KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Defensive end LaTroy Lewis has lived and played through some of the worst times in Tennessee football as a redshirt senior who has been in the program five years.
So it should come as no surprise that Lewis was completely unfazed by the Vols’ drop in the national polls, most notably from No. 9 to No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll in the wake of a 20-13 overtime win over Appalachian State last Thursday.
“Falling out of the top 10 means nothing for us,” Lewis said Tuesday. “All our dreams, goals and aspirations are still online.”
An undefeated record and place in history will be on the line at 8 p.m. Saturday against Virginia Tech (1-0) in the “Battle at Bristol” at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Vols (1-0) will be playing in front of a crowd of about 150,000 in one of the more unique settings in college football history.
“I really just don’t know what to expect,” UT middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. said. “I’ve seen pictures and I’ve seen it on a map. But I’m definitely excited for the experience. It’s once in a lifetime.”
Virginia Tech features an uptempo offense, but the Vols figure to be prepared thanks to a “Sonic” practice period involving the defense drilling against UT’s version of the hurry-up offense.
More importantly, says Kirkland, Tennessee will need better communication than it had in the season-opening win over Appalachian State.
“Collectively, first-game problems, everything wasn’t on point from a communication standpoint,” Kirkland said. The fix for that, he said, is “overdoing it, (and) making sure every communication has a reciprocated action, so we’re making sure everything is communicated.”
The Vols didn’t bring any offensive players to Tuesday’s media availability, perhaps feeling Josh Dobbs’ interview Monday was enough.
Dobbs struggled in the opener, finishing with negative rushing yardage for the first time in his career and appearing inconsistent with his throwing accuracy and decision making.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.