As Neyland Stadium emptied out and Tennessee players tried to digest last Saturday's dismal loss to Florida, the mood was starkly different in Akron, Ohio.
Akron coach Terry Bowden was given a Gatorade bath and players presented him with a game ball in the locker room after the Zips' 66-6 shellacking of Morgan State. Bowden promptly returned the ball to the players and asked each of them to sign it.
"They were hungry to get a win because they've been so few and far between," said Bowden, who inherited a squad that went 1-11 last year. "When you get old like me, you realize how much these games mean."
Bowden is 56, and it has been 14 long years since he last coached in the SEC. He'll get another shot at an SEC opponent when the Zips (1-2) play Tennessee (2-1) today at Neyland Stadium (TV: CSS, 7:30 p.m.).
Bowden coached at Auburn from 1993-1998, a six-year stint marked by a meteoric rise and incredible fall. He was 0-2 against the Vols, losing the 1997 SEC championship game, 30-29, in Atlanta, and falling 17-9 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1998. He resigned under pressure only a few weeks later, less than a year removed from an SEC West title.
By the time Bowden decided to return from a decade-long coaching hiatus, there were few plum jobs available to him. So he's come back the hard way, winning at Division II North Alabama before taking a job at Akron in what is likely one of the lowest rungs on the Bowl Subdivision coaching ladder.
Still, Bowden has approached the job with enthusiasm and has aggressively tried to build up Akron's talent by going after transfer players, the same strategy he employed at North Alabama. The Morgan State win was much-needed fuel for win-starved players, but Bowden knows the task is much tougher today.
"We were playing from the short tees," he said. "We've got to go back on the pro tees now."
The Vols were hacking from the longest tee box last week but were leading Florida until late in the third quarter. The lead evaporated quickly and Tennessee ended up losing by 17 after a frustrating late-game meltdown.
"I was disappointed we gave up 21 (points) in four plays," said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. "A couple of minutes go by and they grind some clock and all of a sudden you're down 17 with five minutes to go. Everything changes."
Bowden said earlier this week that he expected the Vols to be "mad as hornets."
"They're going to want to get back on track," he said.
Still, Bowden has reminded his players that upsets happen seemingly every week in college football.
"They put their pants on the same way we do," Bowden said. "Of course, they have to split them up the back a little bit to get their legs in."
Size is one advantage Tennessee will have on both sides of the line. After the Vols dismantled Georgia State two weeks ago, Dooley spoke of a massive talent disparity between the two teams. Bowden said his biggest concern is that Tennessee's physical advantage in the trenches will force the Zips out of their game plan.
"Any time you play a team from the Big 10 or SEC, your biggest concern is that their physical talents will overwhelm you," Bowden said. "You worry about what we do. Can we correct our mistakes, can we play our game, can we have no missed assignments and execute? If we do that, we'll have our opportunity. Every Saturday, somebody upsets somebody. We have to go out there with the mentality, why not us?"
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.