Rally time?

This is not Tennessee's first rodeo. In fact, veteran Vols will tell you that the 2011 season feels an awful lot like the 2010 season did heading into the home stretch.

The current Vols are limping along with a 3-4 record after consecutive losses to Georgia, LSU and Alabama. Twelve months ago the Vols were 2-6 and coming off consecutive losses to LSU, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

The Big Orange righted the ship in 2010 and turned the season around, winning the last four regular-season games. The obvious question: How?

"We just refocused ourselves mentally," junior tight end Mychal Rivera said. "In practice there's always that little bit you can go harder. I felt like those last four weeks we really went as hard as we could. We strained mentally because we knew 'This is all we've got until the whole season is done,' so we just refocused on the whole season."

Junior wide receiver Zach Rogers believes a closed-door meeting was a key development in last year's late-season turnaround.

"We came in about the same time last year, called a meeting and decided we were tired of being like this," Rogers recalled. "We put (Tyler) Bray in and, fortunately, it worked out for us. We kept our heads level and kept playing. We also learned how to finish."

Senior tailback Tauren Poole touched on the same theme, noting: "We said we wanted to finish. That was the thing. The leaders stepped up. We practiced harder. We were more focused. We made it an emphasis that we were a second-half football team. That's why last year we finished like we did."

Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson believes 2010's late-season turnaround could be attributed in part to the team's elder statesmen.

"I feel like we really just got it in our minds that we wanted to win for our seniors," he said. "We didn't want them to end their seasons without going to a bowl game. We made each game a one-game season, which I guess we're going to do this year. I think we just went out there, fought hard and bought in."

Knowing what can happen when all of the oars are rowing in the same direction could help the Vols achieve a similar turnaround this year.

"That really does help," Rivera said. "We've got to come in with a clean slate, not think of any of those games we lost, any of those mistakes we might have made."

Senior linebacker Austin Johnson also believes last year's turnaround can provide a model for a similar rally this year.

"I definitely feel that can help -- knowing that we did it last year and letting those (young) guys know that," he said.

Though outscored 75-13 the past two weekends, the Vols seem to have the necessary resolve and enthusiasm to bounce back. Even their freshmen seem encouraged by last season's turnaround.

"I don't think we've got to worry about them. I think we'll be fine," Johnson said. "The seniors have done a good job of telling 'em this season can still be turned around.... I don't think many people came out for practice with their heads down and moping around. We had a lot of energy."

That may be a tribute to Johnson more so than any other Vol. He is filling the leadership role that Nick Reveiz and Chris Walker handled so deftly a year ago.

"Austin Johnson and Tauren Poole are great leaders for our defense and our offense," sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith said. "Austin tells us every game, 'Guys, don't worry about anything. Just play sound, fundamental football. Don't worry about mistakes or the scoreboard.' That's what the defense flows off of."

Rogers also singled out Johnson, noting: "Obviously, you can't replace a Nick Reveiz or a Chris Walker but we've got guys stepping up right now, Austin Johnson in particular. He's a senior leader for us, and he's showing up."

Even with Tennessee reeling from consecutive beat-downs at the hands of No. 1 LSU (38-7) and No. 2 Alabama (37-6), Johnson and other team leaders seem to have the Vols optimistic about the rest of the season.

"We just need to continue to have patience and have faith, and know that we're destined to win football games," Smith said. "It just hasn't come our way yet."

Tennessee's patience paid dividends late last season, as the Vols eventually found ways to win. Perhaps they will do so again.

"That's what we've got to do this year," Rogers said. "We're kind of in the same position we were last year. We went on a run last year, so what's to say we can't do the same this year?"

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