KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee returned to the practice field Monday, beginning bowl preparations for Nebraska on Dec. 30.
While the early workouts have had a training camp type atmosphere, the Vols are focused on making sure their next trip to Nashville for the Music City Bowl doesn’t end with another bitter defeat.
A 45-34 loss at Vanderbilt to end the regular season cost Tennessee a spot in the Sugar Bowl and spoiled a season filled with lofty expectations. The Vols finished 8-4 and stumbled down the bowl tier.
“That loss is not forgotten,” junior guard Jashon Robertson said.
“We’re using it as a motivation going forward. Not allowing something like that to happen again. Sitting on that, getting our bodies right, getting your mind right but also sitting on that in the back of your mind, it energizes you everyday.”
After the loss on Nov. 26, Tennessee took roughly 10 days off for finals, and while the team was lifting during the week, time away from the gridiron allowed the Vols to get rested and reenergized.
Now, they’re back at work and preparing to win a bowl game for the third consecutive year.
“As a veteran player, I do see a lot of guys coming out with an extra bounce in their step,” Robertson said.
“Working hard for opportunities going forward.”
Motivation for bowls are always in question this time of year, especially for a Tennessee team that finished the season on such a sour note. But senior quarterback Josh Dobbs said “the guys are excited” to “defend our territory.”
“The opportunity to play, especially in the state of Tennessee, back in Nashville, to defend the state of Tennessee, we’re definitely excited for the opportunity,” the Vols captain said.
For what it’s worth, coach Butch Jones is glad his team is using the loss at Vandy as rallying cry this December, saying, “They shouldn’t forget it. Everyone in our football program shouldn’t forget it. From myself to the coaches. To everyone. Again, there’s a standard and expectation in our football program.”
Tennessee is littered with Midstate natives salivating at the chance for redemption in their hometown, too. For a veteran like Robertson, the Dec. 30 game in Nissan Stadium is almost assuredly the final time he’ll play in his own backyard.
“If I’m not mistaken, me as a Nashville native, this will be my last opportunity to play at home,” the former Montgomery Bell Academy product said.
“Obviously, we all had high hopes about a lot of things, but the opportunity to play again in Nashville for me personally, going out with a win it is very important to finish off this year strong.”