KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Vols hit the practice field with a little extra bounce to their step on Tuesday as they continued preparations to host No. 1 Alabama on Saturday (7 p.m. ESPN).
Despite coming off a difficult loss, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was not surprised to see his squad welcome the challenge of this weekend’s rivalry game.
“We had a good practice today,” Dooley said. “The players had a lot of energy. It probably had a little more pep than normal but it wasn’t surprising to me because of the team makeup. I like our makeup, I’ve always liked it.
“They’ve never been a group that gets down or goes in the tank. I’m sure they are frustrated because they want results like we all do, but I think they believe each other and I think they believe in what we are doing.”
Having a positive attitude has been one of Dooley’s primary teaching points in recent weeks and the Vols appear to have received the message.
“Like I told them, any time you approach your work with a good attitude and a lot of enthusiasm, you will feel good about it,” Dooley said. “You will feel good about yourself and what you do and they did that today.”
SENTIMORE’S SENTIMENT FOR BAMA
If there is one Vol that truly knows what Tennessee is up against on Saturday against No. 1 Alabama, it’s Darrington Sentimore.
The redshirt junior defensive lineman spent two seasons with the Crimson Tide before decided to transfer out to Gulf Coast Community College and then to Tennessee.
“I was friends with the whole team, those guys really liked me over there and they were hurt when I left but it is what it is,” said Sentimore.” You have to make decisions and I had to make a decision.”
Sentimore made a decision when he left the Alabama program and had another tough call on where he was going to go after his JUCO days were over. The top three? Tennessee, Texas and Florida.
“It was hard to pick Tennessee, but Coach Dooley was down to earth,” said Sentimore. “He was a laid back kind of coach and I liked that about him. I think it helped in the recruiting process. Dooley is a good recruiter and one of the reasons that I came here. I was about to go to the University of Texas or Florida. But Dooley came in, stepped in and is a really good recruiter.”
The other UT coach that helped get Sentimore to Rocky Top is current Alabama linebackers coach Lance Thompson.
“Lance Thompson also recruited me to come here, he is the reason that I am here,” said Sentimore. “He recruited me out of JUCO and I thought he was a nice cool guy. It was tough to see him go. He is a down to earth guy and I really liked him. I still feel good about coach JP [Palermo] though, he is a great coach and has a lot of experience.”
On the field, Sentimore has started five of six games this season and has racked up three sacks including one against a tough Mississippi State offensive line.
That play-tough mentality will need to carry over to Saturday’s game.
“You have to play for 60 minutes because they are going to come out hard and try to out-physical you,” said Sentimore. “They are going to try and out think you and outsmart you. But you just have to study film and be on top of your game.”
“That is the mentality they have, to outsmart the opponent,” said Sentimore. “They have a lot of plays on defense and a lot of plays and different types of schemes on offense where they outsmart people.”
Sentimore, who will go up against his former team for the first time is ready to win.
“It is a new experience, I am looking forward to it,” said Sentimore.
KNEE BRACE? NO PROBLEM.
Quarterback Tyler Bray suffered and injury during the game at Mississippi State trying to earn a few extra yards on a rare downfield run.
The knee injury wasn’t enough to keep him out of even one play on offense as he played the rest of the MSU game. It won’t hold him back at all against Alabama, a game that he has been waiting two years to play.
But, there will just be a new addition to his wardrobe Saturday, a knee brace. It’s the new fashion according to Bray.
“Yes, I’ll be wearing it,” said Bray. “Their (A.J. McCarron) quarterback has to wear one too because he’s a little hurt, so we’re all going to be wearing knee braces.”
The brace doesn’t look like it will affect Bray much, and hasn’t in practice this week.
“[The knee] feels great, I went out there and had a good day,” said Bray.” I wanted to practice [yesterday], but they kept me out. I felt fine today, though and was ready to go since I had more rest.”
“We had a great practice, it was a fun practice,” continued Bray. “Everyone was energized and just ready to go. Everyone just wants to play Alabama and see what the number one team looks like.”
Bray knows that it is his arm that will get the job done against the Crimson Tide, but won’t think twice if he sees a hole in the defense.
“It’s not like I’m a dual-threat quarterback, I don’t need to run anywhere. (But) I’ll still run, I’m not scared.”
Even though Tyler Bray didn’t even miss a snap after getting banged up late in the game at Starkville, his ever-able backup was ready to go. Sophomore Justin Worley has seen a little action in two wins for the Vols this season, but he was ready to step right in against a nationally-ranked Bulldogs team.
“Everybody was telling me to get warm and get loose and take some snaps,” said Worley. “Going through my mind, I was just saying `alright maybe I’m going to have to go out and win this game for us. You always have to be prepared.”
The Rock Hill, S.C., native has made major progress in his second full season at Tennessee.
“I feel like I have made huge strides so far and there are still big strides to make,” he said, “but I am happy with where I am and I know what I need to work on and I am trying to improve that every day.
Saturday’s game against Alabama provides a lasting memory for Worley, who debuted under center for the Vols in last season’s game in Tuscaloosa.
“I just remember them telling me to warm up and get loose and get out there,” said Worley. “I remember Marlin Lane fumbling the ball, nothing against him, but it was a little bitter sweet to start my career and the next drive we started on the one yard line going out. It was a little bit of a rough start but it was enjoyable.”
KEEPING HIM ON HIS TOES
Coming off of a Freshman All-American season, Curt Maggitt has been hampered in his sophomore campaign by a nagging toe injury that won’t let him play to his best ability.
“I’m not quite myself, but I am doing the best I can and giving my all every time I am out there,” said Maggitt. “That is the best I can do. Because we had that week off, I expected to feel a lot better than I did [at Mississippi State]. Game time came and I didn’t feel as good as I expected and it was just frustrating because I wanted to be out there.”
Maggitt has been getting treatment every day, multiple times a day from the Tennessee athletic training staff.
“It is not easy, it’s tough when you can’t go, especially when you are so passionate about it and passionate about being out there with your teammates,” said Maggitt. “It is kind of a letdown feeling but I know my teammates have it and I have faith in them 100 percent.”
Maggitt won’t let the toe injury stop him from playing in one of the biggest games of his career, however.
“I am playing,” said Maggitt. “I am going to play Saturday.”
A VOLUNTEER COMEBACK
It’s the same story that all East Tennessee natives have towards the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry every year on the third Saturday in October – an SEC tradition that arguably nothing can compare to.
Ooltewah, Tenn., native Jacques Smith has his head held high and is expecting big things this weekend.
“It would mean a bunch to me [to get the win],” Smith said. “I know everyone back at home is rooting for me and the Vols in general. It’s a big win and if we can get it, it would be great and it would be known for forever.”
Smith recognizes the Vols’ season thus far, but he has been proving is true Vol For Life mentality and asks the fans to seek faith in their Tennessee team, especially for this special rivalry.
“Tennessee is going to come around,” Smith said. “It’s in due time and a win this week will definitely change everyone’s hearts. If you’re really part of the Tennessee tradition, you would want to come to this game.
“I know the fans are probably mad at us and they have every right to be, but this is Tennessee and we’re a great team. A win is going to happen, hopefully this week.”
That alone should give Vol Nation some optimism coming into Saturday.
Smith knows, however, that it will be a fight all 60 minutes of the game. Number one ranked Alabama has proven themselves this season and in past seasons, but the Vols know they can give the Crimson Tide a run for their money.
“[Alabama] is going to take as many opportunities as they can to just get the ball and do what they can do with it,” Smith said. “Whether they’re scoring or just holding it. I think that if we can just keep the ball out of Alabama’s hands then I think we’ll do fine.”
Smith spoke very highly of Alabama’s offense, including their impressive offensive line. The linebacker said that being a great O-line “is just something we expect.”
“It’s the SEC and that’s what we expect – we play against a great offensive line at practice every day and we’re going to be prepared,” Smith said.
The last time a Volunteer squad defeated a number one team was against Auburn in 1985. The 1985 Tennessee team was also unranked.
This defense is ready to improve and show their fans what Tennessee football is all about. One thing’s for sure – no one is safe in the Crimson Tide versus Volunteer rivalry. On the third Saturday in October, anything can happen.
CROOM, THOMAS OUT FOR SEASON
A pair of true freshmen will not participate for the remainder of the year as both wide receiver Jason Croom and defensive back Tino Thomas will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.
“Jason Croom is getting surgery on his shoulder,” Dooley said. “This is the shoulder that is kind of popping in and out. We had to make a decision at some point whether to wait through the season or do it now so he could get back for spring. Tino Thomas has a similar deal that we will probably do surgery on.”
Croom had appeared in three games without a catch, while Thomas has yet to play in a collegiate contest. Both players will apply for medical hardship waivers.
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On Justin Coleman)
“He has played very well. He has the measurables we look for at corner. He has the range, the size, the speed, the height, so to us, he is kind of the prototype of what you are looking for from a height-weight-speed position-specific standpoint. His biggest issue is learning the techniques, he wasn’t really a corner in high school, and just maintaining a little calm. He gets a little out of control sometimes and that costs him, but he is playing really well and I think he has a chance to have a really bright future at that position.”
(On Jaron Toney)
“He is making good progress. He is a good spare for Eric [Gordon] at that STAR position. If Eric is getting winded or struggling on some things, we can calm him down and have confidence in Jaron to get us through.”
(On Darrington Sentimore)
“He is an emotional guy, he is a passionate guy. I’m sure he says things and does things that he looks back on and wishes he [hadn’t] and that is part of maturing. We’ve had a lot of discussions with him and Darrington has made a lot of mistakes that acknowledges. That is just part of his growth. He has made a lot of progress from a maturity standpoint in the last year, he really has. And he has a lot to keep building on. I am really proud of how he has integrated in. I think he learned a lot of lessons from his time at Alabama and I think Darrington would be the first to tell you that he made a lot of mistakes that he wishes he didn’t make and probably could have had success there like he is having here if he had made a lot better personal choices.”
(On becoming more involved in the defense)
“I have all the faith in the world in what we are doing, what we are teaching, how we are calling, everything. When I said that, it was really just being another eye to see if there is anything I can add that could help that I’m not already doing. It’s just being a little more watchful on some things and it’s not because we are doing anything wrong and it’s not because there isn’t any belief in what we are doing, it’s none of that. It’s just making sure we are dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ to help the kids.”
(On how worried he was about Tyler Bray’s knee)
“I was worried, but when I saw him play through it the way he did, there was no way if it had been really serious that he could have taken us on that drive the way he did. I was really worried the play after when he missed the slant throw. Some negative energy was getting in my brain about what lies ahead.”
(On Bray’s toughness)
“I think he always shows it. This guy has toughness that a lot of quarterbacks don’t have. You saw it his first year when he got hit 682 times and just kept getting up and throwing it. You saw it last year when he stayed in a play after he broke his thumb and tried to throw a pass, which is stupid to even do that. Then you saw him come back late in the season when he really wasn’t ready. He couldn’t throw very well, his hand was hurting but he is a competitor. Anybody that ever questions that kid’s toughness is out of their mind. They are not watching him compete.”
(On production at linebacker)
“I don’t think there is any position on defense where we can say that we are getting what we need. It’s hard to say we’re not getting what we need from A.J. [Johnson] but there is a lot he can improve on, pass coverage and stuff like that, but he is a special, unique player. We are missing Curt [Maggitt] and we’re missing Brian [Randolph].”
(On LaDarrell McNeil’s first start)
“LaDarrell did a great job. He didn’t play perfect but you didn’t really notice him. That is step one in your first game, don’t get noticed. Step two is to get noticed for the right reasons.”
(On Curt Maggitt)
“He is ok, but the problem is the stinger. You never know when he takes a hit, it could be first hit, it could be the eighth hit, it could be the 28th hit, and then he comes out and it is kind of numb and you have to wait for it to un-numb. It’s going to be a problem.”
(On the growth Justin Worley has made since debuting against Alabama)
“I think he has made a ton of progress, but we won’t know until he gets that opportunity. I kind of hope he doesn’t, not because I don’t want to play Justin. He has done really well. We have all the confidence in the world, if we have to put Justin in, that we can go run the offense and do it effectively.”
(On options without Curt Maggitt on the field)
“It’s a struggle and we’re not as good without Curt, that is just how it is. When you take a real dynamic edge playmaker off the field, you just aren’t as good. That doesn’t mean the other guys aren’t as good, it just means Curt has really good ability. Jacques [Smith] and Willie [Bohannon] are there and we are probably going to try to integrate Jordan Williams a little bit. We need to get him going because he is a fast-twitch big guy with some disruptive ability, but we are still trying to figure out the right pieces.”
(On where he will coach this weekend)
“I am probable in the [press] box, which is doubtful on the field. I’m not really thinking about that until Friday.”
JUNIOR QB TYLER BRAY
(On Zach Rogers)
“He’s great, he’s a senior wide receiver, senior leader and he’s pretty much held the receiving room together. He’s talked to the young guys a lot and has been playing great.”
(On Rajion Neal being out)
“It doesn’t [change the offense]. We have three great running backs that are behind Rajion that can run the ball just as well, so we’ll be fine.”
(On Alabama’s defense)
“They’re big, fast and physical. They’re an NFL defense. Coach Dooley said they draft the top 25 guys, so they’re always going to have the best defense. [You beat it with] speed and try to be just as physical and match their athletic ability. We’ve got the offense to do it, so we’re going to give them a good game.”
SOPHOMORE LB CURT MAGGITT
(On the Alabama running backs)
“They have a solid group back there too. A good set of backs. [T.J.] Yeldon, the freshmen has been impressive this year. [Eddie] Lacey also. They are about to bring it.”
(On getting to A.J. McCarron)
“I think it is very important. A lot of teams we have forced turnovers and interceptions. It starts up front. We have to get to the quarterback, get him uncomfortable and that will play into effect.”
RS JUNIOR DL DARRINGTON SENTIMORE
(On moving on after a loss)
“It is frustrating but you have to move on like Coach Dooley says. After we lose, you have to move on to next week, we can’t keep thinking about that loss we have to move on, it’s a long season. We can’t keep that on our shoulders.”
(On Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban’s involvement with the defense)
“I don’t think it makes a difference. Saban he is on the guys, he is a defensive line coach so he is over there sitting in the meetings and doing everything with the defense. He doesn’t mess with the offense, he is with the defense. He and Kirby Smart are over there telling them defense wins games, defense wins championships, it is all about defense.”
(On playing for Tennessee against Alabama)
“I think it means just as much. It is important that I am over here because I am playing now. I was playing over there but I am starting over here.”
JUNIOR OL ZACH FULTON
(On what worked so well for them last week)
“We were just getting our fits and communicating really well and everything was going our way. We were getting movement off the ball and identifying the right people.”
SENIOR DL WILLIE BOHANNON
(About what the Alabama game means to him)
“It means a lot. I’m from Alabama and being around a lot of those guys who played there, like A.J. [McCarron], in high school, and I never got a chance to sack him in high school, even with as many times as we played them. It’s a big rivalry, and being here at Tennessee makes it even better.”
(On why he decided to come to Tennessee rather than go to Alabama)
“It wasn’t one thing or another. I just liked Tennessee and the opportunity to live a little further away from home and come up here with 100,000 fans. I just wanted to come up here.”
(On how many people request him for tickets to this game)
“It’s a lot. It’s a whole lot this week. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to get all those tickets this week. I don’t want to stress myself out about it.”
(On what it’s like to take down a big guy like Eddie Lacy)
“It’s just like every other year we’ve played against Alabama. They haven’t had a small back yet, so it’s going to be the same way. We have to wrap them up, get them down to the ground and we have to gang tackle. It’s the same recipe for every running back, but for these guys you have to push it even more because I believe that they focus on breaking tackles. You hear in a lot of interviews, [Mark] Ingram and [Trent] Richardson would talk about breaking tackles all the time, and I’m pretty sure these guys have that same mentality. They pride themselves on breaking tackles and we pride ourselves on making tackles, so it’s just going to be one of those games.”
(On how exciting it is to play the #1 ranked team in the country)
“It’s just as exciting as it is to play every other SEC team, because all of them are good when we play them. Just like my redshirt freshman year, we got a chance to play them when they were #1 and we almost pulled it off, so this year we have to go into there with the mindset of playing hard and playing great mentally and doing our assignments.”
JUNIOR LB JACQUES SMITH
(On Alabama’s offensive approach)
“They definitely come right at you and they run downhill and fast. That’s actually something that we like. We love that type of ball and we’re going to be prepared for it.”
(On the fast game)
“[I love it] because it’s a one-dimensional game. If you can’t stop the run, then it’s going to come at you all night. That’s something we plan to do. I think we can [stop the run game], because our defensive line has just gotten better and better every week and we are continually getting more comfortable in this defense and it’s showing in games how much better we’re doing, we just have to finish games and we’ll get the win.”
(On Alabama’s offense and run game)
“Their backs are big and their offensive line has downgraded from the previous year. Their tackles are still good – they still have (D.J.) Fluker and (Arie) Kouandjio at right tackle, he’s a red shirt freshman. They have some pretty good guards inside and then of course, Harrison at center.
(On Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron)
“I think it’s very important to get pressure on AJ. We definitely have to be in his face all night. That’s something we did in the Mississippi State game and it helped us out a bunch. It’s something that we have to bring from last week to this week and continually tighten down our coverages.”
(On his game against MSU)
“I played all right, I don’t think it was my best performance. We can always do better. [My best game as a Vol] I would say was my freshman year against LSU. [In the LSU game], I was just all over the field, flying around everywhere.”
JUNIOR OL JAMES STONE
(On the difference between Coach Pittman now and Coach Hiestand)
“I feel like things are different because we are dealing with a different person. They both have the same basic ideas, I feel like they just have different personalities. It is just two different people, you really cannot pin point it to be exact.”
(On Tennessee having the #22 offense in the country)
“What you do from a positional level or individual level doesn’t mean anything if you do not get the W. You might be doing well but you need to do better because obviously we are not doing well enough to get the wins.”
(On pressure from the defense for the offense to score)
“It does not put a lot of pressure on us because it is your goal every time you go out there to go out there to score points and execute and we feel like with our offense we should be able to score every time we touch the ball.”
(On RB Devrin Young)
“I really like him. He is a small shifty back and he runs with conviction and that’s good to see out of a smaller back because he runs so hard.”
SENIOR WR ZACH ROGERS
(On playing #1 Alabama)
“It is a great opportunity for us. They are the number one team in the nation for a reason. They have a great offense, great defense, and great special teams and they deserve all the credit in the world but we are going to give them a dog fight for sixty minutes.”
(On the current mood of the team)
“We are ready to fight. We have had some tough losses in the past few weeks and we cannot let that phase us. We have to move on and look forward to Alabama.”
(On how the offense can improve)
“We just have to continue to execute and finish late in games. I think when we get late in games and it is close, we put more pressure on ourselves and we think we have to make a play right then and there, just not letting the offense come to us and playing within our scheme.”
(On what it would mean to him to beat Alabama)
“It would mean a tremendous amount because they are a big rival for us. We have not beaten them since I’ve been here; we got close my freshmen year. We have played them close every year for a half, we just haven’t finished like I’ve said. Just to beat them would top off a great year for me.”
SOPHOMORE LB JORDAN WILLIAMS
(On the possibility of an increasing role)
“Hopefully, that’s what I am hoping for, it all depends from week to week, but that’s what I am hoping for.”
(On the importance of pressuring the QB this week)
“That is definitely important with every QB. If we get back there and affect him and it lets our DB’s make plays, then they are just downhill runs.”
SOPHOMORE DB JUSTIN COLEMAN
(On being the underdog)
“Sometimes being the underdog helps you play better and play with more heart.”
(On his injury)
“They did a run play and I came up and hit the running back and got a little dizzy so I had to come out. It was like a helmet contact, I was smaller than he is and the weight showed it. Really he just ducked his head and I hit him with my facemask.”
SOPHOMORE QB JUSTIN WORLEY
(On the offensive development he has seen)
“It is all about the development of the offense and week in and week out we are learning new plays to game plan to different opponents and learning those plays and working on my fundamentals. That’s the key to the game.”
(On playing some last season)
“I believe so, last year, just being on the field and being able to play and start three games gave me the confidence going into the spring and summer and I believe it has helped so far.”
(1-10 on where he was a year ago compared to right now)
“Last year probably about a four, this year probably about a seven or eight. I still have room to improve; I think everybody does on the team. So far I feel a lot more comfortable this year.”
(On Cordarrelle Patterson)
“He showcased those athletic ability type plays that he has in high school, but for him to translate that to the SEC is phenomenal. I’m so proud of him so far. He was joking around today saying he was more of a running back than a wide receiver. He fits in everywhere and he can return kicks just as well.”