KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, defensive tackle Kendal Vickers and wide receiver Marquez Callaway met with the media on Monday in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio to preview this weekend’s game against UMass and talk about moving forward following the loss at Florida.
Details a Point of Emphasis for Vols this Week
Jones praised his team’s will to win and resiliency, but also was quick to put out that the team did not do a good enough job with the small details it takes to win close games.
“I think our will to win gave us an opportunity, but our details did not,” Jones said. “When you go back and look at the nuances of the game, we pride ourselves on situational football. That is an area that we must make tremendous strides in.
“We cannot and we will not ignore the details it takes to play winning football.”
Kelly Continues to Emerge as Offensive Leader
One of the major bright spots for Tennessee on Saturday was the play of junior running back John Kelly, who set career highs with 141 yards rushing and 96 yards receiving to go along with a 34-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter.
“What can you even say about the effort of John Kelly and his yards after contact,” Jones said. “He is becoming the face of leadership for our football program. I think that energy is starting to permeate across the team. I think it’s great for our younger players to see.”
The Detroit, Mich., native currently ranks fourth in the country with 540 total yards from scrimmage and leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 116.3 yards per game. Kelly’s 349 yards on the ground through UT’s first three games are the third-most since 2000, trailing only Travis Henry (355 in 2000) and Travis Stephens (412 in 2001), who went on to set the program’s single-season rushing record that year with 1,464 yards.
All Eyes on UMass
Despite Saturday’s disappointing loss, the message from Jones and Vols’ players was that the team must focus its attention solely on this Saturday’s opponent, UMass.
“We want guys to be frustrated that we lost [because] it shows an investment,” Vickers said. “They’ve been showing that throughout the year, but we are a mature enough team to look towards the next week. We got UMass coming up so we have to look towards them. We got to play well on Saturday.”
Callaway said that the team’s upperclassmen made sure to let the younger players know that the season is far from over.
“Just keep our head up,” Callaway said in regards to the upperclassmen’s message to the younger players. “It’s a long season ahead of us, and we can’t let this loss keep us down and hold us back from the next opponent coming up.”
Tennessee-UMass Game Info
Fans can still purchase tickets for Saturday’s game between the Vols and the Minute. Tickets may be purchased online via AllVols.com or by phone by calling the Tennessee Athletics Ticket Office at 1-800-332-VOLS. The game will be broadcast live on the SEC Network at noon ET.
Quotes from Monday’s Media Availability
Butch Jones, Head Coach
“Well obviously, like we spoke about after the game, it was a very disappointing loss. I am very disappointed. I think our will to win gave us an opportunity, but our details did not. When you go back and look at the nuances of the game, we pride ourselves on situational football. That is an area that we must make tremendous strides in. In terms of the situations that presented themselves, it starts with red zone efficiency and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. We turned the football over and we gave up seven points because of it. We can’t do that. Coming out of situations and in terms of the end of the game, we must take care of the football. We cannot turn the football over. We must improve on tackling. We had too many missed tackles, a lot that occurred in space or the open field. The sense of urgency starts with me. It starts with our coaching staff. It starts with our leaders. I’m responsible. I can promise you that we will get to work and make the corrections. With all that being said, there is a lot of football left to be played. There are nine games left. I’m extremely optimistic. I am proud of our players. I think the effort they gave was remarkable. I think it was symbolic on Justin Martin’s play (the forced fumble as the Florida running back was about to cross the goal line). He punched the ball out. But again, it gets back to the small details that it takes to play winning football. We have a group of prideful individuals. If you are a competitor, you can’t wait to get back to work and compete on Saturday. In closing, we cannot and we will not ignore the details it takes to play winning football.”
(On Todd Kelly Jr.’s status)
“We do not anticipate having Todd. He is undergoing getting second opinions. Todd has meant so much to our football program with everything that he has done. I would say that he is out indefinitely. I do not know a timetable.”
(On how do you keep this one loss form turning into two)
“We all hurt. We are angry. We are pissed. Now it’s what we make of it. How do we become better because of this? Sometimes there are situations like this, where you suffer the adversities of a long football season and they can galvanize you. It can bring you closer together as a football team. We must get back to work. UMass is not going to feel sorry for us. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We must get back and we have to go to work. That’s a part of being a mature football team. This is not something that you want to hear, but it is what it is. We have to get ready to play the next game and move forward. The details will not be ignored, I can promise you that.”
(On the quarterback play and the physical play of the offensive line)
“The quarterback is always a bi-product of the individuals around him. We had too many missed assignments out on the perimeter. That was probably one of the most disappointing things. It’s hard enough to compete with our competition. The margin of error in our conference is very small. When you have mental errors, that stops you from being successful. I think Quinten (Dormady) has to continue to improve by not compiling a mistake, a missed assignment or a mental error and try to fix it and make another error. That comes with growth and maturation. Again, the quarterback is a byproduct of everyone around him.
“In terms of the offensive line, I feel like we got stronger as the game went on. I think conditioning became a factor. I liked our pad level. What can you even say about the effort of John Kelly and his yards after contact. He is becoming the face of leadership for our football program. I think that energy is starting to permeate across the team. I think it’s great for our younger players to see. I think we got some young guys some valuable repetitions in that type of game. From that standpoint, I was very pleased.”
(On Cortez McDowell’s injury)
“Unfortunately, Cortez is out for the year. It is a wrist injury. It is pretty much the same type of injury Jauan (Jennings) has. We are going to miss him from a defensive and special teams standpoint.”
(On playing a nickel defense throughout the game)
“Everything is about matching personnel groupings. They have different types of personnel, so we wanted to have our nickel package on the field. Rashaan Gaulden is our starting nickel. He is obviously one of our leaders on defense and one of our best defensive players. We need to keep him on the field as much as possible.”
(On being 6-5 since 11-game win streak in 2015-2016)
“I think that’s just the nature of our competition we face week in and week out. We’re doing the same things, it’s just the small details. Depth on our football team, I also look at as, where did those come in terms of our season. But make no mistake about it, the expectation is to win and the expectation here is to win every single week.”
(On John Kelly’s touchdown celebration that received a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct)
“The energy and passion is John Kelly’s edge. That’s what makes him who he is. He does a great job of doing it in the realm of team. It was just the heat of the moment. I think the passion, the energy (caused it). We spoke about it. He was the first one coming off the field and said, ‘Coach, I can’t do that. I hurt the team.’ So he was the first one to acknowledge that. We have what is called a score standard, and obviously it gets back to the details. He makes a great play but now you’re putting our defense and our special teams in a challenging situation. But John was the first one to come to the sideline and say, ‘I screwed up coach. I shouldn’t have done that. I hurt the team.’”
(On failing to score after having 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line)
“That can’t happen on the goal line. You have 1st-and-goal on the one, and we need to score. We had a run play called. They were a 70 percent heavy pressure football team with all out cover zero blitz, so they have a couple individuals that you can’t account for in your run scheme, so we knew that going in. Would we have liked to run the football there? Absolutely. Then the plan was, on second down, to get underneath center and do a quarterback sneak or run the football outside. Quinten (Dormady) tweaks his knee, and we didn’t think it was fair for Jarrett (Guarantano) to have to go in the game and do an underneath center snap when he didn’t have time to practice the underneath center snap. There’s a lot of nuances that occurred through the course of those two plays, but make no mistake about it, we get the ball down there and we need to run the football, we need to score touchdowns.”
(On progress of LB Daniel Bituli)
“I’m really excited about his progress. I think he’s progressing. We are asking a lot of Daniel right now, not just from a defensive standpoint but from being in the four core elements of our special teams. He’s a backup on some and a starter on a lot. I think it’s just a accumulation of reps, as well. We have an individual that counts the reps, not only on defense but special teams. I think as the season progresses, particularly going into this week, you’re going to see Daniel Bituli growing more and more into his position defensively.”
(On recovering from loss and whether he talked to players on Sunday)
“All of our players were in the building yesterday, which is great to see. I even pulled a number of them aside. They hurt, but they also understand what’s at stake. They’re pretty much conditioned that it’s a long football season. We always talk about that you’re going to have natural adversities that occur during the course of a long football season. Football is life, and it never goes according to plan. It’s the individuals that have the mental toughness, the competitive component, and the competitive aspect that are the ones that (succeed). You just keep working and you put your head down, and you have to forget about it. Unfortunately, it’s a hard one to forget about, but we have to move on. We call it the 24 hour rule. You can feel sorry for yourself and all that, but when you report back to work today, it’s all on how we proceed, it’s all on UMass. There’s a lot of positive things that occurred in the game, progress that we made from game one to game two that we’ll continue to build upon. The great thing about it is everything we talked about, improvement, it’s all about the details. That’s on us as a coaching staff, that’s on us as players, and it starts with me. We’ll leave no stone unturned, I can promise you that. We’ll be better for it. Everything is how you make of it. We have to move on, and get ready to go.”
(On Shaq Wiggins’ status on the depth chart)
“His status is the same. He is working and competing for playing time. It comes down to his body of work over the course of a week of preparation, from meetings to the practice field. Shaq just wants to play, and I appreciate that. He’s a competitive individual. We expect him to come out today and compete to play this Saturday.”
(On Tyler Byrd’s health status and not going into a dime package on the final drive)
“In terms of Tyler Byrd, him missing that one week set back his growth and development a little bit. I expect Tyler to be more active offensively. He was in yesterday watching film. He wants to try and help the team every way possible.
“With the dime package, there is so much that goes into it from where you’re going to play your extra defensive back. When you look at the end of the game, they had one timeout left with nine seconds left in the game, and they have a very talented field goal kicker. We knew they were going to try and get the ball to the middle of the field by throwing a dig route, call a timeout and kick a game-winning field goal. It was very similar to the same play they ran in 2015. The thing we can’t do that let the play break down was letting the quarterback escape the pocket. We wanted to be in a four-man rush so we could contain the quarterback. He was able to buy time. When a quarterback can set his feet, anything can happen.”
(On his takeaway from UT’s final offensive possession)
“First of all, you are trying to spend a little bit of time, but we wanted to score a touchdown. We were going for the win and didn’t want to kick a field goal. On the first down call, we had practiced that play all week. We had it set up and knew we were going to get a blitz. We had practiced it all week, but the bottom line is that we didn’t execute. On second down, we tried to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. We were going to be aggressive and go for the win. If it wasn’t there, we were already in field goal range, so worst-case scenario was we kicked a field goal and went to overtime.”
(On the depth at safety)
“We have to continue to grow and develop depth there. We have nine games left, so it would be hard for Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior to play every snap of defense because they have large roles on special teams as well. We are going to have to move players around. That is an on-going discussion right now. We need individuals to step up at those key spots, not only at the safety position but at the linebacker spot as well.”
(On the struggles with short-yardage plays, if Cortez McDowell is eligible to redshirt and Jauan Jennings’ status)
“Jauan is out for the season. It’s very unfortunate. Cortez’s injury was very similar to his. In terms of the short-yardage situation, Florida did a good job of moving the front. We didn’t pick it up very well. Again, we have to do some things like getting the ball out on the perimeter. We call 3rd-and-ones 3rd-and-musts. We have to have it. Prior to that, we had done a good job. We have struggled more from 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-3. We have to make sure we come away with a first down in these situations, so that will be a point of emphasis this week.”
(On Quart’e Sapp getting back on the field and if Daniel Bituli can play both LB spots in a 4-2-5 defense)
“First of all, Quart’e has worked really hard to get back from a knee injury that he suffered last year. He is an individual who has worked really hard and has waited for his opportunity. His development and growth started to materialize throughout the course of training camp. I told him the other day that he has worked for this opportunity and now go make the most of it. We are going to have to rely on him more and more, not only from a linebacker standpoint but from a special teams standpoint as well. He has worked very hard and now the opportunity has presented itself. With Daniel, we have to grow him into the MIKE linebacker position first and foremost. As he gets more comfortable with the calls, we can move him around a little bit. He is a still a young player who is continuing to learn, and we want him to focus on one position and work that every day. He is a very talented young man who has played good football for us. His role will continue to grow now with the absence of Cortez.”
Kendal Vickers, Redshirt Senior Defensive Tackle
(On putting the Florida game behind them)
“Yeah, anytime you lose the way we lost you’ll always be frustrated, but that’s what we want. We want guys to be frustrated that we lost [because] it shows an investment. They’ve been showing throughout the year, but we are a mature enough team to look towards the next week. We got UMass coming up so we got to look towards them. We got to play well on Saturday.”
(On the injuries on defense)
“Yeah, we lost a few guys, but the training keeps going. We need guys to step up. No matter whether your role wasn’t playing that much, to maybe you might be starting. It doesn’t matter. We need guys to step up. It’s just the next man up, and we need guys to play well.”
(On what the defense did well)
“I think that for the most part, we were physical upfront as a d-line. The linebackers were physical too. I think for the most part as a collective defense that we really stepped up. Of course, there are things to work on. We lost so it’s not that we played perfect football. There are always things to improve on.”
(On staying focused)
“I believe once we get on the practice field, and we prepare for UMass, I think all the stuff in the past will go on. I think once you’re on the football field, it’s your sanctuary, so once you’re on there, you ain’t got that much time for thinking about the past. We will be alright.”
Marquez Callaway, Sophomore Wide Receiver
(On advice given by upperclassmen after loss to Florida)
“(They said to) just keep our head up. It’s a long season ahead of us, and we can’t let this loss keep us down and hold us back from the next opponent coming up.’
(On not being able to stop the game-winning play)
“Well, it hurt us badly, being on the sideline. We couldn’t really do anything. There was nothing we could do about it. It was just a play executed by them (Florida) and not by us. So, we’ll be better prepared next time for it, so that it won’t happen again.”
(On Florida’s interception return for a touchdown)
“It was just bad execution on our part, as an offense. It was a hitch route. I ran it too far deep, and my quarterback (Quinten Dormady) threw a good pass. I just couldn’t come down with it. It was something that won’t happen again, I assure that.”