KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football head coach Butch Jones and select student-athletes spoke to reporters during Wednesday’s press conference in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.
Jones and the players discussed this week’s game against Kentucky (5-4, 4-3 SEC).
The Volunteers (6-3, 2-3 SEC) are set to face the Wildcats on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. The game is slated for a 12 p.m. ET kickoff on SEC Network.
Butch Jones | Head Coach
Jones spoke about the challenges UT expects to face from the Kentucky defense, which is led by linebacker Jordan Jones, who ranks third in the conference with 81 tackles and fifth in the league in tackles for loss at 10.0.
“Jordan Jones adds a whole other dynamic to their defense, he’s very quick and very explosive. They have a very good defensive front, they’re very disruptive. Both linebackers are really good. They’re edge players, I think that’s the biggest difference in their defense this year. Their edge players are very athletic, they can cover in man coverage, they can blitz. They’re violent tacklers and their safeties don’t miss very many tackles and they have big corners. It’s hard to throw the ball over the top of them because of their length, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4. Their players have developed in that system and they’ve played a lot of football and you can see they’re playing with a lot of confidence. They’re pressure activated, everything they do is based off pressure and they do a good job with that.”
Josh Malone | Junior | Wide Receiver
Malone was explosive last week against Tennessee Tech, leading the team with five receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The Vols are expected to have another playmaker back on offense soon in Alvin Kamara.
“It felt good getting back in the end zone and just hoping I can ride that momentum for the rest of the year. Alvin just adds a different element to our offense. We all know what he can do with the ball in his hands and it’s a great addition just to have him back.”
Jason Croom | RS Senior | Tight End
In his fifth year with the program, Croom has faced Kentucky twice before times before. In fact, the two biggest plays of his UT career were against the Wildcats. In 2013, he caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs. In 2014, he had a 52-yard touchdown catch. Regardless of his past success against UK, Croom remains focused on how Team 120 can continue to improve.
“The team mood now is just going back to what we were doing before. You see us out there playing with a lot of passion and so I’m not worried about the opponent. I am just worried about ourselves. Kentucky is a scrappy team and they play hard. They run to the ball every chance they get.”
LaTroy Lewis | RS Senior | Defensive Lineman
With injuries to the interior defensive line over the course of the season, UT has had to rely on its younger players and in some cases have players change positions to help fill the void. Lewis spoke about how the defense has focused on improving against the run.
“We told ourselves we wanted to buckle down and wanted to be the best defense in November and it was a great way to start it with a shutout. Even with that, we still know there are things we have to do better to be where we want to be and be 1-0 this week and moving forward.”
Darrin Kirkland Jr. | Sophomore | Linebacker
Kentucky features a potent rushing offense that averages 215.8 yards on the ground per game. Kirkland and the Vols defense are preparing for the challenge of stopping Stanley “Boom” Williams (99.8 rushing yards per game) and Benny Snell (86.1 rushing yards per game).
“They have great balance between both running backs. Number 18 and 26, they really do a great job of complimenting each other. Both are downhill runners but with the defense provided, they have a lot of vertical schemes and they take advantage of it very well. So our defense has to be consistent every down.”
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“What can I say about that young man, very competitive and will do anything to help the team win. Very resilient. We spoke about him last week as well. He’ll be ready to go. He’s had a good week of preparation.”
(On Charles Mosley switching positions to defensive tackle)
“He’s played that position before. He went through a spring at defensive tackle, so he understands the techniques that are involved with it, but right now you’re just fighting the law of attrition. Trying to find individuals that can hold up against the run and some of the things they do from a gap scheme stand point, from a zone scheme stand point. Also, we need quality looks, so getting him over on the defense has helped our offense from a zero nose stand point. We’re going to see a Bear front so our centers need that work too. Having Charles to get those reps this week is also important in preparing our offense as well.”
Junior WR Josh Malone
(On Kentucky’s level of play this year as opposed to previous years)
“It shows on film that they’re a well-coached team, they play real hard. I feel like even last year and the years before, they were a good team…They look really good going into this week.”
(On Kyle Phillips’ change in position)
“Personally, for me, it shows his mindset and determination, his sacrifice for the team and just embracing the role that the coaches gave to him. He got on the field and just took it and ran with it, he took advantage of the opportunity.”
(On mindset change impacting the Vols)
“Personally, every week at practice, I really just take it one day at a time, I work on my craft. I focus on getting better so that I can assist the team going into the weekend. Doing whatever I can on Saturdays to help our team win.”
(On Jauan Jennings’ confidence)
“He’s had a really good transition just going from quarterback to wide receiver. Jauan really embraced his role and has been working on his technique every day and getting better, day-by-day. He’s a fiery competitor so you have to calm him down sometimes. He’s emerging in his role, going with it and taking advantage of his all of opportunities.”
RS Senior TE Jason Croom
(On feeling like a natural tight end)
“I have the help of Coach Scott and the other guys in the room teaching me how to take on the position and I feel like I have adjusted well as the season has progressed.”
(On how he has dealt with adversity throughout his career)
“I have always had guys who were there to pick me up when I was down. They always helped me find a way to keep my mind in the game so I never really think about life without football or not being here.”
RS Senior DL LaTroy Lewis
(On how difficult it is to move positions)
“It’s difficult, it’s extremely difficult. We talked about Kyle Phillips before, Kyle’s unselfishness and team first mentality. As difficult as it is, I just think about how difficult it is for the other 10 guys on the field to do their jobs as well. I know, and Kyle knows and Jonathan Kongbo knows and Dimarya Mixon knows that at the end of the day as difficult and as hard as it is on us, we have to get it done for the betterment of the other 10 people. It’s difficult to play a position undersized but the way coach Steve Stripling teaches our techniques is phenomenal. I’m doing this now but Coach Strip has been preparing me for this for five years with the way he cross trains. When he talks about the three technique, he’s not just talking to Kendal Vickers, he’s talking to me and everyone in the room so we understand the technique so if situations like this happen we can all be able to step in and do the job.”
(On how difficult it is to move positions)
“It’s in the back of our minds, but it’s real easy to get caught up in things like that and to be what we want to be and where we want to be. It’s really not just a one week at a time, it’s a Monday at a time, a Tuesday at a time and a Wednesday at a time. Any day by day working to be 1-0 at the end of each week, that’s what’s really important. At the end of this whole ride we can look back and see what we accomplished but right now it’s handling the task at hand.”
Sophomore LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.
(On the negatives of being out of the game)
“It was difficult. Playing linebacker, repetition is the biggest thing. As far as from a communication and eye discipline standpoint, everything has to be consistent. So, I’ve lost a little bit of that as I was out for those six weeks. Those last two games definitely helped, getting real game reps and practice reps. I’m getting a lot more confident.”
(On Cam Sutton’s return to the game)
“He’s our captain so that definitely speaks volumes to have him back on the field. In our back end, it brings better leadership to have a guy who’s been through our scenario for the four years he’s been here. I’m really looking forward to his leadership in the next few days of practice and Saturday at the game.”