"Of course. We HAVE to win," sophomore receiver Gerald Jones said. "We have to win EVERY game. That's my frame of mind. It's a must-win."
Tennessee beat itself in a Game 1 loss at UCLA by surrendering a gift touchdown on a blocked punt, squandering a touchdown of its own on a fumble at the Bruin 5-yard line, collapsing on a pair of late UCLA TD drives, then missing a 34-yard field goal in overtime.
Tennessee also contributed greatly to its own demise in a Game 3 loss to Florida. This time the Vols gave up a 52-yard kickoff return, a fumble at their own 23-yard line and a 78-yard punt-return TD – all in the first quarter – then two turnovers at the Gator 1-yard line in the second quarter.
If Tennessee can reduce its mistakes to a manageable number, the Vols can play with anyone left on the schedule, including the talented Tigers they'll face at 2:30 (CST) today in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"This is a big game right here," Jones said. "We're on the road against a top-15 team with a great defense. This can really prove what we are and how much we've improved week by week. If we win this game a lot more confidence will come to this team ... and momentum."
Beating Auburn would be a simpler task if the Tigers weren't coming off a loss themselves. They led defending national champ LSU until the final minute last Saturday before bowing 26-21.
"They lost at home, and we did," Jones noted. "They're all about proving themselves, and so are we. It's going to be a high-intensity game, just like Florida was."
An upset victory today might win back some of the fans who have jumped off the Big Orange bandwagon in recent weeks. Jones says that isn't a major consideration for the Vols, however.
"If they're really good fans, they would be on our side, regardless," he said. "To get fans on our side (would help) but it's getting confidence (that matters) more than anything."
CBS sportscaster Gary Danielson said during the UT-Florida game that Tennessee lacks star power. He believes the Vols do not have the playmakers to compete with the SEC's best teams. Jones disagrees ... sort of.
"Arian Foster was (projected by the NFL Advisory Council as) a second-round back last year, so that's wrong," Jones said. "Then again, he (Danielson) is kind of right. We don't have stars but sometimes that's good. We've got a team, and that's what you need to win.
"Florida's got Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, and sometimes they get selfish and expect to get the ball. With us, we play for each other. Sometimes it's not that (great) to have that star athlete that's the main attraction. As long as we've got a lot of people that can get together and get the job done, that's good enough for us."
Asked if Tennessee has any stars other than Arian Foster, Jones grinned.
"Of course," he answered, "but I'm not going to say who. Eventually, I think there's a lot of players that can get to The League."