From swagger to stagger

Tennessee's mood following a 63-7 Game 1 blowout of Western Kentucky could be summed up in four words: "The swagger is back."

The Vols' gate will be more stagger than swagger when they show up to face No. 1 Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday afternoon, however, due to a discouraging 19-15 home-field loss to UCLA in Game 2.

Had the Vols visited The Swamp following the annihilation of WKU, they would've been downright cocky. Their high hopes might've been false hopes but you need confidence when challenging the Gators on their home field. Obviously, Tennessee's confidence was shaken by the lackluster loss to the Bruins.

Still, senior linebacker Rico McCoy thinks the Big Orange might have a better chance to win in Gainesville coming off the Game 2 loss than it would've had coming off that smashing Game 1 victory. He believes the Vols have a more realistic view of themselves since that setback.

"It can be a positive," he said. "You can come in 2-0 and feeling like we're supposed to win every game ... like we're superheroes. Or you can come in 1-1 and knowing you've got improvements to make."

Whereas the Vols felt they were bullet-proof in the wake of Game 1, they learned in Game 2 that they have plenty of weaknesses they must overcome by being technically sound and consistently efficient.

"Your weak spots were pointed out in the loss," McCoy said. "That's what we take from that. It showed that you can't make mistakes and that you've got to protect the ball.... We emphasized more of the small things this week, and we'll go into this game more prepared."

Junior kicker Daniel Lincoln also thinks the sobering Game 2 loss enabled the Vols to discover a lot about themselves.

"It is sobering, obviously, to see where we could've won the game in so many places," he said. "It was an opportunity to learn. We're taking coaching as well as we can. We have great coaches, and we've got full confidence in what they're going to teach us. We've moved on from last Saturday. We're going to take those lessons and move on."

Junior defensive end Chris Walker thinks the Vols are mentally ready for Florida, although he concedes that their mood after the Game 2 loss is light years from where it was following the Game 1 romp.

"It's really different because we lost, and it's our first loss with this new coaching staff," he said. "We're not going to be accustomed to losing with this new coaching staff, so we had to go back and watch the film. It kind of made us sick to see little things that happened that could've helped us a lot in the game."

Head coach Lane Kiffin echoed those sentiments, noting that there were "so many ways we should have won that game."

For instance:

- The Vols would've won if they had avoided three costly interceptions.

- The Vols would've won if they had recovered more than one of UCLA's six fumbles.

- The Vols would've won if they had not suffered a critical assignment bust on defense that resulted in the Bruins' lone touchdown.

- The Vols would've won if they had finished fourth-quarter drives that stalled at the UCLA 11- and 1-yard lines.

As satisfying as the Game 1 blowout was, Kiffin believes it may have been too easy in that none of the Vols had to push through any fatigue.

Characterizing the opener as being "almost like a preseason game," the head man noted that "A lot of guys played 20 or 25 plays, then they suddenly have to go out (in Game 2) and play four quarters. Even though we dominated the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball, I don't know if we knew how to finish at that point."

Obviously, the Vols must finish significantly better Saturday. Otherwise, their confidence will take an even bigger hit than it did last weekend.


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