"We have prepared very well this week," head coach Phillip Fulmer said after Wednesday's workout at Haslam Field. "The players certainly understand the opportunity they have and also the challenge they have. Mississippi State is a fine football team and we darn sure have to go play well."
UT (3-2 overall, 1-1 SEC) entered October dead last in the SEC East standings, having dropped its only conference outing in a mid-September loss at Florida while its five rivals all entered the league win column at least once. But while plenty of football remains, at least the last two weeks have swung every so slightly in Tennessee's favor.
And the Vols may have found themselves a winning formula during the 35-14 run past Georgia.
"The first thing we have to do is not beat ourselves," Fulmer said. "That means taking care of the football, playing the kicking game well and not giving up big plays. We're going to stay on that theme until we get it right, but we're making progress."
The Vols visit dangerous Alabama next week before hosting division-leading and top-10 ranked South Carolina on Oct. 27. First up, though, is a Mississippi State squad that already owns a win at Auburn and stands 4-2 on the young season.
"They're dangerous, physical, tough guys up front," Fulmer said of the Bulldogs. "I told the guys yesterday, it's natural for everyone to talk about other things, but we should understand what we have to do as a football team to get better and have the mindset that we're going to be fundamentally better.
"That's an area that we can make significant progress in. We're going to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses as we go forward."