READYING FOR RIVAL
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- With
the thrills of the then #11 South Carolina victory in the distant past,
Team 117 took to the practice field Tuesday with one goal: forget the
past and win each week.
"First of all you shouldn't need
any motivation," said Vols head coach Butch Jones. "You're playing the
best of the best in the country. The next evolution of this football
team is learning how to win on the road."
Volunteers will have their work cut out for them as the head into
Tuscaloosa, Ala. Looking to take down their second consecutive ranked
opponent in the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide. For the Tennessee team it may
not be as daunting as it may seem. The Vols have visited #2 Oregon and
then #19 Florida on the road.
"Each week is a new season
in and of itself," Jones said. "Each week takes on a life of itself and
that's where we've tried to educate our younger players. The game
planning changes. It's that mental effort, that mental intensity, that
high level of preparation that goes into it so we really, really have
stressed that. Up to this point in time our players have done a good
job with that."
Saturday's victory was a historic win for
the first year head coach. Jones said that he allowed the players to
celebrate for 24 hours, his staff for 12 hours, but himself only 45
minutes. He recognizes the importance of the upcoming matchup with
Alabama, but is firm that every day is business as usual.
all in how we conduct and manage our business and that's just win
number four," he said. "It's an evolution and that's our players
understanding that the more you win, the more that's at stake."
will mark the 96th meeting between the two SEC heavyweights dating back
to even before when General Robert Neyland roamed the Tennessee
The last time Tennessee came out of Tuscaloosa
with a victory was a 2003, 51-43, five overtime shootout and a Vol
victory Saturday would snap a 10-game road losing streak which includes
9 straight SEC road losses.
However, history doesn't affect the upcoming grudge match in Jones' mind.
haven't had to ask anyone [about the rivalry]," said Jones. "That
occurred on Dec. 7 and that's been a leading up process and this
rivalry is very special to us, it's very special to all of our former
players and it's very special to the entire Vol nation.
have to go on the road and play in some great hostile environments.
Everything is your preparation and being mentally tough."
backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are so much so a one-two punch that
they tackled their media availability on Tuesday night in the same
Neal and Lane have coupled for
1,028 yards on the ground this season with Neal recording 693 (24th
nationally, T-4th SEC) and Lane notching 335 (24th SEC).
Though there is competition in practice, there is no selfishness once the Vols hit the gridiron on Saturdays.
think everybody needs a running mate," said Neal. "We do a great job of
running together. There isn't any me first, I'm first. We try and feed
off of each other and both go."
"A good example was the
second scoring drive [against South Carolina]," continued Neal. "Marlin
got it started off, we had a couple of good runs, I came in right
behind him, had a couple good runs and scored. I think that right there
is what we have the most fun doing. Going in after each other, feeding
and just trying to see who can finish it. It is exciting. Our coach
always tells us, you are only as strong as the guy behind you."
Lane agrees with Neal and loves the competition the duo faces day-in and day-out.
push each other," said Lane. "We compete at practice, we talk to each
other off the field. I'll send him texts through the week and tell him
what he thinks about getting 100 yards a piece this game. Keep pushing
each other. Let's keep going."
Though the twosome are from
different states, they have known each other for a long time initially
running into each other at elite running back camps in high school.
lot of people don't know is that me and Marlin knew each other before
coming to Tennessee together through the top camps and things like
that," said Neal. "We are pretty familiar with each other. We know how
to cut up and turn it on when you need to. It is some pretty thick
competition. One thing he always tells me is if I don't finish he is
going to get it."
Though Lane and Neal have only known each other for a handful of years, they have a brotherly bond.
don't remember exactly when I met him but I would say it was my
sophomore year in high school," said Lane. "I ended up coming here and
it was like we knew each other since we were little. That is the best
part about being his teammate."
wide receiver Marquez North finished the game with a team-high 102
yards on Saturday, it was sophomore Pig Howard who helped the Vols to
continually be in a position to score as he reeled in career high eight
catches against South Carolina.
One of those catches came
during a second-and-goal situation as Howard took a Justin Worley throw
to the gut and held on for the touchdown.
"Our offense is
made for the slot receiver to have a lot of catches," said Howard. "I
already knew and had the heads up of what was coming during the season."
knew the catches were coming, which meant he knew the hits were coming.
And he took them, holding on to multiple passes after being smashed
into by South Carolina defenders.
One man pleased with Howard, the head guy in charge. Butch Jones.
has really improved him route running technique, he is looking the
tuck, he is protecting the football," said Jones. "I can't say enough
about him. This week we are going up against one of the best secondary
in the country so we are going to see a lot of man coverage, a lot one
on one matchups and it is going to be a next step for him. But I have
been pleased with his progression so far."
Howard is ready for Alabama this week, developing confidence after his last two weeks of play.
does help, as you can see it helped from Georgia as well," said Howard.
"But we aren't focused on last weeks' success because that is in the
past. If we think about that too much, we will sleep on Alabama. This
is a great team that we have to get ready for, and we plan on getting
better each and every day."
Jones knows that Howard has, and will continue to, step it up as the Vols prepare for Alabama this week.
has really stepped up and he continues to get better and better," said
Jones. "It is in direct correlation to his work habits in practice. The
last couple weeks he has performed as well as I have seen him perform
in practice. I liked the way his mental approach has been in the
meetings, the way he has taken it to the practice field and that is the
reason he is performing on Saturdays. I like his overall approach."
knows he has a tough test ahead of him and is pretty familiar with the
Alabama defense as his cousin is Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix.
defense will play off of our offense," said Howard. "Whatever we give
them, that is what they will give us. They are very well coached, and
based off of certain information, they know what defense to get in. We
have to play the game our style and out effort them."
Jones knows that Howard will out effort anyone right now.
"He is performing at a very high level of consistency," said Jones. "His decision making process has been outstanding."
BELIEF & CONFIDENCE
allowing 687 total yards at Oregon in week three, including 471 through
the air, the Tennessee defense and specifically its secondary began
turning things around.
In back-to-back games, the Vols
held Aaron Murray - the SEC's all-time leader in total yards - to fewer
than 200 yards passing and South Carolina's Connor Shaw to just seven
With momentum on its side, the Vols' defense
has come together and is playing with confidence. And as Coach Jones
says, belief and confidence are powerful.
playing with a very high level of confidence," said Jones. "But again
we are going to be challenged. We are going to be challenged with some
very talented weapons. It is all team defense. We were able to generate
pressure on the quarterback. It all goes hand in hand. A great
secondary is usually linked with winning up front and winning your
Based on the stats, the secondary is
getting a lot of the credit, but two of Tennessee's leaders on the back
end were quick to commend the entire unit.
"I feel like we
have all bought it and we are all committed to everything we are
doing," said junior corner Justin Coleman. "We play as one team and we
just look forward to playing with each other."
Brian Randolph - one of the defense's vocal leaders - believes it's the
chemistry on and off the field that has led to change.
we go out on the field we're all talking to each other," said Randolph.
"The defensive line is talking telling the secondary that they're about
to get us a pick. We tell them we're going to get them a coverage sack.
It's little stuff like that. We're playing for each other.
all very close as a defensive unit so when we see one of our guys make
a play it gets us all hyped and gives us a lot of juice."
also says the big plays - including 12 interceptions - the team's new
direction and experience have created a confidence across the defense.
think it's just confidence; we have a lot of confidence back there,"
said Randolph. "We made some big plays early in the year and that did a
good thing for our mental game. We know we can go out there and do it.
has really helped us too; they put us in the right spots to make the
plays. The experience - we've all been through it except Cam (Sutton),
but he's learned pretty fast. We all have a good knowledge back there."
Marlon Walls is coming off of the best game of his career heading in
the Vols match up with Alabama this weekend in Tuscaloosa.
Walls recorded a career best 2.5 sacks for 12 lost yards against South Carolina on Saturday helping the Vols to victory.
Though he has been a hard worker his whole life. It isn't his work ethic that is contributing to his success.
It is his ears.
[Coach Stripling] starts talking, you just shut up and listen," said
Walls, "and I think that has helped me out this far. His record speaks
a little bit more than anything that you have to say."
The closed mouth approach has helped Walls succeed this year.
Strip's philosophy is get to the quarterback," said Walls. "We took it
as a personal challenge. He always throws in that we only had 17 sacks
as a unit last year. Whenever he says that we take it personal and take
it as a challenge to get better as a unit in pass rushing. It is
starting to show off a little bit."
In 2013, Walls has
notched 17 tackles, a career best 4.5 sacks for a loss of 21 yards and
6.5 TFL and a forced fumble this season.
Walls is not taking any of the credit for his success.
is definitely Coach Stripling and the techniques that he is teaching as
far as reducing," said Walls. "He preached that a long time ago in the
spring letting us know who is always a couple of steps away from sacks.
It hit home because it was true in the past few years. You just take
what he is telling us to do and you use it and it is starting to pay
off as far as reducing, cutting your corners and getting to the
"All that takes away a sack is seconds in
getting to the quarterback," continued Walls. "I think we are finally
starting to realize what he is telling us what to do and put it into
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
(On the positive reaction from the win)
lot of momentum... People understand what we have to sell here. This is
Tennessee. I am becoming very biased. There are not very many places
like this. When you look at the whole product that you have to sell,
from academics, to student life, to the support, to the facilities, to
the opportunity to play in Neyland Stadium, to people. It has been
(On a lot of SEC upsets this season)
think it is very balanced, I think it is parody. I think it is what
makes our conference special from top to bottom. It is also a great
challenge. One of the things I have come to find very early on is
everyone has a home field advantage and that is part of that process of
learning how to win on the road. We have to go on the road and play in
some great hostile environments.
Everything is your
preparation and being mentally tough, learning how to block out
distractions. That maturity level of preparing to play your best
football game each and every week and that can be mentally draining.
Like I said, every week is a new week, it is a new season. So I think a
lot of that goes hand and hand with that."
(On Cameron Sutton)
is playing with a very high level of consistency. He is challenged each
and every week. This week will be another great challenge for it. I
like the way he manages his business. He comes every day with a
mentality to get better. He works exceptionally hard and he is very
(On Alabama's physicality)
"They are very
physical. I know they take pride in working to dominate their opponent
for 60 minutes just like we do. I know the foundation is, their
toughness, just like that is something we are building here. They have
SOPHOMORE WIDE REIVER PIG HOWARD
(On difference in offense the past two games)
have better habits and efforts. We have improved our chemistry and got
closer as a unit. We understand our plays. We just play for the man
(On confidence in Justin Worley)
have confidence in each other. The more confident our coaches are in
us, the more they will go into the playbook. In general, a lot of the
freshman have stepped up and matured. They are making big plays. We
have our chemistry down pat, and we are rolling."
(On handling pressure of Alabama's success)
rankings don't matter to me. I give the "red team" their credit. They
are a great football team. They are consistent. We are going to play
our game though. A lot of teams mentally get beat because they hear
their opponent is the "red team," or they are the number one team. That
is not the case for us. We will play our game and see what happens."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN COREY MILLER
(On Dan McCullers)
has it in him. No matter what people see in him, he has it in him. He's
always had it in him. He has that little streak and when he gets angry,
I don't want to be around him, so I'd hate to be an offensive lineman
when he gets mad. Dan can do whatever Dan wants to do if he puts his
mind to it. When he gets a little mad, you see what he can do."
(On beating ranked teams)
didn't start this weekend, but it started the weekend before last
playing Georgia. That was huge as a confidence booster, because now,
after that game, yes you're sad you lost the game, but it's an eye
opener. It's like wow, hold up, that's the No. 6 team in the nation. We
can play with these guys. Coming into South Carolina and getting a win,
that's just even that much more of a confidence booster heading into
(On confidence going into Alabama)
You have to understand in the two games that we've played very well in
are home games and now what we have to do is refocus our minds and take
it on the road and reestablish that great defense we're playing,
reestablish the consistent offense that we're playing and try and get a
win at Alabama."
SENIOR RUNNING BACK RAJION NEAL
(On Coach Jones challenging him)
feel like this is a good game to put it all out there. I wouldn't mind
either out-rushing everybody on the field and having a big game or just
knocking myself completely out of the game. I want to go out on one of
those two notes, either being carried off of or Neal had a crazy game."
(On tough competition)
didn't know it. I think we had some surprises that snuck up on us in
Auburn and Missouri, but being in this conference you can't run from
it. It is what it is. There is no way around it. It is exciting. It
gives you a chance to play on high stages and get yourself out there as
a team and as an individual. It gives us a chance to really compete and
see what we got."
RS SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
(On the secondary improving)
Oregon game taught us a lot about ourselves. It told us what we needed
to learn. I believe it was a good learning event for us. We picked up
on a lot of things we needed to improve on and got better from there."
(On communication in the secondary)
got everybody on the field looking for the calls; everybody knows the
signals. Last year, some people didn't know the signals and we had to
relay it. But this year I feel like everybody knows the signals, is
looking for the call and they relay it as best they can."
(On a good average field position for opponents)
definitely gives us a lot of confidence. (Michael) Palardy and the
special teams pinned them inside the 20 a couple times and that really
helps us out. It gives us a little boost when we head out there."
(On the coaches stressing the targeting rule)
really tell us to be smart. They say when you're trying to make a play
on the ball the best thing is to go low or hit him in the chest, don't
launch and don't leave your feet. That's a big emphasis this year."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN MARLON WALLS
(On the defensive backs)
they were doing a great job of covering down the field. The quarterback
had no where to go with the ball and at that point it is time for us to
get off blocks and go and get the quarterback. They helped us out a
whole lot. We don't eat unless those guys eat. That is our philosophy
as a unit."
(On Alabama's offense)
"That is the reason
why you play football. That is the game you like. No trick plays, they
are going to line up against you and see who is the bigger and better
man. That is the kind of football that you love to play anyways as the
defensive guy so we are just going to take it as a challenge, line up
and go play ball."
(On the unity in the defense)
Jancek did a good job of shoring up the defense and adding in plays
after we already figured out what was going on. I think that really
helps us out. Just knowing the play call you are able to communicate a
little bit better because you are not so worried about what you have to
do. You already know the play call. That helps out a whole lot."
JUNIOR RUNNING BACK MARLIN LANE
(On Alabama's defense)
have a great defense, they are fundamentally sound. They run a lot of
different blitzes and formations and they have players that can play
anywhere on defense. The linebackers can play safety, the safety can
play linebacker. We are going to do a great job of watching film and
getting better as the week goes through."
(On playing for 60 minutes)
have to play 60 minutes. We have to finish. This year we have a better
half than last year. We have that killer instinct mind when we come out
of half time to continue doing it."
(On the depth at running back)
is nice. Some teams, when their running back gets hurt, their back up
is not really ready to get in and they lost a beat. But with us, if one
of us gets banged up we know once the other goes in we are going to
pick up on the momentum and keep going, keeping hitting our stride like
no one was missing."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JACQUES SMITH
(On Marlon Walls this year)
one word that describes this D-line and especially Marlon. It's
relentless. He's relentless to the quarterback and he's relentless in
everything that he does. As a senior, he's definitely stepped up and
I'm so glad to have No. 58 on my side."
(On why this year will be different against Alabama)
year is different just because of the way we've attacked the year.
Starting in January we knew this was going to be a different football
team. Coach Jones and all the values that he's established in us, 63
effort, relentless, everything that's stuck with us this far, we're not
going to forget about them and we're going to continue to play it out
through our character and our gameplay."
(On field position)
in a football game if you can gain field position it makes a factor for
the defense and our special teams has does a tremendous job in
everything they've done. Coach Elder has made a big jump in the way the
special teams unit comes out every week, he's on them so much and it
has definitely shown and I thank those guys so much because they work
so hard in everything they do. I mean heck they run half of practice
sometimes just working on those kickoff drills and kick return drills
and it's a difference especially in tough football games like that.
Special teams makes a difference and it did last Saturday."
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
(On AJ McCarron)
feel like AJ is definitely a great quarterback. He knows what he is
doing and he controls the offense very well. He has some receivers out
there that can make some plays but we are going to go out there and
show them we can play."
(On playing in Tuscaloosa)
"It is pretty loud, the crowd is roaring. It is not too bad of an environment for a player to make plays."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JAMES STONE
(On offensive line improvement)
good and it builds our confidence even more in [Justin] Worley. He's
done a fantastic job going out there and making good decisions as a
quarterback and he's been going out there and trying to lead the
offense and I feel like that really helps the offensive line and our
backs are still running hard. We see them breaking tackles and it gives
us just that much more incentive to go out there and bust our tails
when we're out there on the practice field to sort of translate over
into the game."
(On Alabama defense)
"They play with an
attitude and they play with great fundamentals. They don't make many
mistakes at all. They're a very physical football team and that allows
them to play very sound defense and if you make mistakes, they're going
to exploit them.""
(On being versatile)
"It feels good.
You know as an offensive lineman you always have to be ready to play
any given position and whatever the team needs you to do, you need to
be willing to do it and go in there and the team not miss a beat,
because it's all about the team. It's all of us- Zach [Fulton] could
play any position on the o-line as well as Ja'Wuan [James], [Alex]
Bullard if we needed him to."