by UT Sports Information on September 22, 2015

in Tennessee Vols Football

unnamedKNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The excitement and focus for this week’s SEC opener against rival Florida resonated throughout Tennessee’s Tuesday practice at Haslam Field.

Tennessee (2-1) turned up the crowd noise on the speakers at practice to help the team prepare for its first hostile road environment of the season. The Vols are expecting a hard-fought game on Saturday against a tough Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) squad that scored 92 points over its first two games at “The Swamp” this sesaon.

“They’ve got a good team,” UT defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “We’ve got a good team, and that’s what makes it so fun [and] so exciting. There’s very little margin for error. For us, I talk to the defense about this, it’s a ‘Maxim 1’ game for us. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”

The Vols have been committed in their preparation with players and coaches putting in the work from sunrise to sundown.

Jauan Jennings was in the training room this morning at 6:15,” wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni said. “He had breakfast check at 7:30. He had class all day. These kids are working their tail off. There is no bad attitudes. They have been grinding we are so proud them. That is why we want to see the fruits of their labor — for them. We want them to get a W.”


Vols Preparing For Tough Test

The Florida defense will be one of the best Tennessee has faced or will face this season. The Gators rank 11th in the nation with just 258.0 total yards allowed per game. UF’s Jalen Tabor and Brian Poole have five passes defended (interceptions + pass break-up) each and are tied for 16th nationally.

One of the big matchups this week will be UT’s talented wide receivers against Florida’s stout secondary.

“Any time you want to see how you stack up, you want to go against the best,” Azzanni said. “And in this conference, that’s pretty much every week. This week’s no different, these guys are special and we’ve known that. They have a lot of talent and I’ve said that before. This is probably the most talented group in college football.”

Azzanni, who was an assistant coach at Florida in 2010, is familiar with the talent in UF’s secondary.

“I’ve got a ton of respect for them,” he said. “The way they play, how they play. I recruited a lot of those kids. I know them. I know their families. It’s a big challenge for us for sure.”


Daniel Punting With Confidence, Consistency

To hear Trevor Daniel tell it, the redshirt sophomore out of Dickson never believed that he would lead the SEC in punting. But having emerged from a competitive preseason camp, Daniel has emerged as “the guy” for Tennessee and now sits atop the SEC and among the nation’s leaders in punting average.

“I’m just trying to go out there every day and compete,” Daniel said. “Tommy [Townsend] and Nate [Renfro] are both good punters, so every day you had to bring it … We kicked every day and you had to kick your best. It makes me feel good that I got the starting job and it gives me some confidence.”

Through the first three games of the season, Daniel is averaging 47.6 yards per punt – a mark that currently ranks fourth in FBS. And while his punts have been booming – consider his 50.0 yards-per-kick average against Oklahoma on Sept. 12 – placement has also been key as he has pinned opponents inside the 10-yard line four times this year and inside the 20 eight times.

“What he’s doing is he’s gotten very consistent with just his rhythm as far as the drop, his footwork – all those things have really become second nature to him,” said tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Mark Elder. “He’s punting at a high level and we’re excited about where he’s at right now.”

Going into Saturday’s SEC-opener at Florida, Tennessee knows that field position will play a huge role, particularly if the game takes a similar tone to last year’s low-scoring affair at Neyland Stadium. Luckily for the Vols, through 16 punts this season Daniel has left the Tennessee opposition with an average starting field position at their own 18-yard line.

“Field position is huge, especially in tight ballgames,” added Elder. “We’re going to be in tight ballgames week in and week out when we go through the SEC schedule. When you’re talking about seven-point ballgames, 10-point ballgames, field position is critical in those positions and obviously punting is a huge part of that.”


Studious Kirkland Earns Starting Role

Freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. took over the starting MIKE linebacker last week against Western Carolina and Vol fans may want to get used to seeing number 34 in the lineup.

With the task of lining up the defense and making adjustments, middle linebacker is traditionally recognized as the quarterback of the defense.

“We were trying get that element of speed on the field,” Defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “That’s what Darrin Kirkland Jr. brings. He’s also a smart player.”

Kirkland values the mental aspect of the game.

“I look forward to studying the film and learning the opponent,” he said. “I get a kick out of it; it’s kind of a big puzzle piece. It started my senior year, I had to take control. I had a lot of young guys on my high school team and I felt it was my responsibility to get them lined up, to know the defense as best as possible.”

Kirkland knows he still has work to do despite recording four tackles in his first start and nine tackles in three games.

“I had a couple missed assignments here and there but I am really excited I got the opportunity. I made some plays, but I left some plays out there as well. Really that learning experience it just comes with time. I can get better with SEC play coming up.”

Jancek is impressed with Kirkland’s development, especially given the fact that he missed all of spring camp due to injury.

“He’s done a really good job,” Jancek said. “It’s tough for a freshman to come in. He didn’t have spring practice. It’s different when you get in the games. You know, it’s just the anxiety level, the pressure, the crowd noise, all those things add to, now, a very complex situation for a freshman middle linebacker, and I think Darrin’s handled it admirably. He’s going to continue to get better.”


  • Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord(On the offense progressing)

    “We’ve been pretty effective running the ball and out passing game has continued to improve, know that’s what happens in a season. We’ve got a stiff challenge this week. Florida has a great defense.”

    (On playing Western Carolina prior to visiting Florida)

    “We are focused on this game. This is an important game like last game was because it is the next game. This is still an important game. We still have to come out ready to play, ready to go. We can’t have an off day. We have to be ready to play, ready to compete to get the win. I don’t think it will be hard [to not look ahead]. Our team understands that every game is important. You have to be thankful for each opportunity that you step on the field, and you can’t look ahead to other opponents. We know to focus on this week’s task. Florida will come when it will come.”


  • RS Senior DB Brian Randolph(On keeping a positive turnover ratio

    “We talk about it every day. That’s the biggest indicator of who wins the game; it’s the turnover margin. So, we always have a period dedicated to causing turnovers and the offense does the opposite of chinning the ball and trying to limit turnovers. We always emphasize that every practice.”


  • Sophomore OL Coleman Thomas(On building chemistry on the offensive line)

    “Definitely, you know we’re always together. We’re a very close group as an offensive line. I love those guys, and I think the chemistry off the field has helped us on the field.”


  • Sophomore TE Ethan Wolf(On the upcoming Florida game)

    “As an offense, we are evaluating it day by day, watching film. They definitely have a physical defense and we know what we are in store for, but we’re going to continue to prepare like we have every week. We are going to try to fix our deficiencies from the last three games. Just come out and play physical.”

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