Despite the disappointing 37-20 loss to the Florida Gators on Saturday, Tennessee is focused on improving as a group this week prior to their matchup with the Akron Zips.
Losing to Florida is always difficult to accept, but this year's team was especially devastated. "(The players) hurt more than I've seen one of our teams hurt after a loss," said head coach Derek Dooley.
However, the team believes that the pain can be turned into a source of motivation. "It's better on the team when you get that hurt feeling of a loss. People want to work and get better as a team," said sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson.
"There was a lot of emotional investment by everybody associated with Tennessee. I think it's a good sign that that kind of pain is on us," said Dooley.
Even though the Vols suffered their first loss of the season, the players realize that one loss does not define the rest of the season.
"We have ten more games to go," said sophomore left tackle Antonio Richardson. "We still have a chance to win the East. I believe we can do great things." Junior linebacker Jacques Smith confidently stated, "The season isn't over."
Dooley assured the fans that the season is far from over. "It's not doomsday. We can overcome it," he said. "We've got a lot of confidence with who we are and where we're headed."
The loss provides the Vols with plenty of room for improvement. The defense is determined to work on the communication issues they have had in recent weeks.
Sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt emphasized the fact that communication issues have been a major problem this season, and the team is focused on fixing the problem.
"There were a lot of mental breakdowns and not communicating. Communication is key for us," said Maggitt.
The loss of sophomore safety Brian Randolph to an ACL injury posses another obstacle for the Vols' communication issues on defense. However, players are confident that there are players competing for the spot that can make an immediate impact.
"We have people who can step in and replace him," said Johnson. "We have two or three guys stepping in to work for the spot."
As for this Saturday, juniors Brent Brewer and Byron Moore will start at the two safety positions.
Tennessee now has to put the loss behind them and focus on their next opponent, the Akron Zips. The Zips are coached by Terry Bowden, the son of Florida State coaching legend, Bobby Bowden. The team recognizes that Akron has a high-powered offense, and the Vols' defense is preparing to slow down the Zips' fast-paced offense.
"The one thing you know about any Bowden, Terry especially, is that they know how to score a lot of points," said Dooley.
The Zips come into Knoxville ranked fifth in the country in passing yards (378 yards per game) and averaging 39.3 points per game.
"If we don't come and prepare all week, we will get embarrassed," said Dooley.
Jacques Smith also recognizes the potent offense of the Zips. "They're good, they're fast, they're athletic. They can make big plays just like we can," said Smith.
Maggitt knows that the team can't look past Akron and think toward the game in Athens next week. "We won't underestimate any of our opponents. We just have to play hard and play Tennessee football," he said.