Nov. 12, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Brick by Brick, '63' and Tennessee Tough - just a few of the many 'Butchisms' we've heard on Rocky Top in head coach Butch Jones' debut season.
Needing to win the final two games to become bowl eligible, Team 117 is adding another to the list.
Game 7 mentality.
"You've just got to treat it as game seven because you know that if you lose you're done," said defensive lineman Daniel Hood. "For all of the momentum that Coach Jones has created this year, it'd be a shame on every single senior to let him go out without a bowl game this season.
"We've got to treat this week as if it's game seven of the finals and we get two weeks to prepare for it, two weeks to watch more film, two weeks to get in the weight room, to work harder, to rehab more, to get rid of all the little nagging injuries."
On the other side of the ball, the veteran offensive line plans to let their actions speak when it comes to spreading Jones' message.
"It is a must-win for us, for this football team," said senior James Stone. First and foremost, it is one of our in-state rivals. We have to go out here and have that on our mind each and every day we come to practice and come to work."
Senior tackle Ja'Wuan James knows that getting the Vols to a bowl game would set Jones and Tennessee up for the future.
"It will feel good for me, for the seniors," said James. "And it will definitely be great for this program the next few years - helping in recruiting, helping Coach Jones building that foundation."
For another senior - defensive lineman Corey Miller - next week's matchup against Vanderbilt is very simple. It's do-or-die.
"This is the biggest game of our football careers because it's do-or-die," said Miller. "It's time to make your statement as a team at Tennessee. This is going to be the biggest game we've ever played. It's the situation at hand and you have to win."
THE LITTLE THINGS
The Tennessee defensive line had one of their strongest performances of the season against South Carolina.
The Vols won the line of scrimmage, and came away with four sacks while holding South Carolina to its lowest total offense of the season (384 yards).
Since then, the Vols have faced some tough offensive fronts.
"It's testing our manhood as a D-line," said senior Daniel Hood.
"It just proves that as a `D' we weren't playing smart football, we weren't in the gaps, we weren't doing the little things right," continued Hood. "The little inches that Coach Jones talks about all the time, whether it's a safety being from one yard inside the tackle to one yard outside the tackle, whether it's Big Dan lining up in a three technique or lining up head up on a guy. It's the little things like that that lead to big opponents like that."
The Vols have been looking internally to fix their problems and make corrections to return to the front they once were.
"We're all sitting here asking ourselves the same question - and that's `why?' Every time we come into the film room it's that question," said senior Corey Miller. "So basically what we're trying to do is fix the `why' questions and come out here and be productive."
So what is the answer?
"It's definitely obvious what we're doing wrong. It's all the mentality," said Miller. "It's all about getting our assignments down, being correct with our assignments, being physical coming off the ball, and being fast every time."
"It goes back to the little things, inches," continued Hood. "South Carolina game, you go back and watch that film, our pad level, we were lower than them. When we were in a three technique, we were a three technique. When we were supposed to be in a two technique, we were a two. Our hands were inside in the right spot, the safeties were fitting blocks the right way."
"Then you turn around and go look at the Auburn game," continued Hood. "We were playing too high, our hands were outside of their bodies instead of inside, safeties were a little on the inside instead of being outside. It's just the little inches of doing things the right way."
The last time Tennessee went to a bowl game, the Vols' senior class was brand new to Tennessee.
These seniors are ready to get back. And they are making it known.
"The bowl is a biggest thing a team can make," said senior defensive lineman Corey Miller. "We tell the young guys it's a chance to be close. It's another 2-3 weeks with your brothers. This is what you fight for is another three weeks with your brothers."
A bowl affords a team extra time to practice and improve. But it is also a time to bond and create new experiences.
"We actually had a player led meeting and guys were standing up and telling the younger guys it is beneficial to go to a bowl game," said senior offensive lineman Zach Fulton. "You have a lot of fun, you get to bond with your teammates, on and off the field. You get to go to different sites and see places that you have never seen before."
The senior class also wants to win for their coach.
"It would mean a lot for this entire senior class to lead Tennessee to a winning season," said senior center James Stone. "To give Coach Jones a winning season in his first year here."
The underclassmen are ready to make their first bowl appearance and send their seniors off right.
It has come down to winning the final two games in each of the last three seasons on Rocky Top to make it to a bowl believes Senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James believes the team has learned from the past. And is ready to get back.
"I have been in this situation three times," said James. "The other seniors have too, learning from those two other mistakes. The first year we ended up winning our last four games. The next year we lost to Kentucky, the year after we lost to Vanderbilt. We have another chance to get it all right and go out here and perform."
"We just want to end it on a good note," continued James. "Do it for ourselves, do it for Coach Jones, do it for Tennessee. Se the foundation right now. This program should make a statement right now for years to come."
LET'S GO TO THE VIDEO TAPE
If Team 117 isn't on the field or in the classroom, it is because they are in a different kind of classroom- the film room. There you will find coaches helping players analyze their game, but more importantly, you will find players helping players and it's that type of team chemistry which transfers to their game on Saturdays.
Sometimes, watching film can be tough, but with two games left in the season and a bowl game on the line, defensive lineman Dan Hood knows that you just have to show up and analyze it anyway. "You've just got to buckle your chinstrap and come to work," said Hood.
From watching film, Hood has noted that one of the biggest improvements the defense must make is to bring better competition in practice. The redshirt senior wants to see the defensive linemen pushing each other to become better.
On the other side of the ball, the offense is studying film in order to adapt to the team's newest quarterback- true freshman Josh Dobbs.
"Being a quarterback, you have to watch film. Of course, it's more intense here, but it's something I've always done," said Dobbs.
And watch film he has.
"I first like to just go through it and watch all the game played out," Dobbs said. "Then I like to go and critique myself- see the things I could have done better, also see the things I did well, but mainly focus in on the things I could have done better, so I can focus in on those at practice and get ready for the next game."
It isn't just Dobbs you will find in the offensive film rooms though- it's the entire offense.
Running back Marlin Lane is just one of many offensive players that has spent time with Dobbs watching film. "He is trying to find out the little things that he did wrong to help the team win," Lane said.
Dobbs has also committed his time to watching film with his linemen.
"You just know he wants to get better," said Ja'Wuan James. "He is a quarterback and he is a great quarterback. He is a smart kid and he is a smart football player. He is always trying to learn."
"It shows that he cares a lot about the people around him," said Lane.
TAKING A BREATHER
In the last month, Tennessee has had what is probably the toughest schedule in college football.
The Vols came off their first bye week of the season to upset No. 11 South Carolina at home, no easy task.
Then came the top-10 teams. First the Vols headed to Tuscaloosa to face the nation's best team on the road, followed by a game at No. 10 Missouri and wrapping things up with a meeting at Neyland vs. No. 7 Auburn.
To say Tennessee needed a break is an understatement.
"After the four game stretch we had, it is always good to have a bye week and rest up a little bit and work on your technique and things like that," said offensive lineman Zach Fulton.
"We just came off of four very competitive games," echoed defensive back Brian Randolph. "So, giving us a bye week, a chance to focus on our fundamentals and stuff like that is very good for us."
The Vols don't believe that this bye week means any time off however.
"Anytime you have an open week, it is how you approach that week, it is your mindset, how you attack it," said Head Coach Butch Jones. "It is still an opportunity to improve. But also we have to get our health back, we have to get our mindset back, we have to push the reset button. There is a lot of things going into this week."
The Vols, as they did during their first off week, will use this week to work on fundamentals.
"I think [the open date] important because it's going to make our team a lot stronger and better," said quarterback Nathan Peterman. "It's another week to prepare mentally and physically for the next game ahead."
"Everybody thinks a bye week is an off week but a bye week is getting better on fundamentals, techniques, just the little things," said running back Marlin Lane. "We are just coming in with a different mindset of getting better each week, working and getting to what we are trying to build brick-by-brick."
Most Vols are pushing themselves even harder this week, like defensive lineman Daniel Hood.
"To me, I see this week as a time to really hit it harder," said Hood. "There's been a few weeks when we've had to take it soft because we know we've got so many games in a row and we can't go full pads every day. So, I see this week as a great opportunity to come out, go full pads, to hit multiple periods of the day, to go in and get heavy squats in, get heavy bench in, and to really hit it hard."
"We're going to have Friday, Saturday off to really recover, to get that recovery in that you need on a bye week," continued Hood. "To me, I see this week as a time I'm trying to blow out everything that I have right now, to completely exhaust myself, and I'll recover Friday, Saturday."