In the end, it’s the final score that matters. Tennessee is 2-0 in that regard.
But the Vols wouldn’t mind getting off to better starts, especially after being outscored 21-3 in the first quarter through two weeks against Appalachian State and Virginia Tech, while getting outgained a combined 204-107 in the first frame so far as well.
“Very disappointed in our start,” Butch Jones said of the matchup against Virginia Tech on Saturday. “I think that’s something with this football team, we have to start faster. We’ll do some different things to try to manufacture that, like we do every week in practice. I didn’t think we maintained a consistent amount of intensity that I think that you need to play for over 60 minutes.
“The overall discipline, we can’t jump offsides on third down. All the things that it takes to play winning football, we have to get them cleaned up. Did I think we made progress from week one to week two? Yes, we made a lot of progress, but still a lot of work to be done.”
Those slow starts have ultimately been atoned for by fast finishes, with UT holding a commanding 62-16 edge after the first quarter through two games.
It’s a welcomed change from last year, when UT blew leads against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas in the first five weeks of the season. And that’s not lost on Jones, who was very pleased with how UT responded after a listless first quarter in Bristol.
“The things I did like – 31 unanswered points,” he said, speaking of UT’s run that put the Vols up 31-14 against the Hokies. “I thought for the first time this year, we played complementary football in all three phases with field position. When you look at our defense, in the first three drives we gave up almost 200 yards, two touchdowns and a missed field goal opportunity. Then the next 12 possessions, we limited them to 72 yards, five fumbles and forced five punts.
“Again, it’s getting off to a faster start.”
And that will continue to be a point of emphasis, and a challenge, for UT this week.
Tennessee, by now, should know that nothing is going to be a given this year, but it would be easy to overlook Ohio (1-1) this weekend after the massive event in Bristol and Florida around the corner.
Add in the fact that the Bobcats have started fast (21-0) in the first quarter this season against Texas State and Kansas, and an early, noon ET kickoff on Saturday with a crowd that won’t be anything like what it was in Bristol, and it’ll take a lot of focus by the Vols to jump out early.
“I think it’s good,” said defensive end Derek Barnett of the early state time. “We wake up and it’s straight to ball. I don’t like sitting around all day and I don’t think a lot of my teammates do either. I think it will be a good adjustment for us.”
It won’t take long for anybody to find out if UT has a different focus and mentality early against the Bobcats.