The days of Lane Kiffin trumpeting moral victories against the SEC's elite are over. So are Derek Dooley's days of no meaningful victories.
Butch Jones' Tennessee Vols finally broke through with a win over a ranked opponent last week against South Carolina. Before that, UT made the play to beat then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime, but fumbled through the end zone for a touchback and eventual loss.
Momentum dons a faded orange sweatshirt with a Power T as the calendar flips to fall.
However, a big, crimson football factory awaits UT in Tuscaloosa this weekend. Alabama is ranked No. 1 and has won three of the past four BCS National Championships. It has allowed just 16 points in its five wins since surviving Texas A&M, 49-42.
The Crimson Tide have the talent and ability to crush teams' wills, including a Tennessee team that hasn't yet built the kind of program that should expect to win a game like this.
So, how do the Vols forget about the powerhouse lined up across from them and just play? UT defensive end Corey Miller shared his outlook on the game.
It’s the pink elephant in the room. You know what they bring to the table; you know how good they are. But at the same time, you know, they’re guys just like we are. We put on our shoes the same way they do. We practice the same way they do.
Jones has quickly developed the reputation as a master motivator in his 10 months at UT. As John Brice of VolQuest.com reports, the head coach is playing Alabama's fight song and "Sweet Home Alabama" over the loudspeakers during practice this week. He's barking things to get under his players' skin.
Some Vols are even calling Alabama "The Red Team" to get over the psychological aspect of playing someone of the Crimson Tide's caliber.
Winning a game against UA may be too tall of a task, but that doesn't mean the Vols expect to lose either. Even with Jones' ploys, UT needs no extra motivation.
According to Sportsbook.com, Vegas oddsmakers have Alabama as a 28.5-point favorite. Literally nobody outside of UT's locker room expects a win, so if Tennessee shocks the world, it would be the biggest program building block imaginable.
Senior running back Rajion Neal stated that focus is key against this opponent.
It makes you kind of throw away what we did last week, get past it. I honestly feel with a team like this, man, you almost have to be perfect, and I think it came at the perfect time because we know we’ve got to get off of what we did and kind of hone in and focus. Coming into this conference, it’s what we signed up for.
Even if the Vols don't win, there are still ways to maintain the momentum they've built—it's a drive they'll need with top-12 opponents Missouri and Auburn looming.
The first way UT can keep surging is to play a complete, competitive game.
In Tennessee's three consecutive 31-point losses to UA, the Vols have been blown out in the second half by a total of 80-3. Whether it was a matter of depth, talent or quitting, the Vols can't afford a repeat.
If nothing else, UT has to build up some good vibes heading into the back end of a ridiculous slate that has seen it play seven ranked opponents in an eight-game stretch.
|Second-Half Smackdown, UT vs. UA 2010-12|
|Year||Halftime Score||Second Half Score||Final|
|2010||13-10, Alabama||28-0, Alabama||41-10|
|2011||6-6, Tied||31-0, Alabama||37-6|
|2012||23-10, Alabama||21-3, Alabama||44-13|
|ESPN.com box scores|
Another thing UT must do to keep building is have success against Alabama by doing the things that have led to wins.
UT has forced teams into miscues all year, it's been exceptional in special teams and its only turnover in the past two games was Alton "Pig" Howard's overtime fumble against Georgia.
The Vols have had success running and rank 27th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. UT also has to build off a defensive effort against South Carolina that allowed just 15 total yards in the Gamecocks' final 20 snaps.
Finally, the Vols have prided themselves on playing hard, violent football. Many star players have suffered injuries against the Vols. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, Georgia running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley all suffered season-ending injuries against UT.
Georgia receiver Michael Bennett and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw also were injured against UT.
That clean, rugged defense is something Tennessee used to be known for, and it has been missing recently. The Vols need to guard against being pushed around by a big, physical Tide team. Defensive end Marlon Walls echoed that sentiment.
We’re just going to work, and we’re ready to show we can play in the SEC. We’re just going to play a little smashmouth football like we always do.
You never fear anybody. They put their shoulder pads on like you do ... but you just give them the respect that they deserve. Also, that’s motivation. You understand if you don’t come on with it, those guys will try to put you on your back.
The Vols can't allow Alabama to knock them off this current high. It didn't happen after Oregon dominated UT at Autzen Stadium and the Vols can't allow it to occur this week either.
They've done a good job of keeping wins—and bad losses—in the background. No matter what happens, they have to do the same against Alabama. Regardless of a win or loss, though, a strong showing would do wonders for the rebuilding project.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were transcribed from videos posted on UTSports.com.