Tennessee Football: Vols Get Final Tune-Up Before Brutal SEC Stretch

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer ISeptember 29, 2011

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Derek Dooley of the Tennessee Volunteers watches on against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Keeping a large group of college kids focused on anything for a set period of time has to be a tough task. When those college kids are football players at a top SEC program, one would imagine preaching focus becomes even more difficult. 

That is exactly the task at hand for Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. 

The Vols, two weeks removed from another loss to Florida, get one last cupcake before going into the meat of a schedule that includes an SEC east rival, and three consecutive games against top 10 opponents. 

Fresh off a much needed bye week, the Vols will host the Buffalo Bulls of the Mid-American Conference. The truth is, even this Tennessee team could overlook the Bulls and still get a solid win on Saturday.

Something tells me Dooley will have his young team focused solely on the Bulls this week despite the looming showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs next week.

The Buffalo game offers Dooley and his offensive staff an opportunity to work on some of the issues that have plagued this team before high-stakes SEC football takes over the Vols schedule. 

For starters, running back Tauren Poole and his offensive line have an incredible opportunity to turn things around this week. It should be quite a bit easier to fix the rushing woes against a team that was giving up nearly 200 yards on the ground per game until last week than it would be against Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina.

This game also offers an excellent opportunity for one or more of the Vols young wide receivers to show what they can do in Justin Hunter's absence.

Obviously, it will get much tougher when the competition is ramped up next week, but having the luxury of getting inexperienced feet wet with some success in a real game—regardless of the level of competition—could pay dividends during that rough SEC slate. 

On top of all that, this Tennessee defense could use a confidence-builder after being torched by Florida and Cincinnati with multiple big plays in consecutive weeks. 

According to Dooley, Tennessee's defense has only allowed 3.3 yards per play in 208 of their 217 plays. The other nine plays that have averaged 46.4 yards is what keeps the head coach up at night.

The Vols secondary will welcome first-time starter Izauea Lanier at cornerback as well. The defensive backfield, once considered a strength, has been fraught with inconsistency since Janzen Jackson's departure shortly before the season began. 

Another interesting addition to the Vols arsenal this week will be freshman return specialist Devrin Young. The Vols haven't had a return game to speak of in years. Given Young's pedigree as an explosive athlete with incredible return skills, that could very well change soon. 

While Buffalo may be just another cupcake on the schedule, this game could go a very long way to helping the Vols get their bearings before the big boys come to play beginning next weekend.