Honeymoon over? Kiffin, Vols look to regroup as Florida game looms

Honeymoon over? Kiffin, Vols look to regroup as Florida game looms

September 14th, 2009 by Wes Rucker in Localvideo Sports

KNOXVILLE -- How quickly honeymoons can end in major college football.

Seven days after leaving Neyland Stadium to a rousing ovation reserved for program saviors, Lane Kiffin left the field with Tennessee fans booing his team's 19-15 upset loss to UCLA.

"Embarrassing," Kiffin said of his offense's 208-yard effort against the Bruins.

But, believe it or not, Kiffin had larger concerns in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's setback.

First-year bumps in the road are typically tolerated, even in the Southeastern Conference, but few coaches accept players pointing fingers at each other when times are tough. And Kiffin saw signs of that in the postgame locker room.

"That was very discouraging for our second game together," Kiffin said. "We would have liked to go into SEC play 2-0, but this is something we have to learn from. We have to learn to stay together, come back and rally after a loss like that and get ready for SEC play."

And the Volunteers clearly weren't ready for that Saturday night, their coach added.

"I saw a little bit of that (finger-pointing) mentality during the game, and I saw a little bit of that mentality in the locker room, so I talked to them," Kiffin said. "I said, 'This isn't what we are, or what we want to be. This isn't what a championship mentality is.'

"A little bit of finger-pointing came out, and we have to teach them. They have to understand this is a team and you don't win that way."

None of the Vols who emerged for postgame interviews admitted witnessing any finger-pointing, but several veterans said they would closely monitor the situation.

Junior defensive end Chris Walker called the situation "dangerous ... very dangerous," and senior defensive tackle Dan Williams said he wouldn't hesitate to squash dissension.

"Everybody knows where we're going next week," Williams said in reference to Saturday's SEC opener at top-ranked, defending national champion Florida. "And everybody needs to know we're going down there together, as a team ... to play for each other.

"This (week) right here could make our season. We can be a team, or we can be divided. It's very important that we put this behind us now. We win together, and we lose together, and we have a better chance to win if we're together."

Senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton -- whose miserable Saturday won't soon be forgotten -- said the team would "be back on the practice field (today) and ready to go forward."

Crompton steadfastly maintained that any disappointing thoughts from Saturday, like every instance last season, were gone the second he stepped off the field.

Asked just after Saturday's game if he'd already moved on, Crompton said, "Oh, yeah."

"There's nothing we can do about it now," Crompton continued. "This is over. I'm going to come back up here after I eat with my family, and I'll watch myself, correct the film and go from there."

Crompton claimed to see finger-pointing, but not the bad kind.

"A lot of guys were kind of pointing fingers at themselves," he said. "In my opinion, that's how champions are born -- they critique themselves and say, 'I could have done this better,' or, 'I could have done that better.'

"But after (Kiffin) said that, guys really kind of got a gut-check and said, 'You know what? This happened, but we've got to go on ... And I honestly think our guys will do a good job of that. A lot guys will go home and just kind of sit on it and think about it and go from there. Tomorrow's a whole new day. That's the good thing about it. We always have another day where we can come back."