“We didn’t come here to be sitting around in December not doing anything but recruiting. I would never speak any differently,” Kiffin said.
At the beginning of October, the Vols’ chances for a bowl game seemed suspect. They were 2-2 with games against Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina up next.
But after taking two of those games and nearly snatching a third win from then-No. 1 Alabama, Tennessee (4-4) seems in much better shape to be making postseason plans.
Bowl representatives are taking note. A Chick- fil-A Bowl representative will be at Neyland Stadium for a second week in a row following the Vols’ decisive 31-13 win over the Gamecocks. Orange Bowl, Outback Bowl and Capital One Bowl reps have were around for last week’s win, too.
“I’m very proud of the way that our guys have performed in what a lot of people kind of looked at as murderers’ row here, this stretch of the last three games,” Kiffin said.
“We’ve got to go back to practicing extremely well and practicing physical in order to make a good run here, one game at a time.”
The Vols need two more wins to become bowl eligible. That’s not much of a stretch with games against Memphis (2-6) and Vanderbilt (2-7) left. They also face Mississippi (5-3) and Kentucky (4-4).
Kiffin puts importance on making a bowl game not necessarily because they reward a good season but because it means he can spend more time on the practice field with his players.
“The bowl game’s always big because of extra practices, especially in continuing to develop your young guys,” he said. “What we would do in bowl practices, we would get some guys that we’re redshirting and bring them up and develop them, looking forward to next season as well.”
GOING FOR IT: Tennessee coaches like to show the confidence they have in their players in going for it in favorable fourth-down situations. So far it’s working.
The Vols have converted nine of 13 fourth-down attempts, or 69 percent.
They even went for it on fourth-and- goal from the 2-yard line against South Carolina while holding a 14-0 lead rather than attempt what would have been a 19- yard field goal.
“We have a lot of confidence in our players, and we want our players to feel that. We don’t coach scared,” Kiffin said.
Coaches consider a number of factors, such as the score, time on the game clock, the momentum in the game, how well the kicking game is working, the gain needed for a first down and whether they’re playing at home or on the road.
ORANGE SLICES: UT is 20-1 all-time in the interstate rivalry with Memphis and holds an 11-0 advantage in games played in Knoxville. ... Since 1990, the Vols are 65-11 in November. Seven of those losses have come since 2004. ... A win Saturday would give Kiffin his first winning streak as Tennessee coach. A loss would drop the Vols to under .500 for the fourth time this season.
SMOKEY SEZ: “Definitely the weeks after you win there’s a lot more stress off, and everything seems to go a little slower. I think there’s a lot more confidence on the team now after this last month and the way we’re playing. (We’re) hoping it’ll carry over for the rest of the season,” Tennessee offensive guard Cory Sullins said about the Vols’ roller-coaster season.