Corey Vereen says winning SEC East would 'mean everything' to Vols

KNOXVILLE - Corey Vereen doesn't have to think too hard when picking the favorite win of his Tennessee football career.

The senior defensive end hails from the Orlando, Fla., area, so his choice is obvious.

"It had to be Florida this year," Vereen said of the Volunteers' 38-28 comeback triumph against the Gators in September. "That was one I was waiting for for a long time. That was my favorite of my career."

Tennessee would like for the outcome to ultimately determine who wins the SEC East.

The Vols need an LSU defeat of visiting Florida today and wins in their final two games - against Missouri in today's home finale and at Vanderbilt next week - to play in the Southeastern Conference championship game for the first time since 2007.

The Florida-LSU game will kick off more than two hours before Missouri-Tennessee, but Vols coach Butch Jones and multiple players insisted this week they won't be concerned with checking scores from Baton Rouge, La.

"We've got to take care of business," quarterback Josh Dobbs said. "That score won't mean anything if we don't take care of business We have just to focus on us and play the best game that we can play, and then from there everything else will play out."

Based on the nature of both opponents, Tennessee may have to beat Missouri and Vanderbilt in contrasting fashions. The season statistics and recent trajectories of both defenses suggest the Vols and Tigers are primed for a high-scoring shootout. The Commodores rely on a ball-control offense and sturdy defense to play low-scoring, grind-it-out games.

"Each game has a different formula, and different games present different matchups," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "Some teams you match up better (against) than other teams. Everyone wants to talk about records and stats and all that. That's not what the game is all about. The game is about matchups."

In last week's win against Kentucky, Jones coached aggressively, electing to receive the opening kickoff and trying to steal some points before halftime.

"There's some games," he said, "where I'll walk in and tell the offense the formula for winning is we're going to have to score X amount of points this game. Or walk into the defensive room and say we need to generate a score on defense or we need X amount of turnovers. Or special teams - this is a game where field position is going to be at a premium."

Vereen was key in Tennessee's red-zone defense last week, making two key third-down plays that forced Kentucky to settle for field goals.

"He was our Orange Swarm champion this week," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "He had our most productivity - three tackles for loss, two sacks - and he's like (Derek) Barnett. I said at the beginning of the year I think he's one of the more underrated players in the SEC and maybe in college football. The scouts come in and all love him.

"He plays with great fundamentals, great techniques, great passion, great toughness. He has a team-first mindset. All he wants to do is win, and I expect that he's going to finish out the season really well."

On a defense ravaged by injuries, ends Vereen and Barnett have been the most consistent players. Barnett leads the SEC with 10 sacks and Vereen has six. One of Vereen's two sacks against Kentucky came when Barnett was being blocked by three Kentucky players.

"You would see him being double- and even triple-teamed at times," Vereen said. "I was just like, 'If I don't get a sack' - the dude's getting triple-teamed. If I don't get a sack, what am I doing? I make sure I do my part in production and make sure I help him out so they can't triple-team him. That takes some of the pressure off him so he can be productive."

Vereen was part of Tennessee's 2013 signing class, the first of Jones' tenure, and those seniors want to finish their careers by solidifying the Vols' status as an SEC contender.

"That would mean everything," he said. "That's what we've worked toward every day. That's what we worked toward in the offseason. Everybody was talking about it, including the media, but we took it upon ourselves to make sure we worked hard in the offseason. It's here, so we've got to go take it.

"Obviously what you set out to do is to win championships every year, so if you don't win a championship, you're going to be disappointed."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.