The Vols have learned a lot this season, sometimes the hard way, but they are ready to translate those lessons into action.
Their next opportunity to showcase their improvement will come on Saturday when they square off with No. 19 Mississippi State in Starkville (9 p.m. ESPN2) and they aren’t taking it lightly.
“We’ve had a good couple of days,” Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. “This is a big time for our team and I told them that. It’s time to go out there and start acting on all the lessons we’ve learned in these earlier games.
“We just have to go out there and be ready on the road, go out there and finish four quarters and be able to execute the plays you need to execute to win a football game. That is where we are.”
The Vols know that the Bulldogs, winners of seven consecutive games, are not going to make it easy on them. Patience will be the key to success, according to Dooley.
“Their philosophy is sound, fundamental football and they grind teams out, that’s what they do,” Dooley said. “The important thing is that you can’t get frustrated and you have to play every play. If you play that way, opportunities will come. When the opportunities come, take advantage of them.”
In order to create those opportunities, Tennessee knows that it has to eliminate the defensive breakdowns that have plagued it so far this season.
While they could delve into the details of the defensive scheme, switch personnel or any employ any number of other fixes in an attempt to solve the issue, the Vols know improvement really boils down to the basics – physicality and attitude.
“We have to be clean, we have to be sound, but we want to be multiple,” Dooley said. “More than anything it is whipping blockers and running to the football. That will never change in defensive football because you can sit there and say that I have this gap and you have that gap, but at the end of the day it is 11 hats whipping the guy in front of them and running to the football. That will never change and that is what we can’t compromise. That is what we worked on in the open date.
“What happens is it is something that you temper when you get really drawn in to where you are supposed to be and then you have to remind them that it can’t compromise what matters. We do the same thing on special teams, whether it is kickoff coverage or punt coverage. There are certain fits and places that you need to be relative to the ball and the blockers, but when you are sitting there thinking about where I need to be sometimes you forget about the most important thing which is showing up in a real bad mood at the ball carrier.”