KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – While there was a lot of pain and heartbreak in the Tennessee locker room on Saturday, the Vols didn’t let that carry over to the practice field on Monday, putting the loss to Florida in the past and moving on.
“The [players] were gutted,” Dooley said. “There was a lot of emotional investment in that game by the fans, by everybody associated with Tennessee. It hurt. I think it’s a good sign that kind of pain is on us because we felt like we could go toe-to-toe and we did and we screwed it up.
“They hurt more than I’ve seen one of our teams hurt after a loss, which they should, but today they were great because it is time to move on. We have a lot of confidence in who we are and where we are headed and that little stretch of bad ball that we played, we have to make it what we did and not who we are.”
That stretch began with the Vols leading, 20-13, with just over three minutes left in the third quarter. Florida then proceeded to score the game’s final 24 points, including three touchdowns in a span of just eight minutes and 32 seconds.
“We had a great game going and then we had a series of events that we obviously weren’t ready for,” Dooley said. “The thing about adversity is you can’t pick what kind of adversity you are going to hit. I don’t think there is any question that 21 points that happened so quickly shocked everybody. There was a moment where too many people were not listening to the voice of reason.”
One positive about going through that tough stretch on Saturday is that the Vols hope they have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of staying positive and avoiding negative thoughts.
“I told the team that down 14 with 9:55 to go against anybody in the country, we should have the confidence that we can come back and win,” Dooley said. “We always have to keep our focus on the voice of reason because there are plenty of times when doubt can creep into your mind and then it starts affecting how you play. The best thing about it is that the issues that happened are correctable. They are going to get corrected and we’ll move on.”
A.J. Johnson played on all sides of the ball Saturday night against Florida.
In about 30 seconds, Johnson scored his first career touchdown, got back on special teams for the kickoff and returned to his spot as the starting MIKE linebacker on defense.
Johnson was just happy to help.
“It was exciting to get a few touches and get that one score for the team,” said the sophomore. “I tried to us get the win.”
Running the wildcat offense is nothing new to Johnson who excelled at it in high school.
“In high school I ran the wildcat quite a few times,” said Johnson. “It worked pretty well. I know some games I had three touchdowns, over 200 yards rushing, something like that. I believe that is one reason why they picked me to run the wildcat, because I did it in high school and I ran it well.”
According to the Vols head coach Derek Dooley that is exactly why he was chosen.
“[A.J. ran the Wildcat] in high school,” said Dooley. “I remember even when we were recruiting him I told him we would do that. We didn’t do it last year just because he was a freshman trying to learn the defense. I knew after the first game we were going to do it. We didn’t bring it out the second game because we didn’t think we needed it, so we used it and it helped us.”
Though Johnson loves his role quarterbacking the defense, he wouldn’t mind playing the same role on offense once more.
“I’m hoping that we keep that role in,” said Johnson. “I know coach said that I did good this game, so we can see if I can do it some more.”
He’s even excited to try something in a game that he never has before.
“I had a play set up to throw a pass in the game,” said Johnson, “but we messed it up on the goal line so I just ran it in. I never got to throw it in high school, I ran it or handed it off. But I say I have a pretty good arm and know I can throw accurately.”
According to Dooley it might happen because, “He can do anything, he’s A.J.”
HUNTER PUSHES ON
Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter has turned the page on Saturday’s loss to Florida and isn’t letting the loss keep him down.
“If you focus on the past, the past will be repeat itself,” said Hunter, who had five catches for 76 yards vs. the Gators. “I think that if we push this game behind us and just focus on this game we will be good. I’m just telling (my teammates) we have to play 60 minutes against good teams.”
The Vols led until late in the third quarter on Saturday, but Florida turned the tide and scored the game’s final 24 points.
“We see how we can play in the first three quarters we just have to be able to finish,” said Hunter. “That is going to determine how we are going to finish up. Coach Dooley has put emphasis on that, playing for 60 minutes. You can’t just play the first half.”
Personally, Hunter had some dropped passes late in the game that contributed to the adverse times for Tennessee.
“I just think I didn’t get my head around quick enough to see the ball. It was kind of unexpected,” Hunter said of his miscues.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
The Vol defense was broken for a few big plays in the second half that led to Florida’s 37-20 victory. The players know that it was due to communication issues, which they know are easily correctable.
“It is pretty frustrating to know that we were just a few little plays off, a few little reads off, a few little alignments off of stopping those plays and having the win,” said starting linebacker A.J. Johnson. “They didn’t out-physical us or anything, it was on our part for not being aligned right.”
Johnson’s counterpart Curt Maggitt agreed.
“[The problem was] communication on our part,” said Maggitt. “It was a lot of good noise, but we didn’t communicate well enough. We didn’t get the calls all around. Even when we did get the calls, we didn’t adjust well.”
The Vols took the loss, learned from it on Sunday’s off day and are ready to move forward and make some changes for this week’s game against Akron.
“What is different about our team from last year to this year is that people are more concerned about our loss and were hurt about losing,” said Johnson. “We came out today and had a great practice today and we were ready to work. We just went out and went over the checks and corrections to get them right.”
Again, Maggitt concurred.
“After games go by, we just get closer,” said Maggitt. “We’ve come a long way since spring. The defense is tough. If all 10 guys got the call and one guy on a different call, then it can be a big play given up. We experienced that last weekend. We’re just trying to eliminate communication errors.”
With the Florida game behind them, Johnson, Maggitt and the Tennessee defense are moving forward and striving to better themselves.
“Our mindset right now is to go out and get the next win and look forward to the other games to get those wins,” said Johnson.
“We are just going to continue to communicate and try to make sure everybody is on the same page,” said Maggitt. “It’s not easy. We have a lot of checks and a lot of calls. We just have to make sure everybody is on the same page and it’s going to take time. We’re going to continue to work hard at it.”
RANDOLPH OUT WITH TORN ACL
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley confirmed the loss of starting sophomore safety Brian Randolph due to a torn ACL on Monday.
The Marietta, Ga., native, who suffered the injury in the fourth quarter against Florida, currently leads the Vols with 22 tackles, including 17 solo stops and one TFL.
“It was a sad, sad moment,” junior linebacker Jacques Smith said. “I knew he wasn’t okay when I saw him lying down and he didn’t pop right back up, because that’s the type of guy Brian is. We’re going to miss him a bunch back there, but we need the next guy to step it up and I know Brent (Brewer) will be able to do that for us.”
JUNIOR LB JACQUES SMITH
(On dealing with loss)
“Right now we’re putting it behind us and forgetting about the loss. We want to remember the atmosphere and what it felt like to take a team like that into the fourth quarter and know when we play an SEC team like that it’s going to be like that. We have to get ready for battle in the second half.”
(On facing Akron)
“We have to get better this week. We definitely have to come in, put in the same amount of work, even do a little extra just to get things going. We lost somebody in our secondary, we have to step it up in the front seven. We’re going to get better this week and not take this loss for granted. Realize what we did and our mistakes and how we can correct them.”
(On showing leadership)
“It wasn’t just me, I think everybody knows that. Leadership is shared amongst the whole team. We don’t put it on one individual. We all know the scenario. We were looking for a big win last week and we didn’t get it. It happened in the second half. It was really one quarter. One quarter of the game we got beat. We have to be ready to play all four quarters like it’s 0-0, and be able to go out and battle and minimize our mistakes. That’s something we’re going to work on this week. We have Akron and we’re definitely going to take it to them like they’re Florida or any other team. We’re going to play it to the best of our abilities.”
(On taking on more leadership)
“I know that I’m a junior now. There aren’t many guys with as much experience as me now. I understand the seniority thing. It’s all about everybody recognizing the common goal amongst the team. I feel like everyone can be leaders. I don’t think it’s one specific person. I feel like everyone has a chance to be a leader on this team and they just have to recognize the moment and take the moment.”
RS JUNIOR DL MAURICE COUCH
(On not doubting each other as a team)
“No, not at all. We give those guys a lot of credit. They had a lot of plays that we weren’t prepared for, but we’re not down at all. We had our 24 hours of disappointment, but that’s behind us and now we look forward.”
(On watching Florida film)
“As a defense we had a lot of bad missed alignments. We lost contain a few times. The quarterback escaped. We’re going to do a good job this week and try to minimize those as much as possible.”
(On watching Florida film)
“It was sickening to my stomach. I don’t like being on the defense and you look up and you have like 300 rushing yards. They got those yards off of big plays and that’s something that we try to not let happen and minimize all the big plays as possible and stop the run.”
SOPHOMORE LB A.J. JOHNSON
(On Brian Randolph)
“I know that he is a great player and he is a great leader as well, but we have to players who can step in and fill that hole. Everyone needs to build together and become stronger as a defense now.”
(On replacing Randolph)
“We have about two or three guys that can step in right now. We don’t know who it will be but they are going to come in, work for the spot and see who can get it.”
(On the Florida game)
“I know we probably let the fans down, they wanted the win as much as we wanted it. We are just going to come in here this week, get better and work. We made big mistakes on our part that made us lose, but we are going to come back and work and try and get the most wins we can and not lose anymore.”
(On his personal improvements)
I believe I will get a little better on the plays and on the techniques. But there is still room to improve. Reading the guards and reading where the ball is going, I am doing a little better. It is just the little things like getting a nice tackle, fitting up and taking the right angle.
RS JUNIOR DB BYRON MOORE
(On the mood of practice)
“It was a good mood in practice today. We came out here and made our corrections from the game and now we are moving on. It was a real good practice, really mental and focused. We did a lot of good things out there day with a lot of good energy and we are just ready to start a new week.”
(On Randolph’s injury)
“We just have to have more guys step up now. I will take on more of a leadership role back there and make sure those guys are right. The next guy just has to be ready.”
(On LaDarrell McNeil)
“He is a real high motor guy. He flies around every time he goes out there. He always goes 110%. We just have to get him learning the plays and ready to go now.”
(On what the team misses with Randolph out)
“He was another leader. He was a real smart player and knew the defense well. Me and him combined were able to get the DBs lined up right. We are just going to have to get everyone up to speed, but we should be fine. I am going to have to step up even more now. I’ll be ready for it.”
(On what the DBs need to do to get better)
“We just need to keep our focus and composure. As things start going bad, we just can’t get into panic mode and start looking confused. When adversity hits, we just have to keep our composure and mental focus.”
SOPHOMORE LB CURT MAGGITT
(On losing Brian Randolph)
“It’s really big. It’s really key. He’s a really vocal guy. He’s really smart and understands his position and understands others’ positions. He can help out a lot and he’s a great play maker. He’s a great person and you can trust him behind you.”
(On A.J. Johnson)
“He’s a good guy. Everybody saw it. I’ll block for him and he can throw me the ball. A.J. can do everything. Ever since we got here, we used to room together. He used to pull up on the computer the highlights from his high school. I didn’t believe it was him. He ran it well. Nobody wanted to jump in front a 245 guy running downhill.”
(On A.J. Johnson against Florida)
“He’s a playmaker. He’s always around the ball, he’s a ball hog. On offense, he wants to get in the end zone. I didn’t see anybody wanting to get in the way to tackle him.”
(On playing non-conference game after Florida loss)
“Coach Sal and Coach Dooley always talk about it. It’s about us, it’s not about our opponent. We just try to get better every week and grow closer as a team. I feel like this week we’re going to grow closer. It’s not about our opponent, it’s about us.”
SOPHOMORE OL ANTONIO RICHARDSON
(On being a leader after the loss)
“Really, right now that leadership is just bringing a positive energy. In a loss like that when you go in and aspire to win and you lose like that, guys tend to get down. You have to lift their spirits up. It’s a long season. We still have a chance to win the East. Keep your heads up and just continue to work hard.”
(On adjusting to the speed of the game)
“I really am. I was pretty pleased with how I played against those guys. No. 34 (Lerentee McCray), the outside linebacker, I believe he’s going to be an All-America or All-SEC selection. I held my own against him and it felt pretty good.”
(On energy level in practice today)
“At the beginning, you could tell some guys were down, but we just got after it and let them know this is Akron week. Florida is over and done with. We’ve got to come out and make a statement.”
(On watching the film)
“I wanted to get it over with. There was some good and bad in there. When you look in there and see how well we were doing, it lets your soul up a little bit and lets you know how much better you can get. A loss is a loss and you just want to get over it.”
(On growing pains and improvement)
“I know it’s going to happen. I had some nerves against Florida. I had some against Georgia State. I had some against North Carolina State. It’s just part of development. I just come here and get the mindset that I’m going to continue to face adversity and move on.”
JUNIOR WR JUSTIN HUNTER
(On what happened in the second half against Florida)
“Basically I think we kind of panicked a little bit. We had a bad third quarter and we just let them score and we ended up not coming back to win the game.”
(On how to move on after this loss)
“It is just one game. One game doesn’t determine how you will play the rest of the year. We were supposed to have that game won and we ended up losing. But it is one game and it won’t determine the rest of the season.”
(On looking forward to Akron)
“Just basically playing a whole game, playing for the whole sixty minutes. Not taking them lightly. They have some good DBs and some good transfers coming in so just focusing on that game.”