Butch Jones knew that Saturday’s trip to Eugene, Oregon was the Vols’ first real test and would reveal a lot about his football team. And after a 59-14 shellacking at the hands of the second-ranked Ducks, the cold hard truth isn’t sunshine and roses.
“First of all, it better hurt,” Jones said regarding the players. “I told them, this is unacceptable, playing football like this at the University of Tennessee. It’s unacceptable. Whether you lose by two or you lose the way we lost. We expect to win football games around here.”
“It better hurt.”
Just three games into his coaching career at Tennessee, Jones understands it’s a process. But at the same time, a winning attitude is a must.
“We’re going through that growth and maturation phase of learning how to win and what it takes to play winning football and this will not be tolerated. We can never never accept this performance.”
Starting quarterback Justin Worley finished 13-25 for 126 yards, including a 51-yard pass to Josh Smith on the Vols’ first touchdown drive. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, who entered the game with 2:19 remaining in the third quarter, managed just two completions on four attempts for twelve yards.
So what about the true freshmen? Did Jones consider playing them?
“The problem is we didn’t even have a second offensive line to put in at the end of the game,” Jones said. “What are we supposed to do?”
“We’ve got to recruit.”
“At the end of the game we have two seniors out there; you’d like to have that luxury of getting some younger players some valuable reps and we didn’t even have that luxury.”
Jones reiterated that his mission at Tennessee is twofold.
“We gotta continue to develop the players that we have in this football program and we have to go recruit the best, highest-character, quality student athletes to come here. And we’ll do that.”
As bad as Saturday’s outcome, Jones still believes.
“I haven’t lost any faith in our football team. I love our players.”
“They’re giving everything that they have and we are going to demand and expect even that much more,” said Jones. “It comes from me, it comes from our coaching staff. We’re not going to blink. We knew it coming in. Our margin for error is very very small. We just have to keep getting better.”
Tennessee won’t have much time to feel sorry for itself, with a 3:30 pm meeting with the Gators looming next Saturday in Gainesville.
Tennessee defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry left the game with a knee injury and is on crutches. Jones expects to know more about his status after returning to Knoxville. With Mo Couch declared ineligible earlier this week, suddenly the Vols are looking extremely thin on the defensive line. Expect to see more of Memphis freshman Jason Carr, who took the majority of the snaps in the second half. Danny O’Brien and Gregory Clark will also have an opportunity “to answer the call” according to Jones.
Neither Pig Howard nor Johnathon Johnson saw action at slot receiver. Both were game time decisions. With Devrin Young already out, that’s three slot receivers who are injured. Vincent Dallas got the call on Saturday, but it will certainly be something the staff looks at closely this week.