The Volunteers (2-1, 0-1 SEC) have a bye week coming off their 33-23 loss to Florida last Saturday.
“We had a pretty good spirited practice today and not so good yesterday. And I think a lot of it had to do with us being a young team, and not really understanding the expectations of the open week,” UT coach Derek Dooley said after practice on Wednesday. “I talked to them today about defining a standard of who you are as a man and who you are as a competitor, and challenging yourself every day to meet the standard.”
The offense gets a much-needed chance to work on the running game, which struggled against the Gators, rushing for -9 yards in the Swamp.
“I thought up front we didn’t do a very good job, and I don’t know that we ran the ball very well,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “So, I think that they had something to do with that, and we did too.”
Chaney believed that many of the issues on the offensive line were simply situations where the offensive linemen were not coming off the ball.
“We’re not being physical enough in the run game to be able to get what we want to against good opponents,” he said. “So that’s a point of emphasis this whole bye week, is to get our pads down and go hit somebody in the mouth.”
The Vols lost wide receiver Justin Hunter to a season-ending injury when he tore his ACL in the first drive against Florida. The bye week offers a good chance for freshmen wide receivers DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas and sophomore Matt Milton to step into a primary role in the offense. Arnett had eight receptions for 59 yards Saturday.
“Ultimately, the biggest change that we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to run the football better, with or without Justin Hunter,” Chaney said.
The bye week is also a good chance for the defense to improve.
“We’ve done a pretty good job at times when we’re settled in and get our eyes in the right spot,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. “What we have to avoid is the three plays a game that are catastrophic.”
One of the back-breaking plays for the Vols was an 83-yard touchdown off a screen pass to Florida Tailback Chris Rainey in the third quarter that gave the Gators a 30-7 lead.
“You’re going to give up a play now and then but you’ve got to get the guy on the ground and play again,” Dooley said. “We’re a little dinged up, so the open week has been good to help some of the guys that have been playing a lot, and to give some of the young guys a lot of work. So we’re getting a lot of reps with some of the younger guys who haven’t played as much, and they need it.”