The last road game Jalen Hurd took part in was just over a year ago when his Beech High School Buccaneers traveled six miles to play Station Camp High School, a game televised on ESPN. The Tennessee commitment did not disappoint, rushing for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries and even adding a late interception.
But that was then. This is now.
On Saturday, Hurd and his fellow Tennessee squad will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, to face a Sooners team that has a home record of 88-5 under current coach Bob Stoops. The hundreds of opposing spectators Hurd faced in high school will be replaced by 82,112 delirious fans inside Memorial Stadium.
“It’s going to be different,” Hurd said. “But that’s when you come in, you look at your teammates and you know that you’ve got each other’s back. Every play you’re going to help your team out to try and get the win.”
Earlier this week, Tennessee coach Butch said that more than half his team will be making their first ever road trip. Some of the younger guys have never even flown in a plane before. It will certainly be a new experience for this young Volunteers squad.
“I’m excited to see how our team responds against one of the top three football teams in the country,” Jones said. “Is the stage too big for them? Do they embrace the challenge? Do we understand what it takes to play winning football on the road?
“I’m looking forward to seeing how fast we can grow up as a football team.”
Through two games, Jones can’t complain. The freshmen have exceeded expectations, and it’s a big reason why the Vols are sitting at 2-0. Hurd, in particular, rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Arkansas State and became the first UT running back since Arian Foster in 2005 to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Other freshmen of note from Saturday’s win included tight end Ethan Wolf, who led the team in receptions, and defensive back Todd Kelly Jr., who made his first career start and finished with five tackles.
However, Saturday’s trip to Oklahoma will be a new challenge for the 22 true freshmen who have already played this season.
“It’s my first away game,” Kelly said. “I haven’t really experienced it before, but I know they have an awesome atmosphere. Their fans are great for their team, and we’re going in looking for a win. We’re trying to go 3-0 just as they are. I think it will be a great game, a competitive game, and we’re looking forward to it.”
The experts don’t give Tennessee much of a chance. The latest line from Bovada has the Sooners as a three-touchdown favorite, but there’s a different attitude in Knoxville this year that hasn’t been there in years past.
As Jones said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference, there’s a difference between believing you’re going to win and hoping to win. This team believes it can win.
“It will take a four-quarter game, and we’re going to have to come with our A-game, which we will,” Hurd said.
As a coach, that’s the attitude you want from your young stars. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do to try to prepare them. This isn’t Station Camp High School anymore. This is Oklahoma.
“You never really know,” Jones said. “You try to do the crowd noises and the different things in practice, but you never really know how they’re going to respond until you’re on that game field and it’s for real.”
This Saturday, it will be for real.