KNOXVILLE – Defeating then-No. 9 South Carolina at home two weeks ago got Tennessee over the hump of being unable to knock off a ranked team.
The Vols hadn’t done so since 2009, when former coach Lane Kiffin also knocked off a ranked Gamecocks squad. With that out of the way, last week’s trip to Alabama was a reminder of the next obstacle UT must overcome on its quest to return to SEC relevance – winning on the road.
It’s been over 1,000 days since Tennessee has won a true road game. The Vols last did it at Vanderbilt on Nov. 20, 2010. Go even further back for the last time UT beat a ranked team on the road. That hasn’t happened since the Vols knocked off Georgia on Oct. 7, 2006 – a span of time that has seen four different head coaches in Knoxville.
Tennessee will get another chance on Saturday when it travels to No. 10 Missouri.
“Everywhere we have been, we take great pride in the ability to win on the road,” said coach Butch Jones, who has a 19-19 record on the road as a head coach. “Obviously it starts with winning your home games, but championship teams have the ability to block out external factors and go on the road and win games. Each team is different and has different personalities.
“I think in order to be a good road team, you have to get the first one.”
Getting that first one will, indeed, be the challenge for a Tennessee team that has experienced little success in opposing venues. The Vols did knock off North Carolina State at a neutral site in 2012, but only approximately half of this current roster has ever won in an opponent’s stadium.
It certainly has been a tall order this season. The Vols have lost at No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon by a combined score of 104 to 24. They also lost at Florida (31-17) in September to a Gators team that was ranked at the time but has since fallen to the middle of the pack in the SEC.
Those losses have all been understandable for a rebuilding team. But at some point soon the Vols will have to learn to start winning on the road again. That’s the next step.
“You play Oregon and you play Alabama – those were two very tough road games – those have obviously been the glaring weaknesses for us this year,” said defensive coordinator John Jancek. “We just have to do what we do and get in a rhythm early in the game, get out there, get our cleats in the grass, develop momentum and play that way for four quarters.
“There’s no secret. We have to go out and execute and make plays. We can’t worry about what the stadium seats and how loud it is. We just have to go out and execute.”
.Out: TE Alex Ellis, TE Joseph Ayres, WR Ryan Jenkins, QB Justin Worley
. Non-contact jersey: TE A.J. Branisel, CB Justin Coleman, WR Drae Bowles, S Byron Moore, WR Jacob Carter, S Brian Randolph, WR Josh Smith
Backup quarterback Riley Ferguson still had his lower right leg heavily wrapped. Quarterback Nathan Peterman also had a glove on his right hand as he comes back from a broken thumb.
. Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt is wearing a No. 52 practice jersey this week to simulate Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Maggitt, who will likely not play this year after tearing his ACL last November, has been healthy enough to practice and has been simulating the opponent’s best pass rusher over the past few weeks.
. The kickoff team has been a big point of emphasis in practice this week. It doesn’t appear that there have been many personnel moves on it, but coach Butch Jones clearly wants more from that group after Alabama had two big kickoff returns on Saturday.
. Punter Matt Darr and receiver wide receiver Ryan Jenkins weren’t present during the open portion of Wednesday’s practice.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga