With only two days left before the 2021 TransPerfect Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium, the Tennessee football team wrapped up their second-to-last practice of the season Tuesday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The energy, excitement and focus the team has felt going into the bowl game has been on full display in the on-site practices the Volunteers have had this week. The defensive players who met with the media following Tuesday’s practice echoed a similar tone as the offensive side of the ball: this team is ready to play and finish the season off the right way.
“We’re all dialed in,” senior safety Trevon Flowers said. “We definitely want to win this game. We’ve been going hard all week and we’ve been locked in.”
Offensively, the Vols have reached new heights this year. The defense has been able to benefit from that success and use it as fuel to up their level of play. With this test against a very pass-heavy offense, the mentality stays the same. Defensive lineman Ja’Quain Blakely feels that intensity in their play and is fired up to play in his second Music City Bowl after playing in the 2016 edition his freshman year.
“We know that our offense is fast, our offense is going to score. So, we live by the philosophy, ‘they don’t score, they don’t win,’ so we got to come out on fire ready to go,” said Blakely. “It’s been fun just (being) out with the guys and just enjoying my teammates. This is the last hoorah, so just enjoying my teammates and in Nashville, no better place to be.”
Bowl games are also a great place for the young players to get some work and veteran leader Theo Jackson has seen the future of the program put in the time to develop into an elite group. It has been a case in the defensive secondary all season: next man up. That approach has paid dividends as the game of football demands that the whole team is up to any challenge in front of it.
“That’s a big thing that we’ve kind of harped on all year, just to have no drop-off at all. If somebody goes down, then the next person comes in and they know what to do, how to do it, so it’s really easy for when we do have to come out,” Jackson added. “We don’t have any nervousness of who’s in the game. We don’t have to change up the play calling or anything like that, so it’s just nice to have that feeling.”
The bowl game also signals the end of an era, and for Matthew Butler and other seniors who have given their all for Tennessee every day, it is the last time they will suit up in Big Orange. Players of their magnitude, with a grit for the game, a love for Tennessee and yearning to win and improve as individuals, it can be sad to see it all come to a close. Finishing the right way, as Flowers mentioned, is one thing, but taking it in, and playing their final game in Nashville in front of Vol Nation, could not have a more storybook ending.
“It’s a positive thing,” Butler said. “Eight guys in my class–and the class before me, everybody here, we’ve been through a lot, so I just see this as another milestone. This is my last game, but I was just thankful to be a part and I am thankful to be a part of this really wonderful program, and then pave the way for this program to go places that are above and beyond anything that we can think. You think championship, but how do you win that championship and the culture around the program and all these great things. I’m just thankful to be a part of setting that standard. There’s no negative thoughts like, ‘oh gosh, this is my last game,’ just go out there and ball.”