Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press/ Sep 9, 2010 - Coach Derek Dooley encourages his team before taking on the Oregon Ducks.
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley laid out this week’s message Monday afternoon in one clear, concise and concerned comment.
“They don’t have to bring their best to beat us,” Dooley said of today’s opponent, the UAB Blazers. “They can beat us even without their best.”
UAB (1-2) and UT (1-2) have identical records, and the Blazers have played a much easier schedule — losses to Florida Atlantic and SMU and a last-second, 34-33 win over Troy last week.
Dooley has known UAB coach Neil Callaway for years and said his former co-worker has assembled a “great coaching staff” in his fourth year with the Blazers.
“I have a lot of respect for them,” Dooley said. “They’re four years into their program, and this is what you see your fourth year. You’ve got a deep team. They have 17 starters returning, and they’ve played in these kind of games, so they’re not going to be starry-eyed.
“They’ve got more experience, more depth.”
UAB also sits squarely in the middle of UT’s brutal schedule. The Volunteers lost to fifth-ranked Oregon and ninth-ranked Florida the past two weeks, and their October schedule includes No. 15 LSU, Georgia, No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 South Carolina.
“Brutal,” UT sophomore tailback David Oku said. “It’s brutal, man. Brutal.”
A loss today would make the stretch seem borderline unbearable.
“You can’t go into conference play like that,” Oku said. “I know we struggled last week against Florida, but that’s over with. Now we’ve got to take UAB this week.
“We can’t look down the road, but it really would help, getting a win this week.”
Tennessee sophomore safety Janzen Jackson said today will be a good day.
And it won’t be the Vols’ last good day, Jackson vowed.
“I don’t want to sound overconfident or anything, but I believe we’re going to beat UAB and continue to roll,” he said. “It’s going to be a better season than what a lot of people think. I just think we’ve got to be disciplined on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got all it takes to be a great team. We’re just young, and we’ve got to realize what we’ve got and implement the things that the coaches tell us, and believe in it. Once we do that, the sky’s the limit for us. I know we’ve got a tough schedule coming up. But that’s the SEC, and they ain’t got no players that we ain’t got.
“We’re just going to have to take it one step at a time. But it’s definitely possible to beat everybody on our list.”
UAB is next on that list. And if the Vols don’t beat the Blazers, many will predict the worst season in UT history.
Dooley knows firsthand that a loss today is possible. On Sept. 23, 2000, he was an LSU assistant when the Blazers kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to stun the Tigers, 13-10, on a humbling homecoming day in Baton Rouge.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Dooley said when asked about that game. “I actually laid in my bed [Sunday] night going through that game.”
He remembered several specific details, including LSU’s six turnovers.
“They had some good players,” he said of the 2000 Blazers. “They had some defensive linemen that we struggled to block. We were real thin up front. What was different was we had a lot of veteran playmakers. We had some skill guys, but it was the turnovers that got us.
“A week later, by the way, we beat Tennessee in overtime.”
Dooley didn’t need to remember that 2000 game to know his Vols could lose today. These Vols weren’t on the field against UAB in 2000, but they say they know the same thing.
“You look at Ole Miss (losing to Jacksonville State) and James Madison (beating Virginia Tech). Those were Division I-AA schools, and UAB is Conference USA,” Oku said. “I mean, it happens. And by ‘It happens,’ I don’t just mean it’s luck. It’s not just luck. It happens.
“If a team doesn’t play, and they come out there lollygagging, they’re going to get beat.”