Oct. 22, 2013
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Big wins in big games are the reason top athletes come to play football at a place like Tennessee. But getting past the win and keeping from losing focus on the task at hand can be one of the most challenging aspects of major college football.
In the Southeastern Conference, the week-to-week schedule grind is a challenge for every team, but coming off of a big win, an opponent that demands the total focus of a team works in favor of preventing that big win hangover.
If the Volunteers needed a reminder of the effort and focus needed heading into Tuscaloosa Saturday for a matchup with top-ranked Alabama, head coach Butch Jones provided it in Sunday's team meeting.
"He said this is a great victory and it was very rejoiceful for our team and our institution," senior defensive lineman Jacques Smith said, recapping Jones' message from Sunday. "It's something that we just have to let go of through the week because we have a big team coming up this week."
For Rajion Neal, the challenge Alabama presents comes in the form of the SEC's top-ranked rushing defense, which has surrendered just 688 yards in seven games this season, the only SEC D that has allowed less than 100 yards a game. The Crimson Tide is tied atop the NCAA stat list with Iowa and Florida State for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed with two.
"It makes you throw away what we did last week, get past it," Neal said. "With a team like this, you almost have to be perfect, and I think it comes at the perfect time, because we know we have to get off of what we did and hone in and focus. Coming in this conference, that's what we signed up for."
Defensive lineman Corey Miller said the Volunteers didn't need a big reminder of the challenge Alabama posed, but agreed that the timing of the challenge prevented that big win hangover.
"It definitely helps because you know you have a huge opponent," he said. "You've heard about them, seen them on TV every week, so coming off of an emotional win, it's a refocus. You come out here and know what you're preparing for."
What the defense is preparing for is an experienced offensive front across the line of scrimmage and an experienced quarterback in A.J. McCarron, who is 32-2 as a starter, a .941 winning percentage, which currently stands as an Alabama and SEC record. The Alabama starting offensive line has combined for 69 starts, led by senior right guard Anthony Steen's 31.
"I see a very good and very talented offensive line and a well-coached quarterback," Smith said when asked of his impressions of Alabama on tape. "A.J. is going to make some plays, we know he's going to make some plays, but our focus is all on us and what we can do to stop him."