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October 3, 2011Around the Tennessee football program, the motto for years has long been "They remember what you do in November."
Maybe so, but the Volunteers also are trying to expunge the memory of last season's winless October, which started with heartbreak at LSU and was compounded a week later in the Vols' blowout-loss at Georgia (3-2, 2-1 SEC).
Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) gets its first shot at illustrating progress, if not a measure of redemption, Saturday when it hosts the Bulldogs (7 p.m., ESPN2).
"It was something to forget," senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson said of the 0-for-October. "Last year, you can't really say too much. It was just a bad month and we just want to turn the tables around and show people that last year wasn't Tennessee football. Last year was, we don't know who that was, but this year we want to go out there and show them Tennessee is back and that we're contenders."
Defensive tackle Daniel Hood said the Vols are mindful of taking the calendar one game at a time but embraced the Bulldogs' upcoming visit.
"It's a big opportunity. Tennessee is supposed to win these games," said the sophomore defensive tackle from Knoxville. "October is kind of an important month to Tennessee. This is where we're either going to be a great team coming out of this month or one that's just average. To restore that brand, it's going to take a good October. But we're going to have to do it one game at a time."
For his part, head coach Derek Dooley has begun to hammer his team on the game at hand each week and not peeking too far along the schedule.
"I think the first thing, and I told the team this: We're not playing October. I've heard more people say, 'The next four games,' 'October.' And I'm thinking to myself, we're playing Georgia, and that's it," Dooley said. "It doesn't matter who we played last week or who we play next week. You've just got to go week to week. Is this another measuring stick of where we want to be? Of course it is. But I think every game, in some ways, is by how you perform. We took care of three non-conference foes pretty handily. I don't think Tennessee's done that in a long time, and I think that's good. There's something to be said for that.
"But ultimately, we're going to get measured on how we play against these teams, and I understand that. This is one game, and if we don't play well and we get beat, then we've got to wake up and go try to correct it and play the next team. And if you do play well, we can't start getting excited because they keep coming. I don't know of any other way to think other than that."
Either way the game is approached, senior tailback Tauren Poole --- one of roughly five Vols starters who is a Georgia native --- wants to rid himself of the memories of last October.
"Didn't we go 0-4? Yeah, it sucked. Mentally, it was tough to keep losing," said the Toccoa, Ga., native Poole. "Nobody wants to lose four games in a row. But I think that will help us this year, because we know the feeling and we don't want that feeling. So we've got to attack the practice field, attack each game and we've got to play like it's our last. That's the only way we're going to come out with some Ws in these games."
Recent history favors the Vols, who have won their last two games against Georgia inside Neyland Stadium by a combined 47 points. Prior to that, Georgia coach Mark Richt won each of his first three visits to Knoxville, knocking off a ranked Tennessee team each time.
But Dooley doesn't want any focus on the past --- and certainly not any focus on retribution for last year's bludgeoning.
"My experience has been that I've never been one of those kind of guys where you want revenge. I mean, you shouldn't ever put yourself in a position where you want that," Dooley said. "We didn't play well last year and they played really well. Let's don't forget that; they played well and we didn't. My biggest thing is how are we going to play, and we shouldn't have to have last year's motivation to play well.
"We only get 12 days a year that we're measured on; I tell our team that all the time. And there's no excuse not to be ready. As coaches, as players. All I'm worried about is how much we've improved, especially going against a good football team. What are we going to look like compared to what we looked like two weeks ago, really."
What the Vols want to do, Jackson said, is show well in a big game.
"This game is huge. We really don't look at it as a month.," Jackson said. "I was in the defensive line room and we've kind of got the games on a board, and I was like, 'Damn, that's a stretch.' But if you break it down to each week, take it day by day, it really doesn't look that bad. We've just got to go out there and play for Georgia. We can't play for LSU or Alabama right now. Just take it a game at a time and just do what we want, be physical and get our mind right and I think we'll have a lot of fun Saturday."