Welcome to the Grind: Dooley, Vols open October grind with September Dawgs
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
KNOXVILLE — Welcome to October. Well, almost.
And welcome to the meat of the SEC schedule. There’s no ‘almost’ about that, either.
The grind of October has met Tennessee this year in late September, today, more specifically, when Tennessee faces No. 5 Georgia in Athens.
The grind continues with a list of undefeated October opponents that includes No. 1 Alabama and trips to No. 21 Mississippi State and No. 6 South Carolina.
“It is a good opportunity to be in a position to get good wins,” linebacker A.J. Johnson said. “I don’t really look at the rankings, I just look at beating the team you have up next.
“I don’t keep up with the teams being ranked. I go to practice, have a good practice and get ready for the next game.”
Plenty of Tennessee fans keep up with ranked teams, and the often-repeated statistic that Derek Dooley is yet to beat an opponent inside the top 25 in his first two-plus seasons in Knoxville.
Dooley is 1-8 with the Vols in the month of October. The lone win came last year against Buffalo on Oct. 1.
The eight losses include two each to LSU, Alabam and Georgia.
Six of those eight have come when those SEC opponents were ranked.
The exception both years: Georgia.
The unranked Bulldogs blitzed the Vols 41-14 in Athens two years ago. Last year was a 20-12 Georgia win inside Neyland Stadium.
“The good news is that a lot of our guys have been in these environments,” Dooley said Monday, “so it shouldn’t be as overwhelming as it has been in the past, at least I hope it isn’t.
“You look on offense and I think everybody except CP (Cordarrelle Patterson) and Tiny (Antonio Richardson) played at Georgia two years ago ... You have to learn to enjoy playing in that kind of environment.”
‘That kind of environement’ starts with today’s game in 90,000-plus Sanford Stadium.
Trips to Starkville, Miss. and Columbia, S.C. won’t be any easier.
Tennessee is 0-1 against ranked teams this year and 1-for-1 in letdowns after a 37-20 loss to then-No. 18 Florida.
“It’s different,” Maurice Couch said. “We had a bunch of external factors during Florida week. This week, we don’t mind being the underdog. It just motivates us.”
The underdog role has been a common one for Tennessee, a team that’s been ranked for exactly one week — that was two weeks ago — since ’08.
“I know the team goes out there and we have a chip on our shoulder,” tight end Mychal Rivera said. “We want to prove to people that we’re better team than what’s written out there.”
Proving that starts today with a win at Georgia — certainly easier written than done.
Herman Lathers, Tennessee’s emotional leader, said his team has one focus, regardless of a ranking or the month.
“Our main objective this week is to win no matter where we are playing at.”