KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ demand that his players “snap and clear” – forget the last play and focus on the next one – was easily accomplished in Game 3 at Oregon.
“You really didn’t have too much time (between snaps) to even think,” senior defensive lineman Daniel Hood said dryly, “so you were pretty clear-minded the whole game. If you got focused on a big play, Oregon was lined up running another play.”
Whereas forgetting about the previous play was easy last Saturday against the mercurial Ducks, forgetting about the previous game presents a bigger challenge this week. The 59-14 blowout at Oregon was Tennessee’s worst beating in 103 years, dating to a 45-0 loss to Mississippi A&M in 1910.
Tennessee’s upperclassmen experienced a comparable beat-down just two years ago, however. The 2011 Vols were hammered 49-7 at Arkansas in a game very similar to the 2013 Oregon game. As happened in the Duck debacle, Tennessee was annihilated and humiliated in the Razorback rout.
Interestingly enough, the 2011 Vols bounced back from their frightful beating at Fayetteville in a positive way, defeating a fired-up Vanderbilt squad seven days later. Apparently, a lot of healing took place between the loss at Arkansas and the defeat of the Commodores.
As senior offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James recalls: “The older guys let everybody know ‘It’s not over; we’re fortunate enough to have another week. The season’s not over, so we’ve just got to bounce back and keep a good mindset.”
The Vols did precisely that. Even with quarterback Tyler Bray hampered by an injured thumb on his throwing hand, they got back on track by beating Vanderbilt 27-21.
Of course, Tennessee faces a much bigger challenge in rallying from the 2013 Oregon loss than it did in rebounding from the 2011 Arkansas loss. That’s because this week’s game is a road test against a Florida program that has beaten the Vols eight times in a row.
To help insure that younger players put the loss to Oregon behind them and focus on Florida this week several seniors scheduled what James called “a player-led meeting” for Sunday afternoon.
The message, James said, was simple: “Keep your head up. This is Florida week. This is one of the most important weeks. This is SEC time. That (Oregon) game is in the past and we’ve got a long season ahead of us.”
From all indications, the Sunday afternoon meeting proved successful.
“It was great,” James said. “I feel like a lot of the young guys who had their heads down maybe – who had never suffered a loss like that – responded well. I think we’re ready to have a great week of practice.”
Hood believes Sunday’s get-together helped rekindle Tennessee’s team spirit, noting: “After we went through the meeting together we all did our mandatory treatments together and said, ‘You know what? Let’s go. This is Florida week. This is what Tennessee’s about.’”
Hood says he and the other seniors must keep Tennessee’s younger players from going flat in the wake of last Saturday’s beat-down.
“If I see someone slacking get on ‘em, pull ‘em up,” he said. “It starts in meetings, too. Usually, days like today people will come in a little sleepy, so the seniors will sit in the back, wake everybody up and make sure they’re not slacking.”
Still, forgetting that they’re responsible for the program’s worst beating in more than a century will be no small task for the Vols.
“I think it’s just that snap-and-clear mentality that Coach Jones talks about,” Hood said. “How fast can you forget about it and let it be behind you? It’s all going to depend on our preparation this week.
“If we can come out today and have a great practice, then do the same thing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then Saturday will be a fun game for us.”