Vol Report: Vols Talk Tide

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Defensive back Todd Kelly Jr., quarterback Joshua Dobbs and wide receiver Tyler Byrd spoke to the media on Tuesday ahead of UT’s showdown with No. 1 Alabama

Oct. 11, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Three members of Team 120 spoke to reporters on Tuesdayas Tennessee continues preparations for a top-10 showdown at Neyland Stadiumon Saturday when the No. 9 Vols play host to No. 1 Alabama. Defensive back Todd Kelly Jr., quarterback Joshua Dobbs and wide receiver Tyler Byrd each met with the media at the Ray & Lucy Hand Digital Studio.

Tennessee (5-1, 2-1 SEC) and Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) are meeting for the 99th time on Saturday, with UT looking to snap a nine-game losing streak at the hands of the Crimson Tide. Saturday’s game will be televised as the SEC on CBS Game of the Week with kickoff slated for 3:30 p.m. ET.

Senior quarterback Dobbs will be facing one of the stingiest defenses in the countryon Saturday as Alabama enters the game boasting the nation’s top run defense and the 12th-best defense overall. The Crimson Tide have allowed a paltry 69.2 rush yards per game to opposing offenses so far this season while giving up just 292.5 yards per game overall. Alabama has also scored a defensive touchdown in back-to-back games, including a pair of defensive scores in last week’s win over Arkansas

Still, coming off a career-best 398 passing yards at Texas A&M last week, Dobbs will be looking to continue to spread the ball around to his playmakers, including tailback Alvin Kamara and freshman Tyler Byrd. While Kamara exploded for a school-record 312 all-purpose yards, the freshman Byrd turned some heads with a three-catch, 60-yard day in College Station.

Aside from its stiff defense, Alabama also owns the SEC’s top scoring offense at 44.8 points per game. The Crimson Tide rank fourth in the conference in total offense at 489.8 yards per contest and are led by quarterback Jalen Hurts. The true freshman has been effective in his first year, throwing for nine touchdowns compared to just two interceptions and adding five rushing scores. With Tennessee having given up 349 yards of total offense last week to another dynamic quarterback in Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight, Vols safety Todd Kelly Jr. reiterated Tennessee’s defensive priority of eliminating big plays.

Todd Kelly Jr. | Defensive Back | Junior | Knoxville, Tenn.

Tennessee gave up a season-worst 10 big plays (plays covering 20 or more yards) at Texas A&M last week as the Aggies rolled up 592 yards of total offense. Of the 10 big plays surrendered, six came through the air as A&M quarterback Trevor Knight connected on throws of 43, 32, 27, 24, 24 and 21 yards. With that in mind, Todd Kelly Jr. and the rest of the Vols’ secondary are focused on eliminating explosive plays and containing a talented trio of Alabama receivers in O.J. Howard, Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart.

“They have some good receivers and a good tight end in O.J. Howard. They have a lot of good tight ends but O.J. Howard is their main receiver and he can do it all. He’s big, fast, can catch, can block. (Wide receiver) Calvin Ridley — everyone knows who he is. ArDarius Stewart. They have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and our job in the defensive backfield is to just eliminate the big plays, like I talked about before, because they are just one explosive play from blowing the game away. My freshman year Amari Cooper had an 80-yard catch and these guys have the same capabilities.”

Joshua Dobbs | Quarterback | Senior | Alpharetta, Ga.

Contributing to Tennessee’s 684 total offensive yards against Texas A&M last Saturday were freshmen wide receivers Tyler Byrd and Brandon Johnson. With less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Byrd caught a pass from Joshua Dobbs over the middle, spun out of a tackle and turned up the field for a 43-yard gain. Similarly, Johnson recorded his first career reception for seven yards against the Aggies and made the grab under double coverage.

“We know their practice habits. We put them in pressure situations throughout practice and fall camp and they responded well. They came in and made catches in those situations so I had 100 percent confidence that they would in the game. You know, I talk to them throughout the game and I was talking to Brandon about when your number is called and when your time comes, you’ve got to be ready to step up and make a play. He did that. They had a couple of big catches that helped us progress and move down the field [against Texas A&M]. They understand and they know the expectations when they come in the game are that the ball is coming their way and they’re going to have to make a play. There is no excuse if they don’t and they’ve definitely responded well, which is great to see.”

Tyler Byrd | Wide Receiver | Freshman | Naples, Fla.

Tyler Byrd had his best game as a Vol against no. 8 Texas A&M on Saturday. The true freshman wide receiver pulled down three balls for 60 yards as he has forced himself onto the field in his first year. Byrd signed with the Vols as a defensive back and came in with that mindset, but he has made the move to offense and has become an explosive weapon, a role he credits to some of the team’s veteran leaders.

“I think I was more of a defensive back, now just being here and embracing the role as a wide receiver with the great mentors of Josh Smith, Josh Malone and Josh Dobbs. I am just embracing that role as a wide receiver now.”

More Sound Bites

Defensive back Todd Kelly Jr.
(On Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts)

“I feel like Jalen Hurts is very athletic. He can do it all. He’s real calm in the pocket, never gets too flustered and that’s big-time for a freshman because when you have a freshman back there they can sometimes get flustered and not trust the O-line. But he trusts his O-linemen, trusts his receivers, tight ends and running backs to block for him and he is an offensive threat. He brings that spread package to them now where they used to be a little conservative with the run and pass. Now they can do it all in terms of formations and that brings another dimension to their offense. He’s very challenging and he’s going to bring a lot of problems to our defense.”

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs
(On whether personnel or scheme have led to Alabama’s success on defense)

“I think it’s a combination of both. Obviously, with head coach Nick Saban and their coaching staff, their names speak for themselves. When you combine that with physical guys who are fundamentally sound, there’s the perfect formula for a great defense. When you know that going into the game, you walk in and know you’re going to have to focus on your details and on your execution. We’ve seen throughout the season that although we’ve kind of been the team that’s shot ourselves in the foot. So if we go in focusing on our execution, we have good players too that are fundamentally sound and can compete and play at a high level of football.”

Wide receiver Tyler Byrd
(On how he and the other freshman are coping with the season’s grind)

“I think we are definitely conditioned and okay with this. We got to be more of role players now, being on special teams. We have starters down who were on a lot of special teams, I don’t think they can play as many reps. As young guys we have to really step up and give those guys a break, especially on special teams so we can be better on offense and defense.