Tennessee turnaround

If the Tennessee football team that beat Memphis 56-28 last Saturday in Game 9 could face the UT squad that lost to UCLA 19-15 in Game 2, the November Vols probably would beat the September Vols by three to four touchdowns.

There's no precise way to quantify how much the Vols improved from Game 2 to Game 9, of course, but the progress has been dramatic. Aided by the return from injury of his two go-to receivers, quarterback Jonathan Crompton has gone from awful to awesome. The improved passing attack has created offensive balance and made the Vols much more difficult to defend.

Now that it is getting some help from the offense, Tennessee's defense is more rested and more aggressive. Heck, even the Vols' special teams have gotten better in recent weeks.

Still, trying to quantify the improvement is difficult ... even for Tennesse's players. That hasn't stopped them from trying this week, however.

"There's a huge transformation being made on this team," junior defensive end Chris Walker said, subsequently adding: "It's so different from where we were and where we are now.

"We're getting a lot of (backup) guys in who can rest some of our starters on defense. And our offense is playing lights-out right now. Our defense is doing a good job of getting the ball back and our offense is going down and scoring."

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Aaron Douglas agrees that Tennessee's progress from Game 2 to Game 9 has been dramatic.

"Definitely, we've made some big strides," he said. "I think it's all of us coming together and becoming comfortable with the system. We're all on the same page, clicking."

Redshirt freshman linebacker Herman Lathers adds a hearty amen to that.

"Our quarterback play has gotten better," he said. "Just us bonding as a team has gotten better, understanding the coaches and buying into the system."

Tennessee's performance was so ugly in its home-field loss to UCLA on Sept. 12 that many fans began fretting that a virtual replay of 2008's 5-7 record was forthcoming.

The Vols' four most recent outings, however, have Big Orange fans thinking more along the lines of an 8-4 record. Tennessee trounced Georgia 45-19, lost 12-10 at then-top-ranked Alabama, dumped South Carolina 31-13, then hammered Memphis.

Obviously, Tennessee's players deserve considerable credit for the turnaround that has produced a 5-4 record. But so do Tennessee's coaches.

"Our coaches have done a great job of just staying with us," Walker said. "It could've been a really tough time with our offense, when they weren't playing very well at the beginning of the season.

"But our coaches stayed with 'em, telling 'em we were eventually going to be a great offense. They are right now. That's a lot of (motivation) for us on defense to go out and get the fumbles, get the interceptions and give the ball back to 'em."

Lathers also points to the continued support of the coaches as a key to the Vol turnaround.

"They just show a lot of belief in us, like going for it on fourth-and-one and believing we can get it," he said. "That just motivates us."

In addition to showing confidence in their players, UT coaches continued showing confidence in their system. They exhibited no worry or panic when the team was struggling in September.

"They never changed their coaching style," Douglas said. "It's always uptempo. I think we really started grasping it as the season has gone on and tried to be perfect in practice. That helps it carry over into the game."

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