KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s football opener was a good warmup. Now coach Lane Kiffin wants to see what his Volunteers can do against a tougher opponent.
“Our guys don’t know what it’s like to play 80 plays in a real game,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to need to have very physical, intense practices this week to make sure that we’re in shape for a full game.”
It’s an especially important lesson considering the Vols’ performance against the Bruins last season.
Tennessee grabbed four interceptions and Jonathan Crompton had 119 yards passing by halftime, but the Vols fell apart as UCLA regained its confidence and put together several long scoring drives. The Bruins won 27-24 on a 42-yard field goal by Kai Forbath in overtime.
“I just feel like this year we just have to make sure we stay focused and do what we have to do to keep that from happening,” UT safety Eric Berry said.
The players think their conditioning will help. Kiffin and his staff have made the Vols’ practices faster and more physical than what they were used to.
“We pride ourselves in, and our coaching staff does (too), in being one of the most conditioned teams in the country, for our offseason workout and how we practice, so I think that has paid off,” Crompton said.
Kiffin rested many of his starters during the second half of the Vols’ 63-7 win over Western Kentucky on Saturday. The Hilltoppers’ only score came in a series in which Berry and lead tackler Nick Reveiz were sitting out.
Western Kentucky was outmatched against Tennessee (1-0), but Kiffin knows that won’t be the case against the more physical Bruins (1-0).
He’s hoping to have wide receiver Gerald Jones back on the field after the junior suffered a high ankle sprain in the Aug. 22 scrimmage. He’s also looking for more from the Vols’ deep-threat receiver, Denarius Moore, now that the junior is healthy following foot surgery.
Kiffin wants to see improvement from his freshmen, many of whom performed almost like veterans in their first game. Marsalis Teague started and led the receiving corps with 86 yards and a touchdown on six catches. Bryce Brown piled up 104 yards rushing and a touchdown. Fellow running back David Oku added two more touchdowns.
“The philosophy of playing so many young players as we did and putting them in so many situations where they had to make plays like we did is for a reason. Usually from week one to week two you see a big jump,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to need to be improved a lot in order to play with these guys.”
“This is a different team, and a different time. We do Kickoff Saturday at Neyland Stadium is 4 p.m.