Next up: Tennessee

Tennessee is struggling yet again this season, losing all four of its conference games. The Vols were throttled 44-13 by Alabama last weekend and it doesn't get any easier when the Vols travel to Columbia to take on a South Carolina team that is looking to get back on track following its first two losses of the season the last two weeks.

Tennessee heads into its October match-up with South Carolina on a huge skid. The defense has struggled and the offense has made crucial mistakes. The end result has Tennessee still looking for its first conference win of the season. The Vols enter the game 0-4 in conference and 3-4 overall.

"I think their spirit is broken and it should be," head coach Derek Dooley said at his weekly press conference. "I don't think any of us expected to be where we are right now. We've played four really good teams, they are 27-1 let's don't forget that. They are good teams but three of the four we have had plenty of opportunity to win them. Then in the fourth one we had a lot of opportunity to at least push it to the fourth quarter to see if we could have a chance to win it and we didn't do that. That is the disappointing part. We are not playing good defense and we are not playing well enough on offense to overcome it. That is the way it is."

A loss to South Carolina will ensure the Vols another losing record in SEC play and needing to win three of the last four games just to become bowl eligible. With home contests against Troy, Missouri, and Kentucky with a road game at Vanderbilt, winning all four contests is possible. However, it will still leave Tennessee without a marquee win.

"When I reflect back on these four losses we have had against some good football teams there are certain trends that are showing up in every game and I've had to address this with the team," Dooley said at his weekly press conference. "You've heard me talk a lot about what I believe are the two biggest indicators of winning and losing: turnovers and big plays. When you look at those four games that we have lost, we are negative-six in turnover ratio."

Turnovers have been a key aspect of whether or not Tennessee will win the game. When Tennessee wins or ties in the turnover battle they win the game. When they lose the turnover battle they lose the game. In wins over NC State, Georgia State, and Akron the Vols have forced eight turnovers and have only turned the ball over five times. In its four losses Tennessee has turned the ball over nine times and only forced three, all in the 51-44 loss to Georgia.

The biggest concern for Tennessee offensively is quarterback Tyler Bray. Returning from an thumb injury that forced him to miss five games last season, including South Carolina, Bray was expected to have a big season this year and potentially be a high pick in the NFL Draft if he decided to move on after his junior year. While Bray has put up some big numbers, he has also made huge mistakes. Bray will likely go over the 2,000 yard mark for the season Saturday, needing just 86 yards to eclipse the mark. He is averaging 273 yards per game through the air and has thrown 16 touchdowns. However, South Carolina native Justin Worley could get another shot at his home-state school if Bray continues to toss up interceptions. Bray has nine interceptions this season, eight of which occurred in the four losses.

"If he is loose with the ball he is coming out of the game and we are going to play Worley," Dooley said. "And I told him that. He is too loose with the football and he's been too loose. That's the way it is. We can't win, we can't beat these team turning the ball over. There are going to be inevitable turnovers in the game, so when there is one make them make a great play to get it, not serve it up to them which is what we do."

Frustration hit a boiling point for Bray last week in Tennessee's 44-13 loss to Alabama in which Bray threw for just 184 yards and threw two picks. Bray decided to pout after the game and refused to talk to the media, something that did not go over well with his head coach.

"I was very disappointed and I told him that," Dooley said. "I have no defense for that kind of behavior. He is the quarterback and there is a level of responsibility that you have to the team, to the fans and to the media. If you don't like it, don't play quarterback. That is how it is and I told him that. That is the first time we've ever had a guy do that and that is unacceptable in our program. Man up. That is what you have to do. That is life."

Bray will be challenged by a defense that leads the league in sacks by a large margin and is tied with the Vols for fourth in interceptions with nine. Though the Vol offense has only given up three sacks the entire season, they may struggle with a defensive front that is as good as any they will face the entire season.

"Defensively it starts with their front four, extremely talented and disruptive," Dooley said. "They are probably the most disruptive front four we have played all year as evidence by their 29 sacks. They play with incredible energy and fly around to the ball. They are not very complex and they are able to not be very complex because of that front four. You can really be simple in the back end when the minute the quarterback plants his foot he is getting hit by one of those guys. I think what sums up their defense is Florida had 27 yards offense in the first half and they are down because of the turnovers."

Defensively, a young Volunteer unit has experienced a lot of growing pains this season. Tennessee is last in the conference in scoring defense, giving up an average of 33.3 points per game, 17 points less than South Carolina is giving up. The Vols are last in total defense, twelfth in rush defense and thirteenth in pass defense. Tennessee will be facing a South Carolina offense that will be trying to get back on track after struggling one the road the last two weeks.

"On defense, certainly there are some things that contribute to it," Dooley said. "It's not an excuse. A lot of growing pains with the coaches, a lot of growing pains with the players. I think we have nine guys out there in their first or second year of the program and a new system. It's not an excuse. We have to play better."

South Carolina has been known to be the team that cost two of the past three coaches at Tennessee, counting Lane Kiffin's one season before he traded the mountains of Tennessee for the beaches of California, and could be the final straw for Dooley, who has long been on the hot seat. Johnny Majors was fired in favor of Phil Fulmer after a 24-23 loss in 1993 and a 27-6 thumping of the Vols in 2008 was the final straw for Fulmer. It is not likely that Dooley will be fired if Tennessee loses this weekend, and some think Tennessee cannot afford his buyout to get rid of him this season anyway, but it would certainly be a feather in Steve Spurrier's hat if he can end the coaching career of two of the past three coaches at his home state school.

"Here is the deal," Dooley said. "Are people upset? Of course, they should be. I understand that. I am not in a position to defend what we are doing, make a case for what we are doing. We have to go prove it on the field. Do I feel confident we will? I do. Am I a little disappointed we haven't to this point? Of course I am. I am not upset that people are angry and screaming at the coach. You haven't been in the business if you don't expect otherwise. I have been getting some voicecalls, I don't know how they got my number. But that is the way it is. They are screaming for guys everywhere when you don't play what they expect you to play. What am I going to do? It isn't going to help us me sitting here defending it, we have to go play better. And we are going to do it."


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