Vols Prepare For Another Hostile Environment as They Head to South Carolina

(utsports.com) KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Returning to Anderson Training Center after a 66-24 Senior Day victory over Missouri that saw the fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers record the most single-game yards in program history, the Vols turned the page to the next game and a primetime showdown at South Carolina.

After tackling two hostile environments early in the season, first at Pitt, then throttling a current top-10 team and SEC West champ LSU, the Vols faltered against Georgia. With a game under their belts to snap back to focus, Tennessee is preparing for another rowdy environment in a sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday night.

“Honestly, I feel like everyone on the offensive side of the ball is excited to go into this atmosphere,” redshirt-senior quarterback Hendon Hooker said at the podium Monday afternoon. “We’ve seen what it was like at Georgia and moving forward, we know what to expect. Anytime going into an environment like this, you want to prepare and do different things to get ready for that environment, so crowd noise at practice is a thing. But really just going out and locking in and communicating at a high level is what we need to do.”

One of the biggest factors this season has been the play from the offensive line. The front five kicked into gear on Saturday, paving the way in both the run and pass games for the big night. Center Cooper Mays was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week earlier in the afternoon, becoming the fourth Vol to do so this season, joining Darnell WrightJerome Carvin and Javontez Spraggins. The crew has had an honoree in 5-of-11 weeks this season and has seen massive growth under coach Glen Elarbee.

“They’re stronger and playing with better technique,” head coach Josh Heupel said about the unit’s development this season. “I do think their understanding of what we’re doing in year two, the fundamentals come along with that: their football knowledge, their IQ of what we’re doing, but then also defensively what they’re seeing. For us, we’ve had the ability for four out of the five guys to play consistently. The left tackle position has been nicked up a little bit here and there, but it’s been pretty much a two-man rotation. You combine it being year two, their knowledge and the consistency that we’ve had. Those guys have been able to play at a really high level.”

As they say, it all starts up front. Once the pressure is neutralized, the Vols feel they have a chance to compete with anybody—especially with Hooker, who was named SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season on Monday, commanding the Big Orange offense.

“He is in complete command of what we are doing,” Heupel said of Hooker’s play this year. “You look at the efficiency of how he is playing, the ability to take care of the football, the dynamic plays that he has made with his arm and with his feet. We don’t look like we do offensively without him.”

Tennessee returns to Haslam Field tomorrow morning to continue preparations for the Gamecocks. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN in Columbia, South Carolina.

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