Vols turn focus to Kentucky Wildcats with kickoff set for Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12 p.m. ET on SEC Network

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Football (6-3, 2-3 SEC) turns its focus back to Southeastern Conference play this week, preparing to host the Kentucky Wildcats (5-4, 4-3 SEC) this Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

Now entering Week 11 of the regular season, Tennessee will meet its familiar foe for the 112th all-time matchup with Kentucky. UT leads the series with a 78-24-9 record, including a current four-game win streak dating back to 2012. The Vols have also come away with wins in 30 of the last 31 matchups vs. the Wildcats.

Kentucky visits Rocky Top following a 27-24 loss to Georgia last week in Lexington. The Wildcats are looking to capture a their fifth SEC win for the first time since 1977, while UK’s offense has averaged 215.8 rushing yards per game this year.

On Monday, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, along with associate head coach/defensive line coach Steve Stripling, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and wide receivers/passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni, spoke with the media on Monday in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.

Butch Jones | Head Coach

“Good to see everyone. Hope everyone is having a great Monday. Just real briefly on this past Saturday and then moving on to Kentucky. A lot of the things were confirmed, basically what we spoke about in the press conference in the conclusion of the game. We had a lot of valuable repetitions. It was great to have individuals continue to get their football identity on video to be able to walk into a meeting today and be able to critique and correct. A lot of young individuals gained valuable repetitions. We are going to need these individuals down the stretch so it was great to be able to get them live game repetitions. I was really proud of the younger players who, towards the end of the game, in terms of special teams substitutions. That is some thing we take for granted, but when you look at trying to put a kickoff team on the field, and field goal and punt return and all those things, we had individuals there right in the hot box, ready to go and locked in. I thought that demonstrated some maturity in our football team.

“About our week of preparation. I thought we had the best week of preparation last week and we need to learn from that. We got back to playing with energy and passion. The one long run John Kelly had down the middle field, the entire offense sprinted to the end zone and everyone getting to celebrate and John Kelly getting to pick Jashon [Robertson] up, those are things that getting back and having fun and playing with the energy and expectations that we expect around here so that was great to see.

“In terms of other notes from the game and then moving on. We have lost the services of Evan Berry so he will be out the year. It’s a knee injury. I won’t get into specifics on the knee injury, but he will be out the remainder of the season. It goes with the theme; I will sit up here and tell you that he is going to be missed. Missed not only from a return aspect of things, but we thought he was playing very well in the back end of our defense. He was really coming along at the safety position. That will be a position that we will be very thin. That is the one thing that was revealed in the game from last week; we are not where we need to be from a depth standpoint. You can see a number of individuals towards the tail end of the game because we didn’t have anyone else to put in the game, but that comes with being able to recruit and develop. He is going to be missed.

“In terms of Kentucky, we are playing a very talented and physical football team. I have a lot of respect for what [Head Coach] Mark [Stoops] has built there and what he continues to build there. They have won three out of their last four games. They have controlled the football on offense. They are averaging nearly 400 yards on offense, they have 215 yards rushing per game and they have two rushers with over 750 yards. They have big-play wide outs who are tall and athletic. They have quick twitch receivers who can make plays in the screen game. They can throw the ball; the quarterback can make plays with his legs and arms so he is talented. Everyone talks about the wildcat offense and they do a great job with that. It is a sense of physicality that they play with. Defensively, they have big corners out on the perimeter that can man you up. They have a very strong defensive line that can hold its gaps, but they are blitz oriented. They are going to play what we call a bear front. They are going to cover one and force us to beat them. We are going to have to take tremendous strides in moving forward, but we are also looking forward to Noonat Neyland. It will be a great opportunity for our football team.”

Mike DeBord | Offensive Coordinator

With a renewed energy and buzz about Team 120 following a 55-0 win over Tennessee Tech last Saturday, the Vols’ coaching staff changed up their meeting formats this week and took the opportunity to express how hard they see each position group working this year.

“We talked a lot this week as an entire offensive unit about taking care of yourself first and making sure you are playing the way we want you to play. Then, trust your teammates and have confidence and high five and bring some juice back. I think those guys did that. We changed up our meeting because usually we lay out and go through some plays like our first, third and long play and then right down the line, but we did not do that. We went in and really talked to our guys as coaches. Every coach got up and talked about what they meant to us and how hard they are working and how we have to take all of that to the game field. It was change up, but everyone rallied together and it was something we needed coming off of that last game.”

Bob Shoop | Defensive Coordinator

In his first game returning to the field from injury against South Carolina, linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. led the Volunteers’ defensive unit with eight total tackles and followed up with a tackle for loss against Tennessee Tech. Shoop has seen drastic leadership development with the sophomore this season and is happy to have him back on the field with upperclassmen Derek Barnett and Kendal Vickers.

“He’s been the leader of the defense. He has to bring the alpha male that Barnett brings. Some people might say he brings a little bit of dog to the table right there and that’s been good. We need that from him. He can run, he reads his keys well, he is very instinctive and has a high football intellect. He scraped a little of the rust off playing against South Carolina but played pretty well. Same this week, in the second half I don’t think he got any snaps and that was fine but he has been practicing and we need him to play his A-game against Kentucky.”

Steve Stripling | Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line

Redshirt senior Charles Folger, junior Dimarya Mixon and redshirt sophomore Paul Bain gained valuable game experience as they came up big for Tennessee on Saturday against Tennessee Tech. In the second quarter, Mixon recorded his first career sack, a 13-yard loss that forced the Golden Eagles to punt from their own 10-yard line. Bain then tallied a quarterback hurry and a tackle for a three-yard loss in the third quarter, while Folger set Tennessee Tech back one yard in the fourth with his second tackle of the game.

“What a great day to get some younger guys out there on the field and some young men that deserve to get out there but maybe, due to game circumstances, we haven’t been able to get them out there. There’s just no substitute for game experience. You can practice technique and you can do all that but it was great to get them out there. I thought probably a really positive aspect of the game was the Derek Barnetts and those guys that knew they weren’t going to be out there and how excited they were when, say, Dimarya Mixon got his first sack or Charles Folger got a tackle for loss or Paul Bain got a big tackle.”

Zach Azzanni | Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator

True freshmen Marquez CallawayTyler ByrdCarlin Fils-aime and Brandon Johnson also stepped up to make big offensive plays as part of UT’s 55-0 victory over Tennessee Tech. Azzanni praised their performances and said he hopes the game-action experience only boosts their confidence for their next time out.

“It was great getting him [Brandon Johnson] in there. He is a young guy, puts a lot of time in and a lot of reps in. Those young kids that are out on the perimeter for us, they have such a high care factor. They are such great kids and so for them to get in there and have some success was awesome for them. I am proud of them. You will see a lot more of those guys in the future, the next 3 or 4 years here for sure.”

More Sound Bites

Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord
(On teammates rallying around players like John Kelly)

“I think that players kind of earn that. John Kelly has earned that with his teammates because of his work ethic every day and what he brings to the team every day. He is an upbeat guy now and he is fired up all of the time. The players respect that about him so now he gets this opportunity to play and they are excited for him.”

Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop
(On Kentucky’s success with the run game)

“No. 18, No. 26 and No. 3 are all very good runners. The coaches are very committed to it and I think that is the strength of their team but they do have receivers who are out on the perimeter who are very good players. Their offensive line works as a unit well, their tight ends block really well. They are a good offensive football team.”

Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Steve Stripling
(On the shutout win over TTU and the confidence it brings to the defense)

“I think when you get a shutout, they’re hard to come by on defense, especially today when you look at some of the stats that are out there every week. I think it’s a sign that maybe we’re maturing and putting things together. It’s about the soundness of the fit for elimination of big plays in the run game. So, getting a shutout means you put everything together and that’s what we have to continue to do.”

Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator Zach Azzanni
(On the biggest challenge the Kentucky secondary presents to receivers)

“They are really tall. I think one corner is 6’4” and the other one is 6’3” and they are very well coached. They are aggressive. They feed on pass game. I think the first game of the season, they had three picks and dropped one. So, they are ball hawks. They are tall and rangy which is their philosophy. They play a lot of them so they present a big challenge, for sure, just because of their length.”