Tennessee can only hope its players handle crowd noise as well as its head coach.
As if on cue Wednesday while meeting with reporters and discussing the importance of handling crowd noise Saturday at Alabama, coach Derek Dooley was forced to pause for an overbearing air horn.
"We piped in a lot of noise today. This is only our second game in a hostile environment, is that right? It took us a while at Florida really to settle down and start executing so we got to make sure the environment doesn't affect us from playing as good as we can play," Dooley said. "It gets tough on third down, the noise goes up, a lot of communication between quarterback, center, offensive linemen, quarterback and receivers. We need to keep working on it, stay composed and execute the offense."
The Vols (3-3, 0-3) worked inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center in advance of their trip to second-ranked Alabama (7-0, 4-0) Saturday (7:15 p.m., ESPN2). Tennessee dug itself a 16-0 hole last month in its first road game at Florida, eventually losing 33-23, and has faced a double-digit deficit in the first half of two of its three SEC contests.
The key, players and coaches have said, is a steady approach.
"I just feel like itâ€™s another game. We play a lot of good teams in the SEC, and it is a rivalry game, but our focus this week is on getting better, going in and playing like we play every Saturday," said backup safety and special teams stalwart Rod Wilks.
Added Dooley, "I think it was new to them [at Florida]. We didn't play as composed when adversity hit us as we should. That's what happens. You've got to get used to playing in those environments and keeping your mind clear from all the external things that are going on in a game and making sure you're doing what you need to do to play at your best."
SOME GOOD, SOME BAD
In Matt Simms' 6 of 20, 128-yard performance, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he saw some good things and some bad things and some things that were not Simms' fault.
"I think he made a few mistakes, he made some nice plays, too. Some things go unnoticed. The little flip play he made to Devrin (Young) was a helluva good football play at quarterback. He realizes he made a mistake on the one downfield pick. The other pick he threw earlier in the game is my mistake," Chaney said. "It was a bad call, throwing it up there on their better corner. I should have went after a different guy. I'll eat that first one. The second one is his. We work this thing together, and we're going to go back to work and try to do the best we can this week."
For the Vol offense there weren't a ton of positives in the LSU game to carry over into this weeks challenge against Alabama. One of those is the running game which produced 111 yards on the ground last week. Much of the credit for the running game success has been giving to Simms' ability to manage the ground game with checks at the line of scrimmage. But Chaney was most pleased with the fact that the offense answered his challenge.
"I'm very pleased," Chaney said. "Coming out of the LSU game we wanted to go in there and be more physical, and I felt like we attempted to do that up front. The running back's ran hard, the fullbacks blocked good and Mike was involved in the run game. Of all the things that took place, you know, you're always trying to find a little silver lining, and I think our kids came out and played physical football."
Defensive line coach Lance Thompson knows the Tennessee/Alabama rivalry better than anyone on Tennessee's staff. Thompson has coached on both sidelines and said that there's no game more special than the Vols and the Tide.
"We you get the chance to be on both sides of it, it's truly a special, special game," Thompson said. "Both sets of fans are tremendously passionate about the game and about their Universities. The players buy into that, they want to represent the right way. It's an important game to both programs. Both programs are special and this game is special. When you have coached on both sides of it, you hear both sides and what they think about the other group. More than that, it's the passion they have for their Universities and two teams representing them. Now there's some bad blood through the years. That's part of it. But for the kids and the coaches it's a game where we want to go compete and represent the school the right way."
With conference expansion there's been plenty of talk about the possibility of the rivalry going away. Thompson said no way.
"I will borrow what Nick (Saban) said (Tuesday). I don't care about conference expansion. I don't care about conference expansion. I do care about Tennessee and Alabama. And I doubt that Tennessee and Alabama will ever go away because of conference expansion," Thompson offered.