UT hard work finally paying off
Posted: Monday, November 15, 2010 8:34 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Volunteers have felt really good about the way they’ve been practicing over the past two weeks. Their hard work has been paying off on the field.
Tennessee got a second straight blowout win and its first Southeastern Conference win with a 52-14 victory over Mississippi on Saturday. The Vols (4-6, 1-5) are hoping to keep up the momentum through the last two regular season games and straight into a bowl bid to salvage a difficult season.
“I was telling some of the guys that if we come out and execute we can really blow (the Rebels) out and have a good game for us, and that happened for us,” defensive end Chris Walker said. “It feels good. It shows the younger guys that no matter how hard things are in the beginning, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. How you practice is going to determine how you are going to play in the game.”
Tennessee will begin practicing today to face Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6), a team with the wrong kind of momentum after losing five straight games. The Commodores have beaten the Vols only once in the past 27 seasons.
To do it again, Vanderbilt will have to slow down a passing game that’s produced eight touchdowns in two games and confuse a defense that came up with five Ole Miss turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
“We’re not giving up as many big plays on defense, and we’re finishing drives on offense, scoring points,” coach Derek Dooley said. “It comes down to better execution on both sides of the ball. We have a lot of new faces out there, and they’re starting to learn to play together a little better.”
Freshman Tyler Bray led the SEC for a second week in a row with his passing after completing 18-of-34 for 323 yards, three TDs and no interceptions.
He’s been spreading the opportunities out among senior wide receivers Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones, junior tailback Tauren Poole and freshman WR Justin Hunter.
“We feel like we have a great relationship, and I have faith that they are going to go up and grab the ball,” Bray said of his targets. “We do have the height advantage over most teams we play, so that does help.”
Dooley thought the secondary played its best game of the season, despite being short-handed. Eric Gordon returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown, and Prentiss Waggner had a 10-yard interception return for a score, his third of the season, a school record.
Janzen Jackson and Anthony Anderson also grabbed picks.
“I thought they certainly played their best game, especially from a competitive standpoint,” Dooley said. “I felt like we were playing a lot more aggressive, playing a little more confident.”
Jackson hurt his ankle on a muffed punt return, and Gordon and wide receiver Zach Rogers suffered concussions. Dooley said he’d know more about Jackson on Monday, but felt each injured player would be day-to-day.
A concern of Dooley’s is that the Vols manage the emotions of two big wins as they prepare for Vanderbilt. The coach has preached to his players all season that they should be more focused on improving each week than the results.
“I think the biggest thing is focusing on the process and not defining your entire existence on the results,” he said. “The challenge is you want to feel good because you win, but what you hope the win does is inspire you to work even harder.”