KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s players have been focused on getting to the SEC Championship Game and getting the Vols “back where they belong” since they stepped foot on campus.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel this Saturday, and it starts with taking care of business against Missouri at 3:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium.
Yes, Tennessee football needs LSU to beat Florida at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in that 1 p.m. game.
But if the Vols don’t do their part with wins over Missouri and Vanderbilt these next two weeks, it doesn’t matter.
In fact, if Tennessee loses either of these next two games, the season becomes an utter failure.
Here are four things derived from Tuesday’s interviews that the Vols are thinking about:
Focus on Missouri
The Tigers have been a thorn in Tennessee’s side, winning three of the past four games between these teams, and the Vols’ players know that.
Coach Butch Jones has said it will take great preparation for Tennessee to control Saturday’s game. That might not be as much of an exaggeration as people think.
The Vols’ lineup remains a work in progress, with players coming and going, and the Tigers’ do indeed have the ability to move the football.
So the talk Tuesday was that the players will ignore the scoreboard and focus on the task at hand.
Wipe those tears
It will be the last game for the seniors and a likely a handful of juniors, but Saturday is not a time to get sentimental or reflect.
Tennessee needs four quarters of sound football to keep its championship hopes alive, and reflecting on the first run through the “T” or favorite moment of yesteryear does not advance the ball.
Jones would be wise to honor the players and their families on the field after the game — not before it.
Step it up
Tennessee’s players know that last week’s effort against Kentucky was sloppy, and that better execution will be required.
Defense players said they missed too many tackles and need better technique.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs, ever the perfectionist, says he’ll need to be more dialed in and focused to make sure he’s at his best.
The Vols know there’s room for them to improve.
The biggest difference between now and when Tennessee’s seniors reported to Knoxville is the confidence in one another, and in the coaching staff.
Fifth-year senior LaTroy Lewis said that’s what has changed — that the team believes in one another and the coaches significantly more than when they arrived.
That sort of confidence is integral to any team trying to make a championship run, and to the Vols’ credit, they aren’t backing off their goals.
Some Tennessee fans might suggest not getting to Atlanta for the SEC title game would be all right — because mighty Alabama awaits.
But the Vols’ players want the SEC East Division title, and they want that second chance against the Crimson Tide.