Derek Dooley obviously wants to come out on top on the scoreboard.
The Tennessee coach just doesn’t really want anybody looking at it until the game is over.
Dooley has tried to hammer that point home since the day he took over at UT, though based on the lackluster fourth-quarter during Saturday night’s 48-13 loss to No. 5 Oregon at Neyland Stadium, it doesn’t appear to have sunk in just yet.
“You should be able to turn on the TV and based on how we’re competing, you don’t know if we’re winning or losing,” Dooley said during his Sunday teleconference. “Sometimes players, especially nowadays, they get so focused on wanting to win that they don’t enjoy the competitive element of the game. They don’t enjoy when it gets tough how to fight through it, figuring out a way to find solutions to have success.
“So when I say the score doesn’t matter, I don’t mean in the fourth quarter you’re not looking up and seeing you’re down seven or six and we know what we’ve got to do. But I’m saying you’re playing without thinking about the result and thinking more about how to compete that play.
“What happens with our team is we get so caught up in getting behind, we start thinking about losing the game and we don’t compete.”
The opposite would have been true the previous week against UT Martin if the Vols (1-1) had coasted at the end of a blowout victory, but Dooley’s point was made much more clearly when they seemed to wave a white flag against the Ducks (2-0).
UT certainly proved it could compete with one of the best teams in the nation when it led for much of the first half and only trailed by 14 points going into the fourth quarter. But from there the offense stagnated, a couple penalty flags flew and the defensive breakdowns piled up as any hope of an upset disappeared — quickly followed by a chance to keep the score close by the time Dooley would have wanted the Vols to see it.
“It’s something that I addressed with the team when I first got here in spring practice,” he said. “I looked back and researched the games, and when were down 10 points or less, we’re (winless in the last seven games).
“We went into this game in the fourth quarter down 14 and we’re not even competing. That’s something we have to change, and we need to change that before we get to anything else — being able to compete for four quarters no matter what the score is.
“We’re so focused on the scoreboard, which is the worst thing you can do because then you get affected by the scoreboard. Good and bad. We got affected by the scoreboard, and then that affected our ability to tackle, to hustle, to get off blocks, to do our keys, to run the ball, to throw it, everything went bad.”
It wasn’t that way for the whole game for the Vols, though, and they have some positive areas to point to as they prepare for another battle with a nationally ranked squad with No. 10 Florida coming to Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.).
The young offensive line had a productive evening blocking in the run game, and Tauren Poole gashed the Ducks for 162 yards and a touchdown.
Kicker Daniel Lincoln looked healthy and strong in drilling a pair of field goals, including one from 48 yards. And linebacker Nick Reveiz was back as a force in the middle, racking up 10 tackles to lead a defense that held its own for a while against Oregon’s high-powered attack.
The next step is making sure the Vols can compete like that a little bit longer, no matter what happens on the scoreboard.
“I hope we can see that when we do play with the kind of intangibles that we expect them to play with for 60 minutes, that we can go out and compete and we did that against a good football team,” Dooley said. “But when we don’t play with those intangibles, whether it be a lack of discipline, a lack of effort or toughness, then we’re going to get embarrassed.
“I think that’s the case with whoever we play.”
Bumps and Bruises: Dooley updated the status of three players injured on Saturday night.
Linebacker Herman Lathers left the game with a leg injury, but tests were negative and he’s expected to return this week.
Kicker Michael Palardy (groin) and center Cody Pope (concussion) are both day-to-day.