For the first time in three weeks, the Vols will take the field at Neyland Stadium, expected to win. After being double-digit underdogs to both Oregon and Florida, Tennessee finds itself favored against Conference USA foe, UAB.
The Vols aren’t good enough to take any opponent lightly, and Derek Dooley cautions that the Blazers are very capable of pulling the upset.
“They’ve got a deep team,” Dooley said. “They have 17 starters returning, and they’ve played in these kind of games so they’re not going to be starry-eyed. They got more experience, more depth, and they don’t even have to bring their best to beat us. They can beat us even without their best, and we have to worry about us improving and minimizing the mistakes or we’re going to be real disappointed after the game.”
During a season where victories may be difficult to come by, each and every game is an opportunity, regardless of the opponent.
“It’s going be a real big challenge for us. Certainly coming off two top-10 teams, we’ve got to prepare as if this is a top-10 team, because it is, because it’s the next game and it counts the same. So that’s where we are.”
If you think he isn’t serious, just ask him about the game on September 23, 2000. That day, Dooley was on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU when the Tigers lost to UAB in Baton Rouge by a score of 13-10.
“If I recall, we had six turnovers in the game,” Dooley remembered. “Now you’ll have to check the stats. Sometimes the coaches’ memories get exaggerated, but I recall spitting the ball out. So turnovers were huge. They had some good players. They had some defensive linemen that we struggled to block. We were real thin up front.”
Thin up front? Sound familiar?
JerQuari Schofield, will likely miss two to three weeks with a broken bone in his foot. The loss is another setback for an already razor-thin offensive line. In fact, it would be a difficult task to find an offensive line with less experience than what Tennessee will put on the field this Saturday.
“This game we’ll be going in with sophomore at tackle, true freshman, sophomore, and we’re going to play Zach Fulton a lot. He’s playing better. So half the game, you’re going see three true freshmen and two sophomores, and that’s our offensive line. You’ll see that half the game, hopefully, because that means they’re healthy.”
“I can’t get them experience without playing them,” Dooley continued. “We can’t go look on the free-agent wire right now and pick up some guys on the street. It’s what we are. We’ve got to coach them and go win with them. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Saturday will be an opportunity for a lot of underclassmen to gain valuable experience.
Kickoff for Tennessee versus UAB is 12:21pm.