By Alex Norman
On Saturday the Tennessee Volunteers will try to do something they haven’t done in eight years.
Win a game in Athens, Georgia.
The Vols are coming off their first loss of the season, a 34-10 defeat at the hands of 4th-ranked Oklahoma in Norman.
“Coach (Butch) Jones did a great job (last) Monday coming in with our recap of the Oklahoma game being positive and encouraging us,” said Vols quarterback Justin Worley. “He let us know that he has faith in us and we are really close. I think that was awesome to hear from him. Everybody was hurt after the loss, obviously. I don’t think it would have helped if he came in and said some of the same things we were all thinking. It was good to hear some positive things coming from the game from Coach Jones.”
“We were hurting after the game,” said Vols linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. “Everyone felt like we let them off the hook. We feel like we should have come out with the win. No one got down. We came to work at the beginning of (last) week. We’ll keep grinding.”
It is still obvious that Tennessee has a lot of work to do, but there were encouraging signs in that result, including an improving rushing attack with freshman Jalen Hurd carrying the ball. Hurd had 14 carries for 97 yards in the loss at Oklahoma, including a 42-yard run.
“It was definitely a good confidence building mainly because the past few games, we really haven’t had many long runs or breakout runs,” said Vols center Mack Crowder. “We’ve just been in there pounding away, pounding away and every now and then, you need one of those big runs to build your confidence and know that we’re making holes and they’re going to break big runs like that.”
“He runs hard. That is the biggest thing I have seen,” said Worley. “He runs hard and tries to finish through people. He has hit holes hard. He had a couple of explosive runs late in the game last week. You can’t say too many bad things about him. He has done a great job in protection and picking up the offense. He is a great asset to our offense.”
“I think, as a running back group, we’ve picked it up on pass protection,” said Hurd. “We’ve definitely done that. We’ve been a lot better from game one to game three–pressing our holes, reading it well and just getting those tough yards.”
Tennessee had an off week but now it is back to business. The Vols face 13th ranked Georgia on Saturday at 12 noon in Athens.
The Bulldogs are trying to climb back up the standings in the SEC Eastern Division after their loss to South Carolina on September 13th.
Last season Tennessee fell in heartbreaking fashion to Georgia, a loss in which they held a lead in regulation in the final seconds, only to lose in overtime when Pig Howard fumbled inches from the end zone.
If the Vols are going to have any chance of picking up what would be Butch Jones’s second road victory at Tennessee, they’ll have to limit what Bulldogs junior running back Todd Gurley can do. Gurley averaged more than 9 yards a carry in Georgia’s first two games, and is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
A loss on Saturday will drop the Vols to 2-2 on the season, about what people have expected from this team. Still, the Vols believe that brighter days are ahead.
“You can see a big change in our locker room,” said Vols cornerback Cam Sutton. “With the mentality that we have, we are a very hungry team and we want it all. Losses hurt and this year, you can see a big difference. Our heads are not down…. We know that we have to limit our mistakes and we’ll get it corrected.”