Josh's big test

Tennessee's redshirt freshman center didn't get to play in Game 3 against Florida, so he'll be getting his first taste of SEC football when the No. 13 Vols visit No. 10 Georgia Saturday night in Athens.

Josh McNeil realizes that first taste could be an unpleasant one, based on the warnings he's getting from teammates regarding the Bulldogs.

"There's not much they can tell me except, ‘Look, they're going to be bigger, stronger and faster than anything you've ever faced. Just know you're going to be in for a 60-minute battle.' That's the attitude I'm trying to take into the game."

Senior guard David Ligon vividly recalls his first brush with SEC-level defensive linemen. That's why he thinks McNeil could be in for a rude awakening against Georgia.

"I would basically tell him: ‘You think you've played the game until you've played the Floridas and Georgias. It's a totally different world, a whole new level. That first snap you just go, ‘Oh, my God! Wow!'

"Then you hunker down and go to war."

McNeil made his first college start last weekend at Memphis. It was an experience he'll never forget.

"It was a lot different," he said. "In warm-ups you're the first guy doing everything. In the locker room you're in the front instead of the back. There's not a lot of huge differences but I'm a routine guy, so I like to know my routine going in."

Although he was nervous, McNeil thinks he played well in his first college start.

"I got a little anxious before the game because I'm not used to running out there first," he said. "I think I played a very solid game, by far my best game. I think I did a pretty good job."

The experience McNeil gained starting against Memphis should serve him well in start No. 2 Saturday night in Athens.

"I think it's valuable getting that first one under my belt before going to Georgia," he said. "Everything's a little bit different when you're the starter, so I think that helps me a lot going into Georgia this week."

Still, McNeil understands that the Memphis defenders he faced last weekend hardly compare with the ones he'll be facing this weekend.

"Georgia's a much greater challenge," he conceded. "Athletically, they present so many more challenges than Memphis did. But we're looking forward to it and we're ready for Saturday."

The Bulldogs have allowed just 34 points all season, making them the SEC's stingiest defense. Their imposing defensive linemen are a major reason for that.

"What you notice about them is they're all big but they can run exceptionally well," McNeil said. "It's going to be an intense ball game."

That's OK, though. Josh McNeil is an intense young man.

"When you come to Tennessee you think Tennessee-Georgia, Tennessee-Florida – big games that have a lot of implications nationally," he said. "This is definitely one of the reasons I came here and I'm really looking forward to going down ‘Between the Hedges' and playing some ball."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories