Even though it showed improvement at times against South Carolina, Tennessee left Columbia on Saturday still winless in the Southeastern Conference. At 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the SEC, 2010 has been a difficult season for the Vols.
Coach Dooley was asked if motivation might become an issue.
“You know what, our spirits have been pretty good,” Coach Dooley said. “I think since the first day of the season, we keep trying to define ourselves by how we compete. And we’ve stayed pretty true to that except for one game. Probably the Georgia game’s the one I was most disappointed in. But since then, we’ve seen another upward trend.”
“What we’ve got to learn to do is finish and execute late in the games. If we can combine the competitive spirit and the fight and resolve, but have a little better execution, which we did in the third quarter and early in the fourth. We just had a couple breakdowns. I think that’s the key.”
Dooley said it’s important for his young team to focus, not on the score, but on competing for four quarters.
“You play football because it’s fun, and sometimes we lose sight of that,” Dooley said. “It’s fun to go out there and compete and go lay it on the line for four quarters. And when players lose sight of that and they’re so focused on what the record is, then that’s how bad things happen.”
Tennessee needs to win each of its final four games to become bowl eligible, but that isn’t something the team should focus on right now, according to Dooley.
“I think we’re so far from that. Those kind of words shouldn’t even be mentioned. We haven’t won a game since (Sept. 25). To me, it’s let’s go execute for four quarters and finish a game and win. That’s all we need to be concerned about.”
Dooley added, “I’ve never been a ‘play for’. Maybe when we get to the last game, it’s something we can talk about if we’re in that situation. But right now, we’re just trying to get a W.”
JACKSON TO RETURN PUNTS
With Eric Gordon struggling to secure the football in the return game, Janzen Jackson will try his hand returning punts this week. According to Dooley, the sophomore from Lake Charles, La. is one of Tennessee’s most talented athletes.
“Yeah, we’ll put Janzen (Jackson) back there,” Dooley said. “And Janzen’s got a lot of ability. He’s almost our best at everything. We’ve tried say how can he help us most on special teams without taxing him so bad because we can’t rest him on defense.”
“We’ve been using him on kickoff and punt coverage, which is a taxing play, both of them, because it’s a full sprint. He’s helped us. We’ve contained some good returners. But now, we’re in a position where Eric’s been really good but he’s muffed two punts. We need to put somebody else back there because we’re not getting production at the position. We’ll make a change and see how Janzen does.”
STONE EXPECTED TO PLAY CENTER
With injuries and an overall lack of depth, Tennessee’s offensive line has been a bit like musical chairs this season.
When Cody Pope went down with an injury early in September, Darin Gooch was thrust into a starting role at center. That left another freshman, James Stone, as his backup. But an injury to JerQuari Schofield forced Stone to work at guard.
Finally, with Schofield back in the lineup, Stone is expected to see action at center against Memphis on Saturday.
“We’ll probably play (James) Stone some at center this game. It’s time to start getting him integrated into the game. We didn’t play him last week. We were just a little nervous about the snapping situation, and probably should have played him.”
The snapping situation Dooley is referring to stems from the fact that Stone is left-handed. For a quarterback, that means everything is opposite from what it would be with a right-handed center — which can have an impact on the center-quarterback exchange.