Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner intercepts a pass intended for Tennessee-Martin's Maurice Taylor (1) during a September game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Tennessee won 50-0. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee football players and coaches would be pleased to keep avoiding the cold and practicing in their posh indoor complex.
Unfortunately for the Volunteers, their Music City Bowl game next week with North Carolina will be played outdoors in a Nashville climate that essentially mirrors Knoxville’s.
Lows could dip into the high 20s during the second half of the Dec. 30 game.
“We were expecting to be in here, but they put us outside,” relieved freshman wide receiver Justin Hunter said in the warm indoors moments after the chilly practice. “They want us to get used to [the cold].”
The Vols layered up Tuesday morning and practiced outside on Haslam Field to mixed reviews.
All-SEC sophomore cornerback Prentiss Waggner, a Louisiana native, said he wasn’t overly pleased but “responded really well” to the cold, wet elements.
“I really wasn’t that cold except for my hands and my toes,” Waggner said. “Saturday was really bad, though. That’s probably the coldest I’ve ever been in my whole life. But coaches were telling me, ‘It’s not even half this cold in Green Bay and Wisconsin and all that.’”
But Waggner used to have an extra layer of warmth with his long dreadlocks. He missed those terribly Tuesday morning.
“I miss my hair a lot,” he said. “It would have helped me out a lot. My ears were all cold out there.
“They make a lot of fun of me every day. Today, it seemed like when we came outside, it seemed like all eyes were on me. But my nose wasn’t running today, so that was pretty good.”
Coach Derek Dooley said he wanted to get his players, especially those from warm-weather climates, used to the discomforts of playing in the cold.
“The biggest thing we’re working through right now is managing the cold, because we hadn’t played in the cold or practiced in the cold,” Dooley said. “It starts with making sure you get the right equipment that you need. Everybody’s body is a little different, and then there is a mental component to not letting it affect your execution.
“We’re still working through those details, and I think, hopefully, we’ll get better and better and be ready for the game.”
Dooley said the “double whammy” of cold weather and a few weeks away from practice combined to make Tuesday a mediocre day for UT’s offense.
Senior wide receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore weren’t particularly pleased with Tuesday’s performance, either, and both hoped for a better finish to the week before Christmas break.
“I don’t think we were as ready as we should have been,” Moore said. “Some folks do [take it easy], knowing Christmas is right around the corner, and they’re thinking about how they’re going to get home and what they’re going to do and stuff like that, instead of just coming out here and getting ready for practice.”
Welcome back, Oku
Sophomore David Oku, UT’s backup tailback, told coaches he planned to be back in Knoxville Tuesday night after going home to Oklahoma for a funeral.
Dooley said freshman Rajion Neal, who spent parts of the season ahead of Oku on the depth chart, has done well in Oku’s absence.
“Yeah, Rajion’s done good,” Dooley said. “Rajion hit that little dip and then he had a real good mini-camp [last week] and he’s getting better, so hopefully he’ll be back to form and be ready to back [Tauren Poole] up, but we think Oku is coming back tonight. That’s what he told us today.”
Dooley said he thought Neal simply hit the common “freshman wall” late in the season.
“I think it had a little bit to do with that, and I think it’s also he’s a freshman, and he doesn’t quite grasp the expectation and how to do it,” Dooley said. “Everybody gets it at a different pace, and it is a lot of different things.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.