Vols catch a break

A football team that's executing well and building momentum hates to be interrupted by an open date. Clearly, the Tennessee Vols are not such a team.

Coming off a Game 3 loss at Florida in which they mustered a putrid minus-9 rushing yards and saw star player Justin Hunter tear an ACL, the Vols clearly needed a week to recover from a disappointing loss, search for a ground attack and come to grips with Hunter's absence.

Mission accomplished.

Tennessee's players think they benefited significantly from last weekend's bye and believe those benefits will be evident in Game 4 versus Buffalo this Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

"I think the biggest benefit was just the extra practices," quarterback Tyler Bray said. "Any time you can get extra practice for the next game it's always going to benefit you."

Clearly shell-shocked when Hunter limped off the field in the first quarter at Gainesville, the Vols have had 10 days to adjust to his absence. That looms as a big key as the team moves forward.

"I think everyone's finally gotten over the fact that Justin's not coming back," Bray said. "We're trying to settle down and get down to business."

Sophomore receiver Da' Rick Rogers concedes that the Vols "most definitely" needed some time to cope with the stunning loss of Hunter, adding: "I feel we took a little hit when he got hurt. It was a little down on everybody but I think it was good that we had an off week. It gave us time to recover."

Tight end Mychal Rivera, one of the Vols who must play a bigger role now that Hunter is out for the year, agreed that having a week to retool the offense "helped a lot," noting: "We talked about it and we see that we have other players. It's part of the game when a player gets hurt — even if it is one of your best players on the team — so everybody knows we just have to step up and fill our roles."

Rivera believes the bye week also gave Tennessee some much-needed time to work on fixing a key element of its offense.

"Getting back to fundamentals ... that's something we really do on an open date," he said. "We don't really scheme that much. We just get back to fundamentals — blocking and running."

Middle linebacker Austin Johnson, one of the team's few seniors, touched on the obvious by noting that the open date gave some sore muscles time to heal.

"I needed it," he said. "Getting into my senior year, I didn't really realize it but my body's starting to feel a little bit older and I'm aching a little bit more. I kind of needed it. I feel fresher."

Even Tennessee's freshmen — most of whom have played too little to have sore muscles at this point — benefited from the bye week. After two months of football that was far more intense than what they were accustomed to, a few days' respite had to be helpful.

"I think it was good for them to get home and get away from here," Johnson said. "Being a freshman, sometimes they can get a little homesick or get too much football. Just getting away from football a little bit and being on your own ... I think it was good for 'em."

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