KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 23-ranked Tennessee football team began preparation for No. 24/25 Florida on Monday as head coach Butch Jones and several student-athletes met with members of the media before an afternoon practice.
Tennessee (2-0, 0-0 SEC) and Florida (0-1, 0-0 SEC) will meet for the 47th time on Saturday, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The game will air on CBS and Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and Allie LaForce will be calling the action.
Jones thanked the University of Tennessee administration and support staff for assisting players’ families who were affected by Hurricane Irma, and said he is preparing Team 121 to play in Gainesville.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Irma,” Jones said. “We’ve been very pleased that we were able to take care of our families that needed the appropriate help. We have a number of families still in town right now and that’s been great. I’m very appreciative to our administration and to our entire football family.
“We fully anticipate playing the game in Gainesville, but (Athletics Director) John Currie is on top of things. He’s handling all the communication, so we’re just getting ready to prepare a football team.”
Jones was pleased with Tennessee’s effort on third down on defense in the 42-7 victory over Indiana State on Saturday that moved the Vols to 2-0. UT did not allow ISU to convert on 11 third down tries, but Jones said the team will need to play with more physicality moving forward.
“In terms of the game [against Indiana State], there are things we were pleased with as a coaching staff, ” Jones said. “Defensively–third down conversions–we were able to get off the field. For us defensively, we were 11-of-11 on being able to get off the field. I thought we improved our tackling from Week One to Week Two. We were able to have individuals gain valuable repetitions, whether it was on offense, defense or special teams. We have more to improve upon and we have a lot of work to do with this football team. It starts with our overall physicality. I didn’t think we played to the level of physicality that’s up to our standards and our expectations. We did not take the ball away defensively and that’s a by-product of playing physical football. Same thing on special teams and then offensively, we turned the football over twice: one that led to a score and one that was in the red-zone or scoring zone. We played a lot of newcomers on special teams this game. It was great to be able to evaluate and put their football identity on video. It’s also them understanding that the expectations never change by the way we play special teams here at Tennessee.”
Special Teams Ranks Among Best in Nation
True freshman Ty Chandler returned the opening kick for 91 yards and a touchdown against Indiana State, marking the Vols’ 11th special teams score since 2013. “It was great to get a kickoff return for a touchdown,” Jones said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on here. That’s our 11th kickoff return and or punt return for a touchdown since we’ve been here. That’s pretty remarkable.” Chandler collected SEC Freshman of the Week honors following the game. With 11 touchdowns on kick returns and punt returns, Tennessee is now tied for fifth-most amongst FBS schools since 2013. In kick returns alone during that time span, UT’s five scores rank seventh. Since 2015, the Vols have scored nine kick or punt return touchdowns, ranking second only to Alabama (10). The program’s five kick return TDs tie for second behind San Diego State (7). “I think that’s a direct correlation to all the hard work that we’ve put into it and that ownership and responsibility that comes with playing winning football on special teams,” Jones said.
Quarterback Pressure Focus Point for Defense
The Vols held the Sycamores to just 93 passing yards last Saturday while stymying their third-down offense. A key to that defensive production was the UT’s 11 tackles for loss that totaled 37 yards. “Well, it’s always a focal point because the structure of a defense is built upon impacting the quarterback,” Jones said. “I believe Indiana State threw three drop-back passes. When they did throw the three drop-back passes, we were able to impact the quarterback.” Tennessee will look to continue its production on defense as it prepares for Florida’s explosive offense. “We can do that by being gap sound, playing physical, getting off blocks and playing the ball in the air,” Jones added.
Tennessee vs. University of Massachusetts Game Time Announced
It was announced on Monday that Tennessee’s Sept. 23 game against the UMass Minutemen will be a 12 p.m. ET kickoff. The matchup will be aired on SEC Network. Fans can still purchase tickets for the contest between the Vols and UMass. Tickets may be purchased online via AllVols.com or by phone by calling the Tennessee Athletics Ticket Office at 1-800-332-VOLS. The student-ticket request period begins Wednesday, Sept. 13 and runs through Thursday, Sept. 14.
Quotes From Monday’s Media Availability
Head Coach Butch Jones
(On the defense’s progression from week one to week two)
“It’s been a challenge to evaluate everything defensively because of the different types of offenses we have played the last two weeks. They have been entirely different. We can evaluate the fundamentals, the effort and the details. I think that something everyone in our football organization can agree on is that we have to get better in a hurry. I’ve met with a lot of our players. A lot of them have already been in and watched the film. They understand that the level of competition is going up. We have to get back to details, accountability and toughness. It’s all about that. One of the first questions I was asked today was how can we impact the quarterback. We can do that by being gap sound, playing physical, getting off blocks and playing the ball in the air. There is a lot we need to get better at, but I do think we showed some progress from week one to week two.”
(On Kyle Phillips playing well against Indiana State)
“We thought he played one of his best games since he has been here. When we graded the defensive line, we thought he played the best in that unit. He was explosive, he used his hands well and he ran to the football. Again, he is another great story of resolve and perseverance. After everything that he has been through with injuries, he is becoming a great leader for us. If you look at all these individuals that are performing well right now, they all have one thing in common–consistency. It’s consistency in performance every single day. It’s consistency in personality every single day. You know what you’re going to get from Kyle Phillips every single day.”
(On Jarrett Guarantano’s first game playing QB)
“I don’t ever believe in the term “gamer.” Those are instead what we call “floaters” where the athlete never develops to their full potential. Jarrett is not like that. I love his approach to practice. He competes every day just like everyone else. That’s the standard expectation across the board for our program. There is no substitute for live game repetitions. He did some very good things. A couple of times he had some really good ball locations. He did a really good job at staying in the pocket and delivering the ball. All the nuances of managing the line of scrimmage and getting in the right plays come with reps. There’s really no way we can simulate that. The more game reps he gets, the better he is going to become. There are a lot of things we need to correct, but I think if you spoke to Jarrett, he would be the first to tell you that. Again, you cannot beat live game repetitions.”
(On the DL lining up a yard behind the line of scrimmage)
“I think everyone is looking for that now. We are always about a yard past the line of scrimmage or hand behind the ball. Not quite a yard, but that is something we continue to talk about, and to grow and develop. We have seen some very nontraditional offenses in the last two games and with the amount of communication that was required last week our players were allowed the ability to communicate. When you have to move the front, shift the front, knock the front and try to find the eligible receivers and do so within a short amount of time, it challenges your preparation. I think that was big for us and good for us moving forward.”
Redshirt Senior Offensive Lineman Brett Kendrick
(On challenges of facing Florida front seven)
“I’d say their top two characteristics are that they’re fast and physical. All of them can run and all of them love to hit, really with their whole front seven. They’re physical players and they’re fast, so we have to raise our physicality up a notch.”
(On trying to beat Florida on the road for the first time since 2003)
“Obviously, it would be huge. My sophomore year, we had that 13-point lead and ended up not getting it done, so that still has a bad taste in my mouth. The other guys that were here, Ethan [Wolf] and all of them, I think we still feel like we have a lot to prove going back down there. It would be huge for our senior class to get that win down there.”
(On if he likes playing in a hostile environment)
“Yeah, I do. I think it’s fun to be able to go into a place [like Florida]. We talk about renting the stadium for however long it takes for us to get the win. If you can go into a stadium like the Swamp and you can make it go silent, I think that says a lot about your team.”
Senior Tight End Ethan Wolf
(On being 2-0 and the confidence of the team heading into Florida Week)
“First of all, 2-0 is a great feeling. That’s our goal. We just want to take everything week by week. Last year is a good reminder of what it feels like to beat Florida and that’s something we want to make a little bit more routine around here. Obviously, having the momentum from going 2-0 the first two weeks carries us into the game as well. We know we have a lot to work on and a lot that we have to get better at this week in practice, but I’d definitely say spirits are high and we’re ready to go.”
(On Florida’s defense)
“They lost some guys, but Florida is notorious for having great defense and they replaced the guys they lost. They played quite a few guys on the defensive line that I’ve seen already. We’re going to prepare for them like we do every year. It’s Florida and no matter who is out there, they’re going to play as hard as they can. In terms of what’s different, I don’t know. They have different names on the jerseys, but they have some really talented players.”
(On the mentality of the team regarding the Florida rivalry)
“It’s Florida and that’s all that you can say. Some of the young guys that are playing for us haven’t played Florida and we have to stress the importance of this game to them. It’s something different and it’s going to be different than anything that they’ve played in these first two weeks. Our main focus is to go out there and play as physical as possible on offense. We have to start fast and hit them in the mouth. We don’t want to get down 21-0 like we did last year.”
Senior Defensive Lineman Kendal Vickers (On Florida’s offense line)
“I know they have a couple guys back from last year. They’re big and physical and we just have to make sure we watch film, stay in the film room and stay in the weight room this week because they’re going to come out physical and we have to do the same thing for us.” (On where the defense is now)
“I think we played well, but there is always room for improvement. The mistakes we made these past two weeks, even though we got the wins, are still mistakes we have to take care of. Florida is a tough opponent and we have to play well against them. We can’t make the same mistakes we did the past two weeks.” (On Indiana State not converting a third down compared to Georgia Tech)
“It was a point of emphasis throughout the whole week to get off on third down. We got in positions against Georgia Tech where it was third and eight, third and nine and third and eleven and they converted a third down. It was a point of emphasis for the week and luckily we were able to take care of that.” (On the incentive of winning at the Swamp)
“I know last time we were at the swamp it didn’t end to well for us, so we have a chance here to right our wrongs and go out there and put on a show. As long as we prepare for the game and we’re playing our butts off this Saturday, I think things will go well for us.” (On playing in a hostile environment vs. neutral site)
“It’s fun playing in a hostile environment because if you come out with a win the fans are quiet, and it just makes you play that much harder to get that silence in that stadium. Anytime you get to go into a hostile environment and win, it makes it so much better