published Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Tennessee Vols 'snap and clear' from win to Tide plan

University of Tennessee Volunteers offensive linemen Ja'Wuan James (70) and Antonio Richardson (74) celebrate with running back Rajion Neal (20) at Neyland Stadium, in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Neal scored a 5-yard touchdown run.
University of Tennessee Volunteers offensive linemen Ja'Wuan James (70) and Antonio Richardson (74) celebrate with running back Rajion Neal (20) at Neyland Stadium, in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Neal scored a 5-yard touchdown run.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The celebrating ended pretty early for Ja'Wuan James.

Two minutes before 9 on Sunday morning, less than 18 hours after Tennessee upset then-No. 11 South Carolina for the program's first win against a ranked opponent in four years, the Volunteers senior right tackle posted the following message on his Twitter account.

"Snap & clear on to [the] next one. Alabama week."

For the first time, the Vols are taking on first-year coach Butch Jones' snap-and-clear mantra following major success.

It probably helps that the challenge is a visit to Alabama, the two-time defending national champion, the king of college football.

"I know this: Everything that occurred last week is not going to help us win this week," Jones said Monday. "What we've done, that's in the past. It's time to move on. You have to rely on your maturity and your leadership, but our players understand what's now at stake.

"If anything, it's how do you handle success? Does it drive you to want more? Do you want to continue to get better and better and better, or do you become complacent?"

For the first time since 2007, the Vols are 4-3, but the schedule that's already pitted them against teams ranked second, sixth, 11th and 19th at kickoff has them facing three top-11 teams the next three weeks.

"It is a new week. You snap and clear," James said. "We talk about snap-and-clear all the time, so now we've got to focus on the next opponent. We can't just live off this one game.

"Our team knows we're capable of winning big games, so now we've got to go out there and try to win another one."

The Vols spoke of proving the near-miss against Georgia wasn't a fluke and making sure it wasn't the season's high point, and they did with Saturday's fourth-quarter comeback.

That's behind them, though.

"You have to push the reset button every week," Jones said. "It's starting a new week over, a new game plan, the mental effort, the intensity, how you prepare, and our kids have done a great job of that. I think we've been ready to play, which is a tribute to them, every week.

"Everyone talks about the energy level that we have, and that's been pretty consistent throughout the entire course of the season."

Conditioning counts

Jones' career record with a halftime lead moved to 43-2 on Saturday, when Tennessee won after leading 17-7 at the break, and he credited strength coach Dave Lawson, who's been with him the past six years at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, and his staff.

The coach said he and Lawson are trying to instill the mindset of "making conditioning a factor" in the program.

"You have to live it every day, you have to talk about it, and we talk about it," Jones said. "Football rewards those who are in great condition mentally and physically."

The Vols outgained South Carolina 120 yards to 15 in the fourth quarter and held a 154-106 edge in the last quarter against Georgia.

"I think Coach Lawson does a good job with us over the spring and summer," James said. "I feel like this is the most conditioned team we've ever had. During this stretch of October, this is where you need that condition, this is where you need that second wind, and I feel like that's why we're finishing games better."

Sacking senior

Fifth-year senior Marlon Walls entered his final Vols season with one career sack. In seven games this year, the defensive end has a team-leading 4.5 sacks, including 2.5 against the Gamecocks.

"He plays with a high level of energy, and he's playing through the nicks and bruises and pains associated with the football season," Jones said. "I thought he really set the tone and the temperament for our defensive front on Saturday with his energy level. He had some opportunity sacks, and he also created some opportunities for other individuals with his energy.

"I can't say enough about him and what he's bringing to the table, not only on the field, but in the locker room and as a leader as well."

Jones added that big defensive tackle Daniel McCullers played his "best game since we've been here" against South Carolina and credited Jacques Smith for aiding in the Vols' ability to pressure quarterback Connor Shaw.

Extra points

Jones said freshman receiver Josh Smith (hamstring) is expected to play Saturday after missing the South Carolina game. ... Tennessee's starter shuffling on the offensive line, with Mack Crowder at center and James Stone sliding from center to Alex Bullard's left guard spot, was due to Bullard's ankle injury and some disciplinary reasons, according to Jones. ... Tailback Rajion Neal's knee is fine, Jones said. ... The Vols missed 15 tackles against South Carolina. "Our tackling has to take great strides this week as we move forward," the coach said.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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