"We were really upset after losing to Florida but once we watched the film and talked to the coaches we realized we beat ourselves," senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson said this week. "We came out last week and worked really hard on our stuff. I think the mood's pretty chill. Everybody's ready to go back to work."
Certainly, Tennessee has plenty of experience trying to bounce back from early-season losses to Florida. The Vols suffered their first loss at the hands of the Gators in five of the past 12 seasons. Although the Big Orange went 5-0 following those losses, the performances ran the gamut from awesome to awful.
Check it out:
— Following a 23-21 loss to Florida, the 1999 Vols barely edged a mediocre Memphis team 17-16.
— Following a 27-23 loss to Florida, the 2000 Vols annihilated a pitiful Louisiana-Monroe squad 70-3.
— Following a 30-13 loss to Florida, the 2002 Vols beat a so-so Rutgers team 35-14.
— Following a 16-7 loss to Florida, the 2005 Vols overcame a horrendous start to nip a good LSU squad 30-27 (OT) in Baton Rouge.
— Following a 21-20 loss to Florida, the 2006 Vols dumped a half-decent Marshall team 33-7.
The recent past is not so encouraging, however. Each of the past two seasons saw Tennessee follow its first loss by promptly suffering another setback in the very next game. The 2009 Vols fell 19-15 to UCLA, then lost 23-13 at Florida. The 2010 Vols lost 48-13 to Oregon, then bowed 31-17 to Florida.
The obvious question: What's the key to bouncing back from a disappointing early-season loss?
"There's no magic wand or pill to take," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "It's all about preparation. When you lose a game you look back on how your prepared and usually you can find the reasons why that game wasn't successful, as was the case last time with our game. So you go out and prepare harder, prepare better, put the chips on the table and see what happens."
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox essentially made the same point using different words.
"You say: 'Here's the reason we didn't win the game ... here's what we have to improve upon,' and you go back to work," he said. "That's really the only way, no matter what sport you're playing. When you come off a loss - and nobody likes to lose - you spend that time right after the game (pondering) shoulda' coulda' woulda' but then it's time to fix the problem and move forward."
Obviously, the more time a team spends bemoaning a loss, the less time it has to correct the mistake that produced the loss.
"You just can't afford to sit and wallow because nobody feels sorry for you," Wilcox said. "Our job is to fix it, move forward and play better football the next week."
Tennessee can't expect to fix all of the mistakes it made vs. Florida by Saturday's 12:35 kickoff but the Vols believe they've fixed enough of them to play significantly better than they did Sept. 17 in Gainesville.
"I think we'll bounce back pretty strong," sophomore receiver Da' Rick Rogers said. "I think it was critical to have a bye week right after that (Gainesville loss) happened. It was great timing. Our coaches and players really gave a lot of time to do stuff right and get ready for the next week."
Junior tight end Mychal Rivera agreed, noting: "I think the bye week really helped us a lot to get over that hump of the loss. I really think we're going to fire out and do really well this game."
Senior linebacker Austin Johnson admits that the Florida loss lingers but believes the Vols will use it to their advantage.
"I think there's still a little bit of a bad taste in our mouths but I think we learned from that," he said. "I think most of the team has gotten over it and we're ready to move on, get Buffalo in here and get another win under our belts."
After an open date last week and some energetic practices this week, the Vols appear to have averted a Florida hangover. Appearances can be deceiving, however, so Tennessee's effort vs. Buffalo remains very much a wait-and-see proposition.
"There's no telling until you get out on the field," sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray said. "You can have a bad practice, then go out the next day and play a good, complete game, so it depends on how we come out in that first quarter."