KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP/UT Sports) -- Tennessee coach Butch Jones is challenging his team's toughness amid concerns the Volunteers are wearing down as they play their fifth straight game against a ranked opponent.
The Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) will face a fifth consecutive team ranked 11th or better Saturday when they host No. 7 Auburn (8-1, 4-1). According to STATS LLC, Tennessee is the first team since Pittsburgh in 1993 to play seven ranked foes in a span of eight games within the same season.
After losing 45-10 at No. 1 Alabama and 31-3 at No. 9 Missouri, Tennessee will play a third straight top-10 foe Saturday for the first time since 1964.
Instead of going easy on his team , Jones is turning up the intensity and having the Vols work out in full pads.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
"Good afternoon, thanks for coming out. Just a quick recap on the Missouri game, spoke about it in the postgame press conference, I think first off getting off to a fast start is critical in every game but especially on the road, we had great field position and we were never able to do anything with that field position. I thought that really set the temperament of the game. The next thing which I also briefly spoke about is it is a line of scrimmage game and I thought we were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It is what it is. That will not be tolerated here at Tennessee. I thought that anytime a team can rush the football against you for over 300-yards and we had less than 100-yards rushing, makes it extremely difficult.
"I said the formula for this team to win is pretty simple, we have to over achieve. We can't beat ourselves. We aren't going to be, talent-wise, the best team we play but that doesn't make us the best team. The best teams for that given day win, not just best individuals, athletically or individually. So we have to be a team that overachieves, plays disciplined football and we weren't able to do that. Inordinate amount of penalties which is unacceptable. We spend too much time in practice with a full officiating crew, we are talking about the discipline it takes to win football games. We have done a really good job at most stages of the season and that wasn't us Saturday night.
"Everything is based on how you play, how you compete, how you strain, how you play for '63,' which we talk about in our program. It is how you are able to play with the discipline that it takes to play winning football and our players understanding that. That is what we went back and really studied that, how we played the game, how we competed, the fundamentals, the fine details, that is something that we will continue to stress just like we do each and every week.
"I think right now we are dealing with the realities of building a football program and we are dealing with the realities of a football season. There are natural adversities that the game and the process presents itself and that is what we are dealing with right now. Whether it is injuries and being on your third quarterback, whether it is the schedule that we have, the nicks, the bruises, the mental grind that it takes, the lack of depth. Whatever it is. Those are natural adversities that occur throughout the course of the season. Everything is going to be based on how we finish. We put ourselves in position to play meaningful games, every game is meaningful from here on out. Everything is going to be defined on how we finish.
"Another great opponent, another talented football team coming in here. Uptempo, team with a mentality to run the football, great, great challenge. I will tell you this, it is great to be home and playing in front of our crowd this week."
(On the similarities of Auburn and Missouri's offense)
"I think there are some similarities but there are some mark differences as well. I think it is the different personnel groupings that they get in with. The miss term used in college football is the spread offense, everyone has a different definition of what the spread offense is. It is kind of the evolution of the west coast offense back in the day, everyone spoke about it. What is a spread offense? Is it shot gun? It is no huddle? Is it uptempo? Is it 10 personnel with four and five wideouts on the field? What is it? Where they challenge is they are able to get multiple personnel groupings and they play with a high level of physicality.
"The dimension that Nick Marshall brings to their offense, he is a dynamic football player. He can run it, he can pass it. Jeremy Johnson does a great job for them as well. They cause you a lot of matchup problems."
(On moving on from a tough loss)
"I am always concerned but we have great character in our football program. I am going to appeal to their competitive character. Pride and heart matter. I met with our players staff yesterday and everyone is obviously disappointed, and they should be. We didn't play well. That is all of us. Everyone has to be accountable for their self-determination. Everyone is accountable for their preparation and how they perform. We talk about pride and performance all the time, it starts with the coaches, it starts with everyone in our football organization and our football family. I know everyone was extremely disappointed but not discouraged. We are playing for a lot. I liked the way our kids, the feedback I have received from them, we will come back today and we will be ready to go. There is no reason to be. We are fighting for a bowl game. We have an opportunity to play 102,455 in Neyland Stadium. It is an honor and a privilege to play at Tennessee. That should not be an issue. But you always talk about that with your team,"
(On if he thought the team was mentally prepared for Saturday)
"I did. We had a great week of preparation. I thought we were emotionally ready to play. But so much of it is creating your own opportunities and your own momentum. We were never able to do that. We dropped a touchdown pass. That flips the game, which flips the momentum. We didn't have very many explosive plays. Generating three-and-outs. We did a great job to start the game. It is 7 nothing with 12 or 11 minutes to go in the second quarter. It is being about to sustain, it is the overall focus. We didn't have anyone step up and take hold of the football game. That is what you have to do. These are all learning experiences. When you look at all the experiences that we have had to this point of time, both positive and both negative, they should really enforce what we are building here. The mentality that it takes to play week in and week out. The toughness that is required. The team chemistry, the competitive character, the effort, the energy, the passion which you just spoke about, and the discipline to do the little things correctly. I think what separates teams, what separates people is the willingness to do the things that nobody else wants to do. Everyone can do them but nobody else wants to do them. Those are the small details, those are the little things. Like I said, we are going through the realities of building a football program, really teaching our players the standard and expectation. That is not going to be a crutch. We want passionate people who expect and deserve to win week in and week out. I know we have a great group of kids and they will be ready to go."
(On Joshua Dobbs improving from his experience)
"I think you take a lot of things from it, you know how cerebral he is. Just like we as coaches, he dissects every single play. Some really good experiences and some experiences that we need to correct and move forward and not make them twice, which he will. There is one where we were in the one-minute drill, run out of bounds and stop the clock, there comes a point in time where is two-yards more important than getting out of bounds and stopping the clock, and we turned the football over. Another one, we throw a deep ball and the receiver is covered, throw it out of bounds, it is first-and-ten. Learn from it, play the next down, put the play on the shelf, and now we have second-and-ten and away we go. Those are all little things that you can rep in practice, kind of replicate it in game like situations but when they are live reps you grow up and you learn from it. I think the experiences that he gained will obviously should continue to move him forward."
(On using four or five receivers at Missouri)
"It was a combination of a lot of things. It was trying to put the best 11 players on the field to win the football game. I think some of it is, we don't have a lot of competition unfortunately at some positions. We have a standard in performance here at Tennessee and if we don't perform up to that standard we have to find alternate ways of different personnel groupings. I think the next thing is trying to play to the skill set of the quarterback. I think there is a number of things that went into that decision, some of the different formations that you saw and we will continue to evolve with Josh as our quarterback."
(On the difficulty of the season)
"Well if you deal with the realities you know it is what it is and the schedule is the schedule and we have to play it and we expect to win every football game. Is it a grind? Yes, it's a grind not only mentally but physically and getting yourself up to play your best performance week in and week out versus the best of the best. A lot of those have been on the road in hostile environments but that's not a crutch, that's not an excuse, that's life in the SEC and that's life at Tennessee. But it does, the reality that it does take its toll but it's a great learning process.
"I talked about this last week and that's part of the process I spoke about is we're youthful. Not only in 24 now freshmen playing but youthful in the learning curve of really what it takes. I think the other thing is when you play well against Georgia and you beat South Carolina, you're not sneaking up on anybody. Everybody watches those games and that's all learning curve and for a lot of these individuals it's the first time being in these situations and that's what I talk about you know we're going through the realities of building a football program.
"I want it now, let's make no mistake about it I want it now, our players want it now, our former players - our Vols for life want it now, our fan base wants it now, our administration wants it now, we all want it now but I see the positives each and every day. People in our industry that really study the game see it. I see it each and every day. Some days larger than others but I see improvements and sometimes you don't see it in the win column. As head football coach I have to take the emotion out of it and I have to look at it. Are we doing the right schemes? Are we putting the players in positions to be successful? Are we getting the most? Are we extracting every ounce of value that we have in every single one of our players and then where do we need to improve? Where are our deficiencies? We have to correct those through development and through the recruiting process.
"You know, It is what it is but we're going to do it right and we are. We're making great strides. We have to put our heads down, eliminate all the clutter and just keep getting better as a football program. I'm just as encouraged right now as I've ever been. I see growth, I see maturation, I see attracting the best of the best student athletes who have great competitive character that want to be in the process of getting Tennessee football back so I'm extremely encouraged. Do we have a lot of work to do? You guys see what I see but I'm also encouraged by where we're going."
(On the offensive line penalties)
"You know, I think it's the combination of a lot of things. I think we put a lot of pressure on them and we should because they play a lot of football here and I said it when we walked in the door, I said it after spring football, I said it in August and I continue to say it, we have to be more physical as a group. We talk about the power position and you look at when you're building your program, most of these individuals played as true freshmen so they're already set back on year in the development phase of the strength and conditioning area - the mentality. Our players are up four days at 6 a.m. doing developmental lifts. That's were a lot of your toughness, that's were a lot of your strength is born and developed in that area so then all of the sudden it's competition as well and we're going to get back to doing what we do.
"Full-padded practice, live practices and we're going to be a tough football team and I know this: those individuals understand that they didn't perform well and I think you've got to give your opponent credit as well. Also they're playing against some very, very talented defensive fronts. Everybody recruits in the SEC. All the teams that are successful they have great defensive fronts that's what I've come to find out relatively quick - you win with a defensive front. They've been challenged going up against the best of the best. Sometimes it's not all them. It may be a back missing a read, it may be the quarterback not getting us in the proper play. It may be where the play is blocked for four yards and we get four yards and we need to have the ability to make somebody miss at the second level. It may be a tight end, it may be a wide receiver on the perimeter. Everyone wants to point to the offensive line but really it's the same thing, its 11 players so I think it's a combination it's being in predictable down and distances. When you don't win first down proficiency I think it's the combination of a lot of things that go hand and hand but they're great competitive young men. They understand what they need to do to get better and they're hungry. They were all in my office on Sunday and they understand and they know. They'll continue to get better and we still have a lot of football left to be played."
(On Josh Smith)
"I think he has to just continue to progress and I think he's going through the maturation phase of a true freshmen. Josh needs to take his practice to the games. Josh, I'll tell you right now, has the best hands on our football team. He's extremely competitive. He brings it every day in practice. He's extremely difficult and hard on himself which we want, that's a mark of a great competitor. Now it's taking the practice field to the game field and he's a young man with a tremendous amount of upside and he'll be fine. It goes through those things where he's trying to make a play and he doesn't catch the ball with his eyes, you know he tries to run before he catches the football. Those are all, unfortunately those are all growing pains that we're going through with all of our players and not just Josh but a lot of the true freshmen. It just so happened that his mistake was magnified because he was in the open field and it was a touchdown. I believe in Josh Smith, he's going to be fine."
"Absolutely... There are some individuals - you treat everyone in your football program fairly but every individual reacts to different things so one way you motivate one man may not be the same for the other so you have to find ways to get them to perform at their optimum levels so you're right. There are some individuals that I can get after, I can challenge them and they'll respond. There are other individuals there is a different way of challenging. Especially with the guys up front I challenge them because I have high expectations for them and like I said, the offensive and defensive lines of any program are really the poster child for your toughness and your program."
(On full-padded practice)
"It's the standard and that's the way we're going to play football here. We're going to be a physically tough, a physically tough minded football team in everything that we do. We call it Tennessee tough and it's not just a fancy slogan and we have to get much tougher as a football team and I'm not going to tolerate it as a head football coach, as the caretaker of Tennessee football. Tennessee football is not going to be soft. As we know, building toughness is a process, it just doesn't happen overnight.
"There is a cumulative effect that occurs in your winter strength and conditioning program to spring football to August camp to the season and you have to live it. You know, been through this journey before in developing toughness and it takes a while but the great this is with our players, in meeting with them they embraced it and what's that saying, if you want to learn to swim you've got to get in the pool? We've got to get in the pool."
(On Marlin Lane)
"You'll see his role continue to increase. Now he's back to 100% health wise. The thing we need from him is burst at the second level and really finishing runs. The one run on our sideline he tried to finish but you'll see his work load start to increase a little bit this week."
(On how to have success on the road)
"I just know that we're going through a process of what it takes to play winning football on the road. Jimmy and I were talking in the car on the way over here. I believe every road opponent we've played has been a top 20 opponent and every road opponent we've played has been ranked in the top 10 at some point or some stage in the season in great venues and there's a toughness, there's a mentality that goes into it. I talk about creating your own momentum, your own opportunities when you play on the road, just like playing Auburn at home this week, we're going to have to create opportunities. I think it's a mindset of going on the road and I think there's a lot that goes into it and it takes a mature football team mentally and physically to go on the road and win football games.
(On being tough)
"Absolutely, I'll give you the greatest example - two of the greatest examples. We were blessed and fortunate my last year at Cincinnati to basically have a first round draft choice at defensive tackle and a third round draft choice at defensive tackle. Derek Wolf and John Hughes both start. One starts for the Cleveland Browns and one is a good friend of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Their junior years, I think they'd chuckle if they heard me saying it but if one was to my left and one was to my right they'd tap me and chuckle and say they were both soft mentally and we challenged them and the way they developed in a year's time is probably the most development I've seen in two individuals and Derek Wolf is tough, he's physical, he's tough minded and John Hughes is a young man we spoke about a couple weeks ago who wasn't even being considered for the National Football League. His senior year he made a decision mentally and physically and we challenged him and Steve Stripling does a great job and again that's just something that doesn't happen overnight.
"You have to live that each and every day. You have to live toughness every day in your football program and you just can't talk about it, you've got to be about it. It's got to stem in practice. It's got to stem with all the different things that we talk about and a lot of it is strength and the strength and conditioning. Some is will; some is technique. Some is being in great shape. You can't play physical if you're not in great shape. And a lot of it is the way you use your hands. A lot of it is body position; some of it is the way you run your feet. So there's a lot that goes into the definition of being tough."
(On how Dobbs did on the zone-read)
"None of them were predetermined calls, and you'll see some different quarterback runs slowly be implemented into our offense. I thought there were still a couple of times there were some yardage out there where he could've pulled the football, but I thought for the most part he did a very, very good job from that aspect."
(On how much he will benefit from 42 pass attempts)
"I think a lot, and I think that shows confidence in him, confidence in the players around him, but I do. He just didn't go in against a great opponent and hand the football off. We asked him to throw play-action, spread them out. Every kind of route combination you can think of, all kinds of depths from deep to intermediate, short to controlled passing game, quick gain. So, we've asked him and it's just the overall level of consistency. We've talked about starting a game off fast. We have fourth and four at the 38-37 yard line, and we have a completion play for first down, he overthrows it. Why? Because he over strides in the pocket. Those are all things that he'll continue to develop and get better.
"On another note for everyone, Nathan Peterman will practice and he'll be full go this week. He's done an exceptional job. Jason McVeigh, our entire training staff, has done a tremendous job and so he'll be full go. I think the other individual I'd be remiss if I didn't speak about, is Michael Palardy and the job that Jason (McVeigh) and his staff did as well in terms of, we didn't think Mike was going to be able to kick Saturday. You talk about the stress and the life of a head football coach and coaches; he comes to practice on Thursday with major back spasms. He couldn't even walk. Friday it was touch and go and then Saturday he has one of his best performances of the year. We talk about consistency in performance. When you talked about the seniors, when you talked about all the stuff of this football team, and when I met with them I used the greatest illustration.
"I can sit here and tell you John Hughes illustrations and Derek Wolfe stories, but let's talk about our players, Michael Palardy. Here's an individual for whatever occurred in the past, it occurred in the past. He's the same individual physically, gotten stronger, but mentally he's completely different. When I looked at them, I said, `Tell me the difference in Michael Palardy in one year's time.' On his field goal attempt, I walked over to him and I said, `What are you thinking range wise? Tell me where we need to get to.' He (Palardy) goes, `Coach, I can make it from there.' Through experience I know anytime you ask a kicker, they're going to tell you he can make it. I'm like, `No, talk to me. Where do we need to get to?' He says, `Coach I got ya.' He had the one poor punt then he has a great punt and JR Carr does a tremendous job of downing the ball on the two inch line. He (Palardy) comes up to me and says, `I got your back. That was for that missed punt the previous snap.' He's playing with a lot of confidence and belief right now and that's a great illustration for every player in our football program, that development process.
"That's part of when I talk about we want it now, that's part of the evolution of our football program from the APR to academics. You want to know why Alton Howard's playing well? Alton Howard's doing well at school. Alton Howard is one of the first individuals in the building. He's early in meetings, he's asking questions, he's leading, he has accountability not only to his self but he's holding now the other wide receivers accountable. That's growth. That didn't happen in August. It didn't happen in September. That started to formulate in October. Those are all great stories that nobody else sees because we see it every day."
(On Antonio Richardson playing right tackle)
"We'll continue to move him around, but for that particular game that was a short yardage plan. Really, that was an unbalanced set. We had him and Ja'Wuan (James) on the same side. So, those are just different game plan scenarios on our goal line and short yardage packages. Next week you may be sitting in here and he may play fullback. Heck I don't know, maybe he'll be in the gun doing the `Volcat' package, I don't know we'll see."
(On if Nathan Peterman is the No. 2 quarterback)
"It's all based on preparation. I think Riley (Ferguson) has done, it's hard for Riley. He's a competitive young man and he wants to be out there and only one quarterback can play right now. Just like we speak about every week, it's whatever individual has had the best week of practice. They'll put them in positions to play in the game."
(On if Auburn is an example of growing a program)
"Yeah, they're a different team. They have great team speed. They play with a high level of physicality. They have great wide outs. Defensively, tremendous effort to get to the football and they're tough and they're physical. Nick Marshall brings a-whole-nother element to their football program, but so does Jeremy (Johnson) as well. They have a ton of confidence. They're a top ten football team and very deservingly so."
(On picking up recruits after losses)
"I think, first of all, I think people around the country feel it and they see what's going on. Sometimes the results aren't measured on the field but people see what's going on here. They can feel the energy, they can feel the vision, and it's Tennessee. We're a national brand and we have a great product to sale. Better yet, we have great people here. We have a passionate fan base. I'm all in. This is the best place in the country. I firmly believe it and I've been around, now, all over the country.
"There's only one Tennessee. So, it's an opportunity to build something. It's an opportunity to be a part of something extremely special. It's going to mean more when we get back to being the Tennessee standard of football that we all come to expect. It's a work in progress and we have three games left. We're playing for a lot right now in our program. We have to go back to the fundamental aspect that I talked about in August when I sat up here before you. Focus on the process and the results will come.
"What does it really take to play winning football? Developing our football program minute by minute, day by day, hour by hour, week by week, and month by month. I know you guys get sick and tired of hearing me say that, but really that's the only way you get it. You have to keep things in perspective. I know this, love is conditional and praise and blame, it's all the same. You've just got to put your head down and keep plugging. A good friend of mine, a former boss, who said you always find out who's really in. When you win, everybody text messages you, but when you lose, you really find out who your true friends are. Your text messages are about cut in half. On the positive, you don't have to respond to as many, but I'd rather be responding to them."
(On the run defense against Auburn)
"We better get tough. We better get more physical in a hurry. The thing that we didn't do a very good job of is getting off blocks. We call that the junction point. There were a number of times where our three-technique got led. Anytime the three-technique gets led, you're in trouble. Everything about playing great defense and great run defense is gap integrity. When everyone's being responsible for a gap and holding your assignment. It's our linebackers taking their run-pass read off the EOL and man on the line. There are a couple of times where, we've done it over and over again, and the tackle's blocking down and our linebackers taking a pass drop. Those are the small details and we've done it over and over again and they can come to the sideline and tell you.
"Football's a game of quick second decisions. Football is a game that's played off of instincts and trusting what you see with your eyes and your eye discipline. Those are the things that we have to get corrected: getting off blocks, maintaining our gaps, not being a gap short because you let a guard reach you as a three technique or the center reaching our one technique. That's inexcusable. That has to deal with your hand violence, your pad level, and your overall strain to get to your gap. We better get it corrected in a hurry. I think they threw eight passes last week and they have a mentality to run the football. The thing about Auburn is they can beat you with quick screens, they can beat you with deep balls, and they can beat you with quarterback runs. If they decide to line up and run power offense at you, they can beat you. Like I said, they're a good physical football team."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JAMES STONE
(On full-contact practices)
"I just feel like you have to be smart about it, but at the same time, you have to realize that it is the only way to go out there and play as physical as you want to play. You have to practice it at full speed and contact. I feel like Coach Jones is going to be smart with it, and he will get us going with full physicality."
(On Joshua Dobbs' first start)
"I have been talking to him and letting him know that the offensive line has his back. He showed incredible poise and overall had great communication between him and us. I saw a lot from him on Saturday night."
(On watching tape from Saturday)
"The entire offensive line got together and watched the film. It was tough and disappointing to see our performance like that. We need to be leaders for our team, but we didn't perform to our abilities or what our team expected from us."
(On why performance was so low)
"I just feel like guys weren't ready from the emotional stand point, but I don't think the focus was completely there either. We had uncharacteristic penalties. Those are in excusable from the offensive line stand point."
(On what caused penalties)
"It was a combination of things. I can't give you an exact reason why we had those penalties. That is uncharacteristic of us, and it is something that we really try to focus on being disciplined in practice. When it doesn't show up on Saturdays, you know it will be addressed and fixed with the coaches that we have."
(On being back home)
"I think the team has a great atmosphere when we are at home. When we play at Neyland, it gets the team going. That is where our big performances have come this season. I think the team is really looking forward to play at home again in front of our crowd. It helps us too by playing these meaningful games in front of our crowd."
(On Coach Jones' message yesterday)
"He basically told us that we didn't play our brand of football out there, and we're not going to represent Tennessee like that. We're not going to go out there and continue to represent Tennessee that way like we did Saturday night, especially on the line of scrimmage. That's another one of the reasons for getting back to the practices, getting more physical, and everybody recommitting and focusing on this process, and finishing these last three games strong.”
(On why Tennessee plays better at home)
"When you're playing in front of that crowd, it's a lot easier to get your energy going, your emotions going, something for us to work on as a football team and as a mentality this year. Guys are more comfortable playing at home."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JACQUES SMITH
(On needing to be more physical)
"Playing in this conference is playing out of the trenches, running the ball, or the inside drill. This will definitely be something to help us prepare for our next opponent."
(On being back home)
"I think every SEC team has an advantage while playing at home. It is something that we need to continue to learn especially when playing on the road. As we push forward to the Auburn game, playing at home is definitely going to be an advantage to us."
(On containing Missouri’s Maty Mauk)
"He is a read-pass quarterback. If he doesn't see anything open, he will run the ball. The majority of the time we thought he was trying to throw the ball, but he was just looking for gaps and holes in our defense to run the ball."
(On Auburn's rushing attack)
"I watched their game against Arkansas at 3 a.m. when I got home. Auburn is pretty sound at running the football and that's something that we're definitely pertaining to this week in practice. That's exactly why we're going back to full pads. We've got to get more physicality in our defensive line play, and we definitely have to stop the run this weekend."
(On what makes Auburn's run game so good)
"They have a very talented offensive line from what I've seen. They're a type of offensive line that strains really hard, and they won't allow you to get off the block. As a defensive line, that's something we have to do better with is fundamentals and getting off our blocks, staying in our gaps and setting our points and having gap integrity like Coach Jones said before."
(On Tre Mason)
"He's a very good running back. I think he's one of the leaders in the SEC. He's had a few good games that I've seen. He's a good back, but we're not worried about Tre (Mason). We're more worried about what we can do as a defensive line to get ready to attack Auburn."
(On why Tennessee plays better at home)
"It's the support of our fan base. To play at home in a place like Neyland, it's always special. Neyland Stadium to me is one of the most special places that you could ever play the game of football in. I love playing here with our fans and the excitement we have on the Vol Walk. It just pumps me up to go out there and give my all for Tennessee."
(On the difference in Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall)
"From that aspect, he's (Johnson) more of a pocket presence, and the Marshall kid, he can definitely beat you with his feet from what I've seen. Almost an exact replica of what we've been seeing the last few weeks. A guy that, if nothing's there to throw at, he's going to take it and run, so with our defense, we've got to have gap integrity, we've got to have all of our points on the quarterback as a defensive line, and we've got to get better at shedding blocks. That's something that we must get better at and that's something that we will [get better at] coming this week."