Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at the UT Quarterback Club
When Tennessee coach Derek Dooley told players to come up with two goals for improvement for the team's off week, linebacker Herman Lathers didn't take long to come up with a response.
Lathers has rehashed Saturday's lows more times than he would prefer: The explosive running plays, the missed tackles, the poorly fitted gaps, the lost edges.
Tennessee gave up 274 yards on the ground and 560 yards total, including frustratingly familiar touchdown runs of 75, 72 and 51 yards, in its 51-44 loss Saturday to Georgia in Athens, Ga.
Lathers knows other teams will follow Georgia's script until the Vols prove they can stop it.
"In the SEC, teams are going to try to run on you — especially when they watch the Georgia film," Lathers said Tuesday.
So Lathers has focused this week on what he can do to cement the holes in Tennessee's defense. His goals? Make sure he's aligned properly before each snap and do a better job of reading the offensive formation.
"The breakdown is coming in technique and alignment errors," Lathers said. "Sometimes we aren't aligned wide enough, sometimes we're (inside). It's just knowing what scheme we're in and what alignment we should be in and that should take care of a lot of the mistakes and errors."
The Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) have 10 days before their next game Oct. 13 (TV: ESPN2, 9 p.m.) against Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0) in Starkville.
"We really want to have a defined objective for every player and for every unit this week," Dooley said. "It is so important that these guys learn how to have a purpose every day.
"I told them, 'Everything happens before it happens.' You have a goal, you know what the challenges are to reach that goal and then you prepare to do certain things to overcome those challenges. If we can all stay focused on defining a purpose for this week then we will come out of it a lot better football team."
Dooley said he's had a similar
approach to bye weeks dating back to his time as an assistant coach. Without a game to hold players' attention, complacency can set in.
"When you go out there in an open date, it is really easy to say, 'How long is this practice going to be?' You just get through it and don't really accomplish anything," Dooley said. "And you get worse when you do that."
The linebackers were supposed to be one of the strengths of the defense, but they've taken the blame for some of the big-play breakdowns. Lathers doesn't shirk responsibility, but also said the defense might be closer than people think.
"As one of the linebackers on the inside who makes calls, it's me and A.J. Johnson's job to get our defense aligned right," Lathers said. "It's something we take pride in and something we're studying all week to get better at."
The fourth quarter of the Georgia game provides evidence that improvement is near, Lathers said. The Vols allowed only 16 yards of total offense on the game's final 14 plays.
"We didn't change a thing," Lathers said. "We played the same calls. We played our fundamentals and our techniques right. When we do that, we have a great defense."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.