Oct. 21, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's win over South Carolina was the result of a team effort on Saturday afternoon, but the win was built on the foundation poured in this summer by Dave Lawson and the strength and conditioning staff.
"Football rewards those that are in great conditioning, mentally and physically," Butch Jones said during his weekly press briefing on Monday afternoon. "We make conditioning matter. It's a mindset in our program. It's who we are."
Teams coached by Jones are 43-2 with a halftime lead, as the Vols had on Saturday, since Lawson joined the current Volunteer head coach during his stint at Central Michigan.
"That is a mindset," Jones said of the record. "We talk about the mental conditioning. Now going into Alabama, all of that is going to be tested. Our mental conditioning, our physical conditioning. Everything will be tested."
Ja'Wuan James said Lawson's program had given the team, particularly the offensive line, the extra push needed to finish games.
"I feel a lot more prepared, I think everybody does," James said. "Conditioning-wise, I feel like Coach Lawson does a good job with us over the spring and the summer. I feel like this is the most conditioned team we've ever had. During this stretch in October, this is when you need that conditioning, that second wind."
The mental conditioning gave the Volunteers another edge Saturday, a turnover-free football game.
"Anytime you don't turn the football over, you're going to have an opportunity to win," Jones said. "It's about playing disciplined football. That was a very talented and physical defense we played on Saturday and we didn't turn the football over, and that's part of the great strides we're making toward winning football games and playing winning football."
Jones said the team knows a lot more about itself than it did when the Vols last went on the road to face a top-5 team at Oregon earlier this season. The visible steps of progression have been significant in the team and offer signs that the work and discipline are paying off. But Jones was clear that what has happened in the past is something to be built on, but not something that has to be relied on to predict future performances.
"Last week is not going to help us win this week," he said. "It's time to move on. But our players understand what's at stake."