The Tennessee Vols‘ theme the week before the Florida game was simple — embrace the noise.

Vols head coach Josh Heupel made a big deal about embracing the privilege of the outside noise/hype. He knew his players wouldn’t be able to ignore it, so he didn’t attempt to tell them to “block it out”, knowing that such a suggestion would be an exercise in futility.

Telling the players to embrace the noise while also focusing on their preparation could be viewed as a risky move by Heupel. But this Vols team showed it was mature enough to handle it.

After the game, Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker explained to reporters how the Vols were able to lock in during a “loud week”.

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Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) is pressured by Florida outside linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) during TennesseeÕs football game against Florida in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.
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“We were preaching that inside the locker room,” said Hooker about not getting caught up in the noise. “It’s about us, it’s not about the glitz and the glamour outside this locker room. And everyone approached it as that. Everyone came in and stayed to the regular schedule. Everyone came in and got extra work per usual…we’re just coming in and doing our job.”

That comment from Hooker shows that Tennessee’s culture is vastly different than it was two years ago when Jeremy Pruitt was leading the program.

Under Pruitt, the bright lights would’ve blinded the Vols and the outcome of this game likely would’ve been dramatically different.

That’s because the noise was what a lot of players were getting caught up in under Pruitt.

And a comment from former Vols tight end Austin Pope after the end of the 2020 season shows the difference in the mindsets of Tennessee players now and then.

“I think some people in the program lack that mindset, as to how hard they’re motivated in terms of why they’re here,” said Pope in late 2020 (via The Athletic). “Like running through the T is just enough for them. Or putting a jersey on and taking a picture after the game after we get our eyes beat in by Alabama, that’s cool.”

Wearing the jersey and running through the T wasn’t enough for the Vols on Saturday.

All they cared about was getting the win.

That shift in mindset is a major reason why Tennessee is finding success under Heupel quicker than anyone imagined.

It’s a new era on Rocky Top. We’ve seen the Vols on this path before, but something about this time actually feels….real.

Featured image via Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

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