FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The previous experience might prove useful.
Austin Johnson clearly would prefer never to have needed it, and he certainly isn't thrilled that he's leaning on it again.
But the Tennessee senior is back in a familiar situation after a 49-7 blowout loss at No. 6 Arkansas on Saturday night. The Vols are completely out of breathing room in the push for a bowl berth as they head into the final two games of the regular season, needing wins in both of them to extend their year — a scenario Johnson is all too familiar with.
"I didn't think we'd be at this point, but we are," Johnson said. "We've been to this point pretty much my whole career since I've been here. It's a challenge that I think this team is ready for, and they know we've got to bow our backs and win these last two games.
"We've got a great Vandy team coming in here, so we've got to go out and win these last two games and make a bowl."
The Vols (4-6, 0-6 SEC) had to do the same thing a year ago against Kentucky and the Commodores, who visit Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.).
UT actually had more work to do during Johnson's junior campaign, entering the final month of the season needing to rattle off four victories to punch a ticket to the Music City Bowl. But if the middle linebacker is going to help lead an encore, the Vols are going to need a much better collective effort than the one they turned in against the Razorbacks (9-1, 5-1).
An improved defense collapsed under the weight of a relentless, balanced offense that picked apart UT on the ground and through the air. The Vols showed some progress with their rushing attack, but it was still plagued by inconsistency and didn't get all that much help from a passing game that featured Da'Rick
Rogers, a big play from Rajion Neal and little else. The special teams might have had bigger issues than either of those phases, giving up a highlight-reel punt return for a score, whiffing on a chance to scoop up a fumbled kickoff and failing to execute a fake field goal.
But even after all that, the Vols still control their destiny. And it's not exactly a secret that it's up to them to determine it, starting with a battle against the confident Commodores (5-5, 2-5).
"I feel pressure every week, you know," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "It's not any additional pressure. We're going to coach them like we do every week and prepare like we do every week. We got a good football team coming in next week, licking their chops. Better get ready.
"We're going to get defined by how we play the next two weeks. We play like crap, we'll go down as a bad football team. If we play good, then we'll go down as a team that fought it to the end and was able to pull it out. It's not really complex."
Dooley has steadfastly refused to label his team in those simple terms all season, publicly stressing that the identity of his second team would be clear when its work for the year is done.
The clock is ticking now, just like it was for his first squad with the Vols.
"I mean, this is the season for us, really," Johnson said. "It defines our season. We've got a tough week this week with Vandy, they're playing great ball right now, they need one more win for a bowl game, we need two more.
"We've got our backs against the wall."
Johnson knows what that feels like. He also has some prior experience fighting through that adversity and into a bowl game.