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Vols’ Dooley expects team to heal quickly from Florida ‘scars’

Vols’ Dooley expects team to heal quickly from Florida ‘scars’

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 7:02 pm

By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley often tells his players it’s not the adversity they face that matters. What matters is that they respond positively to the challenge.
Dooley admits he had a hard time following his own advice when he watched the Volunteers’ star wide receiver, Justin Hunter, go down with a season-ending knee injury early in the 33-23 loss to Florida on Saturday.
“When you go out there and you’re really excited to see what your offense is going to look like against these guys and you lose your dynamic playmaker on the third play, it’s gut-wrenching,” he said Monday. “It’s hard to just say, ‘move forward.’ I was probably as guilty as any player who got affected some way early in the game because of it, because you’ve invested so much and now it’s been taken away from you and you’ve got to figure out how to win the game.
“But we’ll be fine going forward,” he added.
The young Vols (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) finally got the “scars” Dooley has said they’ve needed after cruising to wins at home against Montana and Cincinnati. Seventeen players were making their first start outside the friendly borders of the state of Tennessee, and most of the rest had not yet played in a venue as hostile as the Swamp in Gainesville.
“If you are going to compete for championships, you are going to get scars on you,” Dooley said. “We didn’t have any scars on us and (against Florida) we got plenty of them. That is a good thing, we need them.”
The Vols now have two weeks to heal their wounds before diving back into SEC play.
This week is their bye week, which they will spend looking at different schemes and trying to determine what players can contribute more, and
Tennessee hosts the Mid-American Conference’s Buffalo (1-2) on Oct. 1. The Vols won’t face another road test until traveling to third-ranked Alabama on Oct. 22.
Aside from sophomore wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, no offensive player has shown the capability of making big, game-changing plays, so Dooley is looking to fill Hunter’s hole by committee.
Hunter, a sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va., tore the ACL in his left knee and will soon have surgery.
“You have to build your offense around your guys, and Justin was our most dynamic playmaker on offense, and we were building the offense around him,” Dooley said. “When you lose that, you can’t replace that. You just have to shift to, ‘Now, who are we shaping the offense around?’ It’s going to have to be a little more committee-oriented — that’s just what we’ve got.”
More than anything, Tennessee needs to develop its running game. The Vols are averaging just 81.7 yards on the ground, ranking them last in the SEC and 105th in the FBS in rushing offense.
The Tennessee coaches spent five hours on Monday morning analyzing game tape of the run game to determine what they could do to improve it.
They’ll work on some different looks, like implementing more of a screen-pass game that wasn’t as necessary with a playmaker like Hunter.
They also will try to work into the lineup backup tailbacks Rajion Neal, Tom Smith and Devrin Young and offensive lineman Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, who all missed much of fall practice because of injuries.
Beyond that, Dooley said the running backs and offensive linemen must play more physically and work on minimizing their own mental mistakes.
The running game “was important before because you always need it,” he said.
“When you can throw it and have the ability to throw it for 350, 400 yards a game, you still need a running game but that’s your secondary market. You’re throwing to set up the run. I don’t think we’re going to have that luxury now.”
Tennessee’s Oct. 1 home meeting with Buffalo has been scheduled for a 11:30 a.m. kickoff.
The game will be televised regionally on CSS.
The Volunteers (2-1) are 5-0 against current members of the Mid-American Conference but have never faced the Bulls (1-2).
The Bulls have lost 35-16 to Pittsburgh and 28-25 to Ball State.
The lone win for Buffalo this season is a 35-7 decision over Stony Brook.
Buffalo will play a game before its date with Tennessee, taking on UConn Saturday night. Published in The Messenger 9.20.11

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