With Tennessee earning its first national ranking since 2008 and ESPN’s College GameDay heading to town, the excitement in the air at Rocky Top is palpable as the 23rd-ranked Vols get set to host No. 18 Florida on Saturday.
As his team begins its preparations for the Gators, UT head coach Derek Dooley made sure the players knew that they are deserving of all of the attention, but stressed the importance of not getting caught up in the hype and losing focus on what got them to this point, especially with such a talented opponent looming on the horizon.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Dooley said. “I told the team that they have earned the right to get some of the attention that they’ve been getting by how they’ve preformed the last couple of weeks and that’s good. That’s what we should get, but now we have to earn the right to continue getting it and earn the right to play well by how we prepare this week.”
As much as the Vols enjoy seeing their name in the national rankings, Dooley simply sees it as a byproduct of the process the program has followed. Instead of being satisfied with being ranked, the Big Orange will continue to plug away like it does every day.
“We have some basic program standards that we have kind of established that I think all the Tennessee fans expect,” Dooley said. “Certainly, at Tennessee we want to be in the top 25 like a hundred other teams, but you can’t be in it if you don’t keep winning. If you are focused on being on the top 25 and not what you need to do to be in the top 25, then you aren’t going to be in the top 25.”
Despite all of the extra media coverage and added excitement that comes with playing a heated rival at home on national television, Dooley expects his players will be able to handle the challenge.
“The preparation builds each day,” Dooley said. “It is so important that our team keeps its focus on what it needs to do to play well this week and not all of the external drama that is certainly going to be there.
“It depends on your level of maturity and your experience in that situation. This will be a little new for us but it’s good. I think our players will handle it fine. This is where you want to be. [Our players] didn’t come to Tennessee to not be in a big game, on a big stage on game day. That’s why they came here. It shouldn’t really have any impact on preparation, any impact on focus. The only impact it has is for the fans.”
The Tennessee football players know and head coach Derek Dooley emphasized that making big plays on defense all starts up front.
The four interceptions that UT had against NC State and the one that was added last Saturday against Georgia State were all thanks in part to pressure on the quarterback.
“I think it is fair to say, you look at the top defenses in the country and it starts up front,” said Dooley. “You look at the teams that have consistently played pretty good defense in our league over the last three or four years and it starts up front. It is not just that they have a few guys up front that are good. It is that they are deep, they are able to go four quarters, and they are able to make game changing plays in the second half.”
Against Georgia State, the Vols made those game-changing plays, hurrying quarterback Ben McLane 10 times. McLane found himself on the ground even more than that throughout the game.
This was all thanks to the pressure up front. A pressure that the Vols hope to carry into their game with Florida.