NASHVILLE — Head coach Derek Dooley says it was a unique arrangement that salvaged his first season at Tennessee.
The Vols completed their second day of practice here at Vanderbilt on Monday and Dooley was asked after the two-hour workout to describe his team after one year at the helm. Was there a particular characteristic he could use to label the UT squad preparing to face North Carolina in Thursday’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl?
“What makes this team unique to any other team I’ve been around is you have this core group of seniors and then a whole bunch of young ones,” Dooley said. “There’s not a lot in the middle.”
Dooley said all season long the coaching staff has relied on the strength of this year’s senior class. The 15-member unit didn’t produce a large number of postseason all-star recipients but did lay the groundwork for stability that should pay dividends in the near future.
Especially important were the lessons passed on to Tennessee’s talented underclassmen.
“That requires a lot of teamwork between old guys and young guys, and that’s not always easy,” Dooley said. “Because the old guys have been around, they know what it takes and their last year is important to them. The young guys are new, they don’t really know what it takes, and they are going to do things that frustrate the old guys. Some of the young guys don’t always understand the old guys.
“I think more than anything, the ability of our young and old to work together and play together is what ultimately got us to the bowl game. It was a job well done by those old guys.”
Tennessee won its last four games to rally from a 2-6 record at the end of October.
Among those making a difference down the stretch, senior receivers Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and tight end Luke Stocker made life easier for freshman quarterback Tyler Bray. Jarrod Shaw started all 12 games amid a chorus of first-year offensive linemen. Defensive ends Chris Walker and Gerald Williams held together an inexperienced front line, while Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson were vital at the linebacker position.
“I saw how important (finishing strong) was to those guys in November,” Dooley said. “Just the way they played, competed and approached every day, you knew it was important that they leave out of here on a good note. If we can go out, play well and get a victory, you have accomplished some things. A bowl championship, winning season and it’s something to be proud of.”
Reaching this bowl game also was an important first step for Dooley’s revitalization efforts.
“It means a lot when you were 2-6,” Dooley said. “Certainly as the years go on, we want to keep improving our position in the bowl lineup. But I think it’s a great accomplishment for this team and what they did in November. I think they earned it and, hopefully, they will go out and put on a good show for the fans.”
Kickoff Thursday from sold out LP Field is set for 5:30 p.m. Central time, with the Vol Network and ESPN carrying the action.
Dooley said the time off between the regular season and bowl season causes lots of uncertainty when trying to get a feel for if a team is ready to play or not.
“I think it’s very difficult, and you always worry about how sharp you will be. You worry about losing your fundamentals — tackling and blocking. And then you also worry about the psyche of the team, because it is a lot of time off and you’ve got to be playing for something.
“If you don’t have a big disparity in talent, then it’s who managed that time off the best. You have to have a good combination of relaxing and having fun, but also keeping your focus on the game. It’s important to learn how to manage all the (bowl) events to where it’s not so distracting that you lose sight of why you are here.”
Dooley says it’s great to feel good after a bowl win, but that the bowl game’s result doesn’t necessarily carry over into next season.
“I know the seniors want to end with a win and I think it’s important that these young guys make their mark a little bit going forward.
“It’s an important game, but like most games it’s not the end of the world if you don’t do it well. And if you do it well, it doesn’t mean you’re going to roll and win them all next year. It’s just the next game and everybody will feel good if we win.”
The Volunteers have their final full practice today before staging a brief walk-through on Wednesday.
Elzy will not play
for Tar Heels
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says running back Anthony Elzy will not play in the Music City Bowl.
The team said in a statement Monday that Elzy did not travel with the Tar Heels to Nashville, Tenn., after failing to meet his obligations as a student-athlete at the school.
Elzy replaced Johnny White in the starting lineup for the final three games for North Carolina and rushed for a career-high 118 yards in the finale against Duke.
The Tar Heels face Tennessee in the Music City Bowl on Thursday.