HOOVER, Ala. – Perhaps no other numbers describe Tennessee’s 2012 campaign better than 135 to 72.
That’s how much Tennessee was outscored in the second halves of games against SEC opponents. Take away UT’s win over 2-10 Kentucky and the Vols were outscored by 77 points in the second half in the conference, with rivals Florida and Alabama holding a 48-6 edge after halftime against Tennessee.
Call it a lack of depth, bad coaching or poor adjustments, but don’t forget a lack of strength and conditioning.
New coach Butch Jones and new strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson are working to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Per NCAA rules, Jones isn’t allowed to work with the team in the summer months, meaning Lawson shoulders most of that responsibility.
The most important number for Lawson this summer has been 52. As in 52 110-meter sprints during one workout session – a new record for a team under Lawson’s leadership.
“I couldn’t be there, but our players spoke about it,” Jones said during his first SEC Media Days session. “The thing that was encouraging to me, according to Dave Lawson, is that they were going to stop at a certain point and our players wanted to keep going.
“That’s a building block in our foundation. They had enough pride that they wanted to break the record. They wanted to keep going.”
Slightly-slimmer offensive tackle Tiny Richardson, who is down to 318 pounds after playing closer to 330 in the past, saw a difference this summer after going through two prior programs.
“The conditioning is most definitely working,” said Richardson. “A couple weeks ago we ran 52 110s. I could’ve never imagined myself doing that, so it’s paying dividends.”
Senior defensive end Jacques Smith said it’s more than just the physical conditioning of the summer that will help next season. He thinks a focus on attention to detail will also help UT close the gap in the SEC.
“Coach Lawson focuses on the little things – even the little things like putting your hand behind the line [before starting a sprint],” said Smith. “The little things like that are what this team needed to be critiqued on. That’s what we’ve worked on this offseason and it’s helped a bunch.
“The standard in which we’re setting this year is by far more different than any other we’ve had here and Coach Lawson and Coach Jones have helped us regain our confidence and reshape ourselves as players. We’re all good football players, we’ve just gone through some adversity.”
Will Tennessee be a different team when it comes out of the locker room for the second half in 2013?
“Next season you’re going to see when adversity hits us how we react and there are going to be some positive results,” Smith said.
Times set for opening games: Tennessee now knows its time and television info for its first three games. The Vols will play Austin Peay on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. ET on PPV. The Western Kentucky game will be on Sept. 7 at 12:21 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
The Oregon game had been previously announced as a Sept. 14 game starting at 3:30 p.m. ET on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.
Gordon omitted from roster: Tennessee’s official media guide doesn’t list cornerback Eric Gordon on the roster. The rising senior has been away from the team since early in spring practice and Butch Jones has said he’ll have to earn his way back.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga