If recent history is any indication, a rested Tennessee team will play exceptionally well Saturday against South Carolina.
Check out the Vols’ last six post-open date performances:
2012: After a bye in Week 6, Tennessee nearly upset No. 19 Mississippi State, ultimately bowing 41-31 Oct. 13 in Starkville.
2011: After a bye in Week 4, Tennessee bounced Buffalo 41-10 Oct. 1 in Knoxville.
2010: After a bye in Week 7, Tennessee suffered a 41-10 loss to seventh-ranked Alabama Oct. 23 in Knoxville.
2009: After a bye in Week 7, Tennessee played top-ranked Alabama off its feet before losing 12-10 Oct. 24 in Tuscaloosa.
2008: After a bye in Week 12, Tennessee posted a 20-10 defeat of Vanderbilt Nov. 22 in Nashville.
2008: After a bye in Week 2, Tennessee trounced UAB 35-3 Sept. 13 in Knoxville.
Except for the 2010 Bama game, the Big Orange made a strong showing in each of its last six post-bye games. The 2013 Vols expect that to be the case this time, as well. After playing six games in six weeks, they believe they benefited greatly from getting some time off.
No Vol was happier to see the open date arrive than senior running back Rajion Neal. After rushing just 55 times in the first four games, he carried 25 times in Game 5 against South Alabama and 28 times in Game 6 against Georgia.
“It came at the right time,” Neal said of the bye week. “It felt good to have a little time off, just sit back a little bit, watch some college football, have some time with the guys. It came at the right time.”
Senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp thought so, too.
“Definitely,” he said. “Coach (Butch) Jones harps on that – keeping us fresh, keeping us ready to play on Saturday. The bye week definitely helped. We had yesterday (Monday) off, so we got some guys rested up and healed up. I think we’re going to be fresh on Saturday.”
South Carolina enters Saturday’s noon kickoff at Neyland Stadium coming off three games in three weeks – a 28-25 win at Central Florida, a 35-28 defeat of Kentucky and a 52-7 romp at Arkansas. Clearly, the Vols will be the more rested team.
“Rest is always good,” Sapp said. “I’m still young. I still heal. I’m young enough that I recover fast. With the time off you just have to take advantage of it. You have to do all the right things to make sure your body is fresh and 100 percent.”
The body isn’t all that is taxed when a team plays six games in six weeks, as Tennessee did prior to its open date. That gauntlet taxes a player mentally, too.
“Definitely,” Sapp said. “It’s a grind just to play in one game because of the ebb and flow of the game, going up and down.”
Junior tight end Brendan Downs believes the open date after Game 6 has helped Tennessee prepare for Game 7 strategically.
“It helped with everyone getting in the film room, studying more tape,” he said. “It gave us an extra week of preparation and we got some extra practices.”
Like his teammates, Downs feels reinvigorated by the open date, mentally and physically.
“I know for me it was real good,” he said. “I feel great going into this week because of it.”
Junior cornerback Justin Coleman thinks several Vols who were banged up from six weeks of hard knocks will be healthier than they’ve been in quite a while.
“The week off definitely was great for us because we got a lot of time to prepare for South Carolina, film-wise, and to recover,” he said. “Some guys we need to come back will be prepared.”
Even Vols with no injuries benefited from the open date. If nothing else, the rest has given them fresh legs.
“Yeah, we got in the cold tub, got everybody some rest,” Coleman said. “We’ll be ready.”
One overlooked advantage of an open date is psychological. Because they haven’t played in two weeks, the Vols are excited about taking the field again.
After conceding that the bye week “felt good,” Neal added: “But any true player will tell you that if you stay away from it too long you start to miss it.”
So, did he miss it?