Nov. 8, 2011
KNOXVILLE - As Tennessee prepares for its third game with freshman quarterback Justin Worley leading the huddle, his confidence in the 11-man circle is growing.
Not only has Worley's confidence bolstered, but the confidence in him from the other 10 players in the huddle has shot up as well.
For the Rock Hill, S.C., native, it's been about vocal delivery rather than just via his right arm.
"I know this, the players all said Justin was a lot more confident and had a lot more swagger to him," head coach Derek Dooley said. "I went through this with Tyler (Bray) last year about how to deliver a play. You can deliver a play to the other 10 guys and it either inspires confidence in them that you know what you're doing or they break the huddle going, `We have no chance.' It's all how you deliver, the kind of command you deliver with, the tone of your voice and what you're emphasizing.
"The real confident, veteran quarterbacks know how to deliver a play to where everybody around them feels good about what they're about to do. And I think Justin has gotten better at that."
In just a short timeframe, Worley has gone from referring to senior tailback Tauren Poole as "sir" in the huddle to someone his teammates respect as that kind of leader.
"That just accidentally came out of my mouth," Worley said. "I kept on reading that and I couldn't believe I said that. It just slipped out, I guess. When Coach Chaney told me I was starting, he told me, `Look a lot of these guys are only a year older than you.' "
Regardless of age, Worley and the Vols were able to come together for a 24-0 win over Middle Tennessee last weekend, something that gave everyone confidence.
"There's a new attitude around, a new excitement that we have another win under our belt," Worley said. "A win makes the biggest difference going into the next week."
While the primary colors of orange and white will remain the same within the Vols' huddle, the orange in the stands will shift to red when Worley notches his first career road start at Arkansas on Saturday.
Worley's increasing confidence in the huddle will collide with an elevated noise level at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"He was a lot better this week, but he's going to have to be like a veteran," Dooley said after Tuesday's practice at Haslam Field. "On the road, it's going to be loud, hostile and different guys coming at you. That's important. When we're in rhythm, we play well on offense. When we get out of rhythm, that's when things start going bad."
ROWDY ROAD AGAIN
The Vols head to another hostile environment this weekend at No. 8 Arkansas. Having played at Florida and Alabama in 2011, Tennessee has played in front of some of the toughest and loudest atmospheres in the nation. Razorback Stadium will present another challenge for the Vols.
"I think it will help out a lot of guys, more of the younger guys because they have the feel of it now," senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. "They know the routine and that's really the most important part of it. Getting taken out of your element sometimes you can be distracted so we need to eliminate all distractions. If we can do that then we should be fine." As previously noted, Worley will make his first career road start at Arkansas and is preparing for the calls of "Woo Pig Sooie."
"We definitely have to manage the crowd well and manage how we run our offense," said Worley, who took a few late snaps at a loud Bryant-Denny Stadium in Alabama. "It's not going to be same as playing the last two games at home. We're just going to have to fight through the crowd. We have been to Florida and Alabama so far, so I think we will be OK."
One component Worley will have count on is using a silent count. Sophomore right tackle Ja'Wuan James talked about how the Vols intend to use it in Fayetteville.
"We've been working on silent counts all week," said James, who has never played at Arkansas. "I feel like we did pretty good with it in the Florida game. In the Alabama game, we had a couple of false starts, but I think we are going to get it together this game. We've been doing better with it in practice."
James has his philosophy on handling the boisterous crowds of the SEC.
"It was loud at Alabama," James said. "It was loud at Florida. All these places we are going to and any SEC game is going to be loud. You have to be focused. It's more about everybody needing to know the defense. Usually at Neyland (Stadium), we can all call the defense out loud, the center calls it out loud and we know who to go to. Now everybody has to do a better job of making a commitment to knowing it."
KEY MATCHUP: Tennessee OL vs. Arkansas DL
One of the more interesting matchups on Saturday will be the battle in the trenches between Tennessee's offensive line and Arkansas' defensive line where something will have to give.
In their six SEC games, the Razorbacks have amassed 13 sacks, including 10 in the last three games alone. In its win over then-No. 10 South Carolina last week, Arkansas sacked Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw five times, three of which came from senior defensive end Jake Bequette.
"They get after it and have good motors, especially numbers 91 (Bequette) and 42 (Chris Smith)," James said. "They get on the edge and put a lot of teams in bad situations where a lot of teams give them opportunities. We are just going to go out there and try to block them."
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, however, will be a Tennessee offensive line that is currently tied for second in the SEC with Alabama, having allowed just 14 sacks all season. Only top-ranked LSU has allowed less.
That is a significant improvement from last year when the Vols allowed 41 sacks, the most in the conference. The solution to UT's pass-protection problems didn't come in the form of any major personnel change, but rather simple hard work and experience.
"It's just work in the offseason," James said. "We have to put some more time in the run game and just keep going after it, but passing-wise we have been doing a lot better. I think experience has a lot to do with it, being on the right guys and going to the right guys."