KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones wants his team to show the same kind of focus at home that it has displayed on the road recently.
Although the Volunteers are 3-2 at home and 2-2 away from Neyland Stadium this season, they've performed better on the road lately. After leading in the fourth quarter of a 19-14 loss at Alabama and breezing to a 52-21 victory at Kentucky, Tennessee barely escaped last week with a 27-24 home triumph over 17-point underdog South Carolina.
Those recent results have Jones planning to monitor Tennessee's pregame locker-room atmosphere heading into Saturday's game with North Texas (1-8). Jones wants to make sure the Vols (5-4) don't get distracted by playing in front of friends and classmates.
"When you're a young football team, you really struggle at times with focus," Jones said. "When you're on the road, you don't have a lot of distractions. It's an honor and a privilege to play in Neyland Stadium, but I just didn't think we had the overall focus for 60 minutes (against South Carolina) like we've had the last couple of weeks."
Teams generally don't have as many players in the locker room before road games because of the limited numbers on their traveling squads. Tennessee usually dresses just about everyone on its roster for home games.
The coaching staff has "educated them and will continue to educate them — especially our players who aren't playing — that, hey, you need to respect your teammate, (that) it's time for them to get locked in and focused and have that great mental effort and mental intensity that it takes," Jones said.
Players struggled to come up with reasons for why they've played better away from home lately.
"We've got a lot of people coming in and out of the locker room at home," cornerback Cam Sutton said. "I really don't think it's a problem though. It's just a matter of the individual, if he's locked in and focused and ready to go."
Tennessee's home games have been noteworthy for comebacks by both the home team and the visitors.
The Vols blew a 17-0 lead in a 31-24 overtime loss to Oklahoma and couldn't maintain a 14-0 advantage in a 24-20 loss to Arkansas. They erased a 24-3 deficit in a 38-31 victory over Georgia. South Carolina dug its way out of a 17-0 hole to tie Tennessee last week before the Vols won on a fourth-quarter field goal.
Jones discussed the importance of playing well for the crowds that have flocked to Neyland Stadium this season. Tennessee has averaged 101,913 fans per home game and is on pace for its highest average home attendance since 2007.
"It just drives you to give them everything that they covet and we covet together as a football program and football family," Jones said. "This week it's going back to improvement, the fundamentals and fine details, getting back to our 'Neyland focus.' "
Keeping that focus could prove challenging against North Texas, which enters the week as a 40 ½-point underdog. The Vols insist they won't overlook the Conference USA program.
"These guys, they're good," offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "They're football players, you know what I mean? They put their pants on just like us. We just have to be focused and understand that every snap is valuable."
NOTES: Jones said Joshua Dobbs was "banged up a little bit" against South Carolina but indicated that it wouldn't affect the quarterback's status for the North Texas game. Dobbs said he wasn't hurt and that he felt "perfectly fine." ... Jones said school officials had a meeting Monday regarding Neyland's slippery conditions during the South Carolina game and that "we'll continue to work to have the best playing surface it he country." A rainy Saturday caused plenty of players on both teams to struggle with their footing last week.
AP College Football: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org