Going into last week, Tennessee’s biggest win was a season opening victory over Utah State. After that, the Volunteers collected wins over Arkansas State and UT-Chattanooga while losing a couple of heartbreakers and a couple of blowouts.
Ever since the 10-9 loss to the Florida Gators, the response from the fan base after every defeat may have garnered some pressure. Yet, it’s not that pressure that the coaches were worried about. It was making sure the players still believed in what the coaching staff was trying to do.
Wide receiver’s coach Zach Azzanni says the win created more of a relief in regards to the players buying into what the coaches have been preaching all season.
“It reinforces our style of play.” Azzanni said. “So, the pressure for a coach is off. (Thinking) ‘man I hope their buying in. We’re not producing wins right now. Just please keep buying in, it’s gonna happen’”
All of those thoughts have now been supressed after the last few hours of a cold Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina.
“We just had a really tough victory where the way that we do things contributed to it,” Azzani said. “So for me, that’s added some relief. Like, ‘okay, now they understand. They believe’”
A great example of the players buying in was what we heard during most of the interviews yesterday. “Win this week” was repeated over and over. Obviously being something coach Butch Jones and company have been preaching.
“That goes back to coach Jones’ theme of ‘ONE’” Azzani said. “One day at a time and one common commitment. We feel like this is a game week for us and the only difference between a bye week and a game week is there’s no game on Saturday.”
Offensive line coach Don Mahoney shared similar thoughts as he explains the players have worked hard all season. The payoff last Saturday now gets some of the pressure off of them.
“If anything, it’s a relief more so for me because it’s deserving for (the players).” Mahoney said. “I think the thing has been, when will it finally click in? When would they occur? When would they happen for us? Unfortunately, it came later than sooner but at the same time there’s a concept in mind that we’ve played some real quality opponents.”
It was easily the biggest win of the season and may be the biggest win of the Butch Jones era so far. However, the players and coaches are making sure they stay level-headed and focused on the rest of the season.
“We feel like we haven’t accomplished a thing yet,” Mahoney said. “I told (the players) leaving the meeting today that we’re gonna find out a lot about what our leadership is like and exactly where we want to go from here.”
According to him, Team 118 did not disappoint during this afternoon's practice.
"They proved it today,” Mahoney said. “They want to keep on feeling this way and want to do whatever’s necessary to make that happen."
Linebackers coach, Tommy Thigpen says the pressure is even higher and he could be right. Now, there is an expectation to win.
“We want to win the next three.” he said. “There’s added pressure because it’s been a long time since we’ve been to a bowl game.”
The second-year coach, who was a part of the 2010 national champion Auburn team, also stated that the players believe they will win out and finish with seven wins.
“Our kids go into every game with the mindset their going to win every single game,” Thigpen said.
The Volunteers may be favored in every game from here on out and we will see how they respond to the pressure of being the favorite as compared to the underdog.
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Don Mahoney embraces moment