Tennessee Vols' 'disappointed' offensive line ready to bounce back

Tennessee Vols' 'disappointed' offensive line ready to bounce back

September 19th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley prepares to pass in this file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - For Tennessee's offensive line, it wasn't good enough.

For the Volunteers' most talented and veteran unit, though, Saturday's performance at Oregon was a checkpoint, and the chance for redemption is right around the corner.

"They know what's at stake," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said after Tennessee finished Wednesday's preparations for Saturday's trip to Florida.

"I think that they put, as much as we do as coaches or me personally, they're disappointed in what took place, and they want that to change. They are driven to do well, and they are driven to get things going in the direction we want.

"I think it's a matter of them just being hard on themselves and anxious to get out and say, 'Let's get this thing back to where we want it to get going, Florida happens to be the opponent, and let's roll.'"

It'll be strength on strength when Tennessee's offensive line and Florida's defensive line butt heads on Saturday, but the Vols' strength is looking for a bounce-back performance after Oregon's defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage against Tennessee's top unit.

The Ducks often had defenders in quarterback Justin Worley's face as he threw, and Tennessee managed 100 of its 178 rushing yards after Oregon scored the touchdown that made it 59-7.

"We're not happy," center James Stone said Tuesday. "Whenever you come out of games and your offense doesn't have the production like that and you don't get the rushing yards that you want, the offensive line's not happy with that. We know that.

"We hold each other accountable to high standards."

The Ducks' underrated defensive front deserves some credit, and Tennessee's tailbacks could have performed better, too. Oregon presented a different style of defense that some of the Vols' offensive linemen, who have seen plenty in a couple of trips through the SEC, had never before seen.

Mahoney said the Ducks' defensive structure, a three-man front of big, lanky linemen with linebackers lined up in a variety of places, makes it difficult to have big running plays, and the Vols' longest rush on Saturday was 12 yards.

Yet one of the first things first-year coach Butch Jones mentioned after the game in discussing his offense's poor performance was a need to run the ball more effectively.

"We always take it to heart as offensive linemen," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "We want to represent our team well. We want to help our teammates.

"We're just going to go to work like we always do."

James joked Monday that the impending film review with Mahoney would be "way worse" than the players' initial viewing, though Stone said it "wasn't a put-down session."

"We need to be cleaner in protection," Mahoney said. "There were a few things that happened during the game that I wasn't happy with in terms of exactly what happened on a couple of the pass plays where we need to make sure we're allowing our quarterback to feel comfortable seeing things in the pocket. Our communication was better.

"Even with not accomplishing what we were setting out to do at Oregon, there were some things that we can build on."

For example, Tennessee had no lost-yardage running plays, something they've had a bunch in past meetings with Florida.

The Vols averaged 63 rushing yards per game in the past five meetings with the Gators, though Tennessee finished with minus-9 yards rushing in its last trip to Gainesville, when Stone, James and right guard Zach Fulton were sophomores.

The Gators will test the Vols' physicality, and Tennessee will need more in that department than it showed last week.

"I feel like it's been glimpses where it's been really good, and there's been times where it kind of fell off when we don't need it to," Stone said. "I feel like it's something we focus on every week, and Coach Mahoney, he wants us to be a nasty offensive line. He wants us to get after it, so that's something we're always harping on improving.

"This game, how important the run game's going to be, you have to be physical in a game like this."

Tennessee's offensive line imposed its will on less daunting fronts in the first two games, and after last week's hiccup, they'll need to rediscover that level.

"There's a lot of football left to be played, and it's a process," Mahoney said. "We're going through a process, and now what's really the best thing for us moving forward is finding out exactly where we are. I like the approach, I like the maturity of our group and I like the fact that they've been very businesslike this week.

"There hasn't been by any one of them where guys are hanging their head down and it's taking a while to get them out of this funk that they're in from last week."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.