Three weeks ago the offense put up 35 points on a South Carolina defense that ranks among the NCAA's finest. The next week the Vols hung 55 points on Troy. Saturday the Vols scored 48 points in a four-overtime marathon agaisnt Missouri. Scoring 138 points should have produced three wins, yet the Vols went 1-2. That's because their defense allowed 137 points in those same three games.
Still, Tennessee's offensive players don't feel the need to "carry" the team. Junior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James says high-scoring shootouts don't create pressure; they create excitement.
"No, it's actually fun," he said. "We went out there (versus Troy) and put up 700 yards, broke a couple of records. It was fun going out there and having the challenge. They scored late in the game on a one-hand catch, and the O-linemen just looked at each other like, 'Oops! We got to go put up another one.' We take it as fun. We're just competitors."
Senior receiver Zach Rogers agrees that knowing they may need to score a lot of points to win motivates Tennessee's offensive players.
"Absolutely," he said. "We're behind our defense 100 percent. It (winning) is not on one unit of this team. If they're not having a good game we know we've got to pick up the slack, and vise versa. We know what we've got to do: We've just got to execute."
When asked if he feels pressure to score on every possession, sophomore tailback Marlin Lane shrugged.
|Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera caught 10 balls for 129 yards against Missouri.|
Through 10 games Tennessee ranks No. 7 nationally in passing offense (334 yards per game), No. 14 in total offense (495.1 yards per game) and No. 20 in scoring offense (37.9 points per game). Thanks to a porous defense, however, the Big Orange carries a 4-6 overall record and an 0-6 SEC record into this Saturday's game at Vanderbilt.
Still, the offensive players aren't pointing fingers at their defensive counterparts.
"It's frustrating but we're going to stand behind each other all the time," Lane said. "The 3-4 defense change-up is a difficult defense to get into and execute it fast. I feel they've been doing good with it."
If ever a quarterback had the right mindset for shootouts, it's Tyler Bray. The Vol junior is confidence personified. No wonder. His 530-yard passing performance against Troy broke Peyton Manning's single-game school record.
"When our offense is clicking it's hard to stop," Bray said. "When we're moving at a fast pace, it keeps the defense all confused, makes them show their looks and stop trying to hide it."
Although the confidence level of Tennessee's offensive players seems to have hit an all-time high, Bray shrugged off that notion.
"Our confidence is always like that," he said. "I don't want to say we're cocky but we've got a bunch of guys on this team that are convinced we can score on any drive."
Asked if the unit's confidence trickles down from him, Bray smiled and replied: "It's a collective group."
Tight end Mychal Rivera says Bray has been on top of his game the past few weeks.
"I feel like he's just cutting it loose out there," Rivera said. "All of that other stuff is behind us. We've had our losses, we've had our ups and downs. He's just out there being Tyler, cutting it loose and playing as good as he can."
Given how many points Tennessee's defense has allowed, though, every game the Vols play projects to be a high-scoring nail-biter. Rivera says that's OK with the Vols.
"We try to keep that confidence level at all times," he said. "That's the offensive swag we have: Let's go out there and put points on the board, gain yards and try not to worry about what goes on outside of our control."
Here's a look at video interview coverage from InsideTennessee on Monday: