Handling adversity Tennessee's biggest concern

BY foxsports • September 14, 2010

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley got the answer to how his team would handle adversity: The Volunteers collapsed after back-to-back scores by Oregon.

The Vols don't have much time to figure out how to bounce back from big plays - setbacks like the 72-yard run by Ducks running back LaMichael James Saturday or the interception thrown by quarterback Matt Simms is returned for a touchdown that gave Oregon control of the game.

Tennessee is heading into a stretch of games against No. 10 Florida, UAB, No. 15 LSU and Georgia.

''We have so much work to do internally and with how we compete, and until we fix those things it doesn't matter who we play,'' Dooley said Monday.

Saturday's game against the Gators may not carry the national appeal of a year ago without former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin taking shots at Florida, or the anticipation of head-on collision between All-Americans Tim Tebow and Eric Berry.

Nonetheless, it's a big game.

The Southeastern Conference's East Division seems to be more up for grabs than in years past and the contest gives Dooley a chance to see if his team can prevent another meltdown like its 48-13 loss to Oregon.

The Vols (1-1) trailed 27-13 after James' remarkable run and the interception returned for a touchdown by Cliff Harris. But Dooley said the looks on players' faces and the way they responded on the field with penalties, incompletions and missed tackles made it appear Tennessee was actually down by 40 points.

The Gators (2-0) are just as capable of giving Tennessee problems with one of the best pass defenses in the nation, one that has eight interceptions in two games.

''You should be able to turn on the TV and based on how we're competing, you don't know if we're winning or losing,'' Dooley said. ''Sometimes players, especially nowadays, they get so focused on wanting to win that they don't enjoy the competitive element of the game ... they don't enjoy when it gets tough, how to fight through it and figure out a way to find solutions to have success.''

Part of the problems stem from Tennessee's depth problems. The Vols have so few contributing backups, many starters tired late in the game after trying to keep up with the speedy Ducks for three quarters.

But most of it was psychological. Dooley thinks the attitude problems are more a ''sociological issue'' than a function of youth - society is focused more on winning and losing than on the process it takes to get to a certain result.

Senior linebacker Nick Reveiz has seen Tennessee get a big lead only to blow it late in the game, and he's seen the Vols fight back from deficits to win. He remembers being a freshman letting the score bother him, but he thinks that changes over time.

''I just try to have the mentality that I'm not going to be affected. I'm going to play as hard as I can, whatever the score is,'' he said. ''It's something you learn as you play more and as time passes.''

That kind of attitude is what Dooley wants his whole team to have. He's also looking for more players with a work ethic like Tauren Poole, who leads the SEC in rushing with an average 136 yards over two games.

For everyone else, Dooley knows he has to play the role of parent.

''I think every coach has an element of you're raising children,'' he said. ''We're sort of a parent of 85 young men who have not fully matured physically, who have not fully matured emotionally, who have not fully matured intellectually. So we're part of that growth process.''

share story