Preparation for the Utah State game was an extended process. The Vols really had all of the offseason to focus on their first opponent, but truly started zeroing in on the Aggies towards the end of camp and then even had an extra day of game week to finalize the prep.
This week is a different story. While the Vols certainly have compiled some advanced intel on the Red Wolves, they must take this challenge on during a short week, made even shorter by the fact that Sunday’s game didn’t end until close to 11 p.m. and Saturday’s game starts at noon.
“The next evolution of this football team is learning how to prepare your minds and your bodies for a noon start,” coach Butch Jones said on Tuesday. “A 12-o’clock game, adjusting your body clocks. That is a little bit different as well in your preparation and your mindset. Everything continues to be new learning experience as we continue to grow and mature as a football team.”
“I think we’ll be alright,” added linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who led the Vols with 10 tackles on Sunday. “We already stated reviewing them yesterday and today, so I think we’ll be able to catch back up to speed.”
And while there was plenty to celebrate from Tennessee’s dominating 38-7 win over the Aggies on Sunday, Jones also saw a ton that needs improving as well.
Jones mentioned lack of efficiency in the run game, an overall lack of rhythm on offense, a lack of “ball disruption” on defense, and, more than anything, special teams as areas the Vols need to improve on.
The Vols didn’t have any catastrophic errors in that phase of the game, but Jones was none-too-pleased with the way the Vols kicked, coverage and operated all around in that area.
“We did not play winning football [on special teams],” Jones said. “We invest too much time in our special teams game and everyone taking ownership of their role, executing their assignment and doing their job. We chart impactful plays, every individual can impact the game in one shape, form, or another. With Arkansas State, coming in here for a noon game, we need to continue to improve in all facets of special teams.”
Physically, it’s a challenge to turn around in that quick of a time as well.
“We came in on Monday and got right to work, but you have to be cognizant that it is a short week for them, and it was a physical football game,” Jones said. “We have to keep that in mind. We have a lot of work to do, and it is a balancing act. What you did last week has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of this week. You have to have a short-term memory. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. You have to move on, and that is what we have been stressing with a good football team coming here.”
It’ll be an even bigger adjustment for somebody like freshman Derek Barnett, who is adjusting to the college game. He played more than any other freshman on the defensive side of the ball and now has a quick turnaround to physically and mentally prepare for another team that will challenge the defensive front, especially with another mobile quarterback, Fredi Knighten, coming to town.
“Our mind has to be right,” Barnett said. “We’ve got to just be ready to come out and play. We’ve got to take care of our bodies like Coach Jones said – cold tub, that’s why we’re in there getting a recovery session and getting in the film room.
“Today was the only (full-padded) practice of the week – tomorrow is shells – Coach Jones said he’s going to take care of us, but we’ve got to go out there and get better.”