Tennessee quarterback Nathan Peterman passes against Florida in Gainesville. (AP Photo/Michael Patrick, Knoxville News Sentinel)
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Butch Jones appreciates the remorse players showed in the locker room last week after their second straight loss.
Now the Volunteers (2-2) want to take out their frustrations on South Alabama.
"We're a pretty (ticked) off football team right now," Tennessee defensive end Marlon Walls said. "That's just the truth. We feel like we've let two games slip away, and you only get 12 Saturdays to play this game."
Saturday's game with South Alabama (2-1) represents Tennessee's best chance for a victory in a brutal six-game stretch that features five ranked teams. The Vols fell 59-14 at No. 2 Oregon and 31-17 at No. 20 Florida the last two weeks. They host No. 9 Georgia and No. 12 South Carolina and visit No. 1 Alabama in their next three games after this one.
That makes it imperative for Tennessee to avoid slipping Saturday.
"We will find out a lot more about our football team, our competitive character, our leadership, this senior class (by) the way we approach this week," Jones said.
South Alabama and Tennessee have something in common: Both have beaten Western Kentucky. Tennessee capitalized on seven turnovers to whip the Hilltoppers 52-20 on Sept. 7. South Alabama defeated Western Kentucky 31-24 the following week.
The Jaguars believe they're capable of pulling the upset. They noticed that Tennessee committed six turnovers last week at Florida.
"I think we can capitalize if we can rattle them and get them on their heels," South Alabama linebacker Clifton Crews said.
Tennessee believes it won't get rattled. The Vols say they're better equipped to handle adversity this season.
"It hurts to lose," Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley said. "Everybody hates losing. But I think we're in a great mindset. We're focused on this week and this week alone. We're not looking anywhere else. We're not looking at the past. I think we're ready to go this week."
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's South Alabama-Tennessee game:
QUARTERBACK CONCERNS: Worley started Tennessee's first three games before getting replaced last week by Nathan Peterman, who went 4-of-11 for 5 yards with two interceptions and a fumble in his first collegiate start. Peterman also injured his right hand in that game, so the Vols are relying on Worley again with freshmen Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs backing him up. South Alabama has a two-quarterback system that features Virginia transfer Ross Metheny and Alcorn State transfer Brandon Bridge. "It's a total feel thing," South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. "For instance, we played Tulane and Ross Metheny played 95 percent of the snaps because he was playing extremely well and had the offense rolling. There are other games where it's been closer to half and half."
MEASURE OF STRENGTH: The trip to Neyland Stadium should give South Alabama an indication of where it stands in its first season as a full-fledged Football Bowl Subdivision member. In its only previous game against a Southeastern Conference team, South Alabama fell 30-10 at Mississippi State last year.
FRESHMAN INFILTRATION: Tennessee's defense keeps getting younger as the season grows older. Freshman cornerback Cameron Sutton has started each of Tennessee's first four games. Freshman Devaun Swafford moves atop the depth chart at nickel back this week. The next Tennessee freshman to get a bigger role could be defensive end Corey Vereen, who impressed coaches and teammates in his collegiate debut last week. "His whole mindset is what we want here," Butch Jones said.
FORCING (AND AVOIDING) TURNOVERS: Tennessee is tied for third among all FBS teams with nine takeaways so far this season. Although Tennessee leads the SEC in turnover margin, the Vols threw four interceptions and coughed up two fumbles last week at Florida. Tennessee must take better care of the ball against South Alabama, which defeated Western Kentucky by picking off three passes.
RESTORING REPUTATION: Tennessee's offensive line was billed as one of the best in the country before the season, but it got outplayed last week by Florida's defensive front. The Vols are eager to bounce back against a South Alabama defensive line operating at a major size disadvantage. Tennessee's starting offensive linemen average 312 pounds. South Alabama doesn't have a single starting defensive lineman who weighs over 280.
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