he could get back for spring. Tino Thomas has a similar deal that we will probably do surgery on."
Croom had appeared in three games without a catch, while Thomas has yet to play in a collegiate contest. Both players will apply for medical hardship waivers.