The Tennessee Volunteers are in a tough spot.
Coming off their third consecutive loss, and the fourth in their conference, the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) have been beaten and battered both physically and mentally. Head coach Derek Dooley said that the losses have been the most difficult aspect for the team.
"It's tough physically, it's tough mentally and emotionally, but that is life in the SEC and everybody goes through some stretches," Dooley said. "The toughest thing is your energy and your spirit (are) a little bit better when you can get a W and we haven't been able to do that yet."
Dooley said one positive has been the team's consistency in practice habits and routines.
"From fall camp to N.C. State week to Florida week it has been pretty consistent," Dooley said. "This team has been like this all year. That doesn't mean we aren't all hurting a little bit, but we have to dust it off and get a little confidence going."
Regardless, the team seems to have been in a bit of a slump. Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter said Tuesday's practice was a great improvement from the preceding days and weeks.
"I know the coaches liked it a lot. They said we ran the tempo really fast, everybody made their assignments and everybody caught the ball really well," Hunter said. "After the game (on Saturday), coach had a good talk with everybody, saying that if we are tired of losing we should practice with a really good purpose today and show it on the field."
Hunter, who tied the Vol's record with 17 receptions in the first two games of the season, has had nine receptions for a total of 157 yards and no touchdowns over the last three games (all against SEC teams). Dooley said this is something he's working on in practice.
"Justin had a great swagger coming into the year and we have to get that back," he said.
In his defense, Hunter said the expectations are overwhelming.
"Everybody expects you to catch every pass, even the hard ones and the ones that go out of bounds," he said. "I think I've been doing everything mostly right on the field, but one drop is what everybody is going to look at."
With only a few more days of practice left before the next game, the Vols need to keep up the hard work in practice in order to pull out their first SEC win as they face the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday.