KNOXVILLE -- The University of Tennessee football team has endured enough losses the past few seasons, some on the very last play of the game, to appreciate every win.
UT's 24-10 win Saturday night at Vanderbilt was only memorable for one reason: It was a win.
"This game, [head coach Derek] Dooley isn't going to be happy about it at all," junior defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "He's going to be very upset with us, and that's fine. We deserve it.
"But we won, and we're happy to move on with a win."
Senior defensive end Gerald Williams, whose career-best game helped hold back the Commodores, was all smiles.
"I ain't going to apologize for it, and I don't think nobody else is, either," Williams said. "A win is a win. Any win is better than any loss."
Nearly every team has games like UT's on Saturday night, and the Volunteers survived that one.
And they are now just a win over Kentucky -- a 26th consecutive win over Kentucky -- from securing bowl eligibility.
"This showed us we can't go out there and play less than our best against anybody, or we're going to be in a tight game," said Vols junior tailback Tauren Poole, whose 28-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-2 in the final two minutes crushed the Commodores' comeback chances.
"We have to focus better, but we will," Poole added. "Our coaches will make sure we're ready. We've stayed on the path. Now all we have to do is focus on Kentucky and continue to play better."
Opinions were divided on why UT didn't perform exceedingly well in Nashville.
Some, such as Poole and sophomore weakside linebacker Herman Lathers, agreed with Dooley's take that UT wasn't focused.
"You could just tell in the hotel all day," Lathers said. "I can't speak for everybody, but I just thought we were way too relaxed for a gameday. It made me kind of nervous."
Others, such as Jackson and senior wide receiver Gerald Jones, admitted the Vols made mistakes but preferred to praise Vandy's effort and execution as the primary source of the problem.
"I don't think we were overconfident," Jones said. "I just think they did a heck of a job making adjustments at halftime to stop us. Thank God our defense played the way they did, or else it probably would have turned out a different story.
"When you lose enough games, you learn to appreciate every win. Every single win is a good win, especially in this league."
Everyone questioned by the Times Free Press on Saturday and Sunday agreed on one topic, though. A better effort will be needed this week.
Dooley credited his team for overcoming the Commodores, but he said a similar effort wouldn't cut it against Kentucky.
"We didn't look like us in a lot of areas, but you're going to have these games," he said. "The key is finding a way to gut it out, and we did that. I hope we learned a good lesson, and I think we did. And you have to learn those kind of lessons, especially those young guys.
"If we play the way we did [against Vanderbilt], we'll get beat 50-0 against Kentucky."
For that very reason, Dooley doesn't want his players talking about a possible bowl game. There won't be a bowl game without a win over the Wildcats.
"I think it's going to be in their mind, obviously," Dooley said. "What I try to do is keep their focus on the game, and competing. I think it's impossible to say, 'Don't think about a bowl game.'
"But I don't see how that helps you play better."
What does help? According to Dooley, staying focused on the process does.
"I just think when you're focusing on what comes with a result, you're not focusing on what you need to do to get the result," Dooley said. "It's like going out there and wanting to win, versus wanting to play well and doing all the things necessary to win. I just think it distracts you from what you're mind should be on. And your mind should be on, 'What do I need to do today to prepare me for next week.'
"If you're thinking about a bowl game, that's not helping you play good."
DOAK RAULSTON SUSPENDED
Quarterback Doak Raulston, who redshirted for Dooley last season at Louisiana Tech before transferring to UT, has been suspended indefinitely from the team after a weekend arrest on charges of driving under the influence.
"I'm disappointed in the decision he made," Dooley said Sunday night. "That's a serious, serious risk that you take when you get behind the wheel impaired. I'm disappointed in him, and I know he's embarrassed. He's hurt his family, and he's hurt our program, and he'll have to pay for some consequences.
"He's not going to practice with us, and we're going to kind of take it and let it runs its course a little bit, legally, and then we'll see where we are."
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