Vols have to believe they can win
Da'Rick Rogers knew extra defenders were coming his way.
Without help from Justin Hunter on the other side of the formation, it was no secret to Tennessee's other young star receiver that defenses would be gearing up to stop him.
But preparing for double coverage and beating it both physically and mentally during a game aren't the same thing, and Rogers seems to still be coming to terms with what all that added attention on him might mean as the Vols get set to host No. 1 LSU on Saturday (TV: WVLT. 3:30 p.m.).
"Oh yeah, I think it's human nature," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said Wednesday. "Shoot, Randy Moss used to do it. I have never had receivers that didn't get frustrated, but it's how you channel that frustration. That's what I was trying to relay to him on Saturday. You have to stay calm.
"You have to understand that you are going to have some good plays and some bad plays. Just get back in there and keep doing it. It will eventually work."
The catches and yardage didn't come in waves for Rogers as it had in earlier games, and the sophomore wasn't able to make as big of an impact individually as perhaps he anticipated in a meaningful game last week against Georgia.
But while his five catches for 71 yards were a bit lower than his season averages, a part of his role moving forward won't be measured by his personal numbers as he tries to occupy defenders to open up options elsewhere — as he did for Mychal Rivera over the middle and Marlin Lane out of the backfield against the Bulldogs.
"That's something I've talked to Da'Rick about," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "A lot of receivers, really good receivers, can go three quarters and not touch the ball — then they catch four big ones in the fourth and win the game and everybody feels good.
"The other coaches get paid pretty good, and they've got a lot of good players on the other side. They're going to make some plays and do some good things, and you've just got to keep playing. I think that's a very common thing for youth because we have all these high expectations, and when things aren't flowing like milk and honey, we can't believe it."
The top-ranked Tigers (6-0, 3-0 SEC) and their lockdown defense have a tendency to break up the flow of an offense, and the loss of Hunter coupled with quarterback Tyler Bray's broken thumb have already provided some adversity for a UT (3-2, 0-2) attack that was operating at a high level in the passing game early in the season.
But the Vols can't do anything about that now. Hunter is gone for the season, Bray will be out for at least a month and it's up to the rest of the guys to pick up the slack — no matter what kind of schemes they're facing.
"We feel good about it, and has practiced well," Baggett said. "That's something he has to learn. He has to learn to be patient and to understand that sometimes he's going to get doubled and is not going to be open, but someone else will be.
"Don't run undisciplined routes because you are frustrated."
Two for one: The same two options were taking snaps last season against the Vols, and both contributed to what was nearly a monumental upset.
Now a year later, the quarterbacks that combined for three interceptions and needed some late help from the UT defense to survive are sharing time again, and Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson are making life hard on opponents.
Lee has shouldered most of the load while Jefferson sat out four games after an arrest before the season started, and he's responded with some of the finest football of his career. But he's got help again now, and the reinstatement of the mobile Jefferson adds another dynamic to the LSU offense.
"I think they're doing exactly what they want them to do," UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "When people try to stack it up on the run game, they'll throw the ball down the field. Obviously Jordan Jefferson is back and he creates a different set of problems in terms of the agility and the things he can do in the zone-read game.
"Both the guys are proven winners and can do exactly what they need them to do."
Bumps And Bruises: Austin Johnson was again in a red, non-contact jersey when the Vols practiced indoors on Thursday morning. Dooley indicated on Wednesday it was simply a precautionary measure for the senior linebacker.
Running back Tauren Poole was a participant for the second day in a row, and the senior looks like he'll be able to go against the Tigers.