After a lop-sided loss to #2 ranked Oregon, the Vols are ready to turn their attention to their first SEC battle of the year, and Coach Butch Jones says there's a chance you could see a different quarterback.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, Jones first acknowledged the 59-14 loss to the Ducks.
"I continue to say it, we must overachieve in order to be able to compete and win football games. We did not over achieve. I do know this, I know our players are very prideful and the only thing you can do is roll your sleeves up and go back to work today and work on being better. That's all you can do," said Jones.
Even though the loss wasn't a surprise to anyone, Jones says it's not okay.
"Losing will never ever be tolerated here or accepted at the University of Tennessee and it's unacceptable. You can search for all the excuses that you want, but winning is a habit and losing is a habit and it's unacceptable," said Jones. "Our players are going to understand that. It means talks about your week of preparation, it means players stepping up and making big time plays, it's preparing our team."
Now, as the attention turns to the game against Florida Saturday in the Swamp, Jones said the quarterback battle is wide open.
Junior Justin Worley started the first three games of the year, for Tennessee. He is 35 of 57 for 372 yards with five touchdown passes and one interception for the Vols, and listed at the top of the depth chart for Saturday's game at No. 19 Florida, but Jones said Monday that he would start whichever quarterback has the best week of practice.
"We need competition. It's best for the program," said Jones.
With that, it looks like the coaches will be taking a fresh look at freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, as well as redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, this week in practice.
Full transcript of press conference, courtesy UT Sports:
"Good afternoon, just to get some closure on Oregon, then moving on to Florida. We did a great job the first two weeks of really taking care of the small details and the small details lead to the big details and lead to winning football games. Obviously against Oregon, we did not pay any attention. We didn't do the small details of what it takes necessary to win football games. I think a lot of it had to do with the quality of our opponent. But right now, moving forward, we are not a very mentally tough football team. Everything we do in our football program is about mental conditioning, mental toughness, and when you go on the road you have to have a road focus about yourself.
"I thought that the game became fast, we suffered some adversity, and we had some individuals make some uncharacteristic mistakes and mental errors. To go on the road and play in these types of environments against some quality opponents, not only Oregon but as we continue to progress and move forward throughout the season, our mental toughness and mental conditioning has to take monumental steps forward. We didn't do the small details, the small details that win. We gave up 72 yards and loss leverage on defense. We had way too many mental errors, probably the most.
"I've talked about eye discipline, you're probably sick and tired of hearing me talk about see a little see a lot, but I think this game really exposed it. Lack of discipline with our eyes, staring in the backfield, individuals coming off on man coverage, not doing their job, just way too sloppy. Sixteen missed tackles. Offensively, we're not very good in first down efficiency, which leads itself to not being very productive on third down.
"Two big plays, that's it. Those two big plays occurred on our one scoring drive in the first half, I believe the second drive, first or second drive of the game. Again, we can't play perfect. Today's world of college football, you need big plays. We didn't have big plays, big chunk yardage, and we were forced to drive the football against a talented defense like Oregon. You're not going to have much success.
"I continue to say it, we must overachieve in order to be able to compete and win football games. We did not over achieve. I do know this, I know our players are very prideful and the only thing you can do is roll your sleeves up and go back to work today and work on being better. That's all you can do.
"I will say this and then I'll move on to Florida, is that losing will never ever be tolerated here or accepted at the University of Tennessee and it's unacceptable. You can search for all the excuses that you want, but winning is a habit and losing is a habit and it's unacceptable. Our players are going to understand that. It means talks about your week of preparation, it means players stepping up and making big time plays, it's preparing our team.
"That starts with me preparing our football team to play the best of our God given abilities and that's all I can ask of them. If they give Tennessee their all each and every day in practice and on the game field, that's all that I can ask of them. It's that our job is two-fold. It's to develop these players to be the best student-athletes, the best football players, best human beings that they can be, and the next job is to recruit quality student-athletes that understand what it takes to represent the University of Tennessee and get back to the prideful tradition that we have. Our kids are very prideful and I expect them to come out with a great day of practice.
"In getting ready to face a very, very, very talented Florida football team, the demands become greater. When you look at them defensively, they're only giving about fifty yards per game in the rushing category. Third down conversions, I've never seen this in all my years of coaching. They lead the country in third down conversions. They've given up two out of twenty-four attempts on third down conversions. They're third in the country in total defense given up, 208.5 yards per game.
"They're extremely talented, physical, and very active, offensively, playmakers all over the place, another dual threat quarterback who can run, who can pass. A little bit different schematically, but a lot of the same similarities as well, in terms of different reads for your linebackers, their eye discipline, play-action, unbalanced sets, and getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
"Then you're going in to another hostile environment. So, this week our whole mental focus, our mental conditioning, if you said what's the biggest area of improvement, it's becoming a much more mentally tough football team. Proving that you can go on the road and handle all the distractions that it takes in preparation before the game, but also on game day as well. I will answer any questions that you may have."
(On how to work on mental toughness)
"Just continue to demand. Everything in our football program is based on mental conditioning, mental toughness. I think if you look at our body of work, every place that we have left, they've been a mentally tough football team. It's just grinding. We have to rely on our seniors. Our players understand, they know. It's the ability to focus and concentrate. You can look at key points of the game. Last Saturday, it's 17-7 with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter and they have a third-and-eight. We have an individual, who's in man coverage, come off and doesn't do his job in terms of assignment through. Those are the things that we, as a coaching staff, have to get corrected. We want our players taking great pride in performance. That's the big thing, pride in our preparation, pride in our performance as a coaching staff preparing this football team. Those are the things that getting back that are non negotiable. It's the standard of excellence that we're going to demand day in and day out. Not only on the field but also in the classroom and everything that we do. It's that about being a champion and understanding what it takes to be a champion each and everyday, how you prepare yourself in training and in the classroom. There's a reason why teams win, and you deserve victory. I said it, the ball is shaped a certain way but when you work harder and you play with a mentality, that ball bounces in your hands. I think we've seen a great illustration of that the first two games of the year. We can never forget what got us to that point. We have to be a blue collar, overachieving football team, that plays winning football and does not beat itself."
(On lack of team speed)
"Big factor. That's one thing that we have to address and there's only so many things that you can do to make your team faster. I think some of it was, again, not reading our keys. Slow with our eye discipline, staring at the quarterback, and I think sometimes we let the mind tie the feet up. So, you can have guys that run 4.4, 4.5 on the stopwatch, but they don't play that fast. A lot of times it's the mental aspect. Football is a game of instincts and reactions. I didn't think that we reacted as quickly as we needed to. We have to develop our speed and then, obviously, recruiting. Recruiting speed is at a premium. We must get faster to compete in our conference and at a national level. We must get faster."
(On Jeff Driskel, Florida's starting quarterback)
"Well I think he's a very very good quarterback. I think he's in charge of their offense. He made one or two poor decisions, but he's going to present many challenges for us. First of all, he can do both. He can run the football. He can throw the football. He has a year of maturity, a year of growth and development in their offensive scheme. So, his knowledge base has improved greatly. He has great confidence and he has weapons and playmakers around him. He can hurt you both with his legs and his arm. We're going to have to play exceptionally well. We have to do a great job of applying pressure in our aiming points on the quarterbacks because they do a great job of false reads. A lot of reading the zone, zone keepers, and zone reads, but also different things with aligning blocks one way and different things that we do offensively as well."
(On Sapp and Saulsberry)
"Sapp, we anticipate him being back. He'll be in practice today. Saulsberry is still going through some things with the MRI, but right now it's that he'll be out 3-6 weeks. I'll know a little bit more later in the day, but for now he definitely won't play the next couple of weeks."
(On the play and competition at quarterback)
"Well, first of all it's been challenging at the quarterback position just because we haven't had any big splash plays. I'd like to see Justin (Worley) settle in a little bit more and a little more aggressive. I thought the play that he had on the touchdown pass to Jason Croom, I thought he stepped back, he was assertive, he set his feet, he demanded command in the pocket, and he was confident and he threw the ball over there and he was accurate. We need him to attack more, but just like any position in our program, it's open. Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice is going to be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida. If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback. We'll have more quarterback run in to our package this week. We just need to find ways to generate big explosive plays and if that's Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that's what we'll do to create big plays. That's going to be our focus and preparation this week."
(On if Marlin Lane is pushing Rajion Neal)
"He is. Marlin is an individual who was slowed by injury and is back to one hundred percent, and he is. Again, we need more explosive plays from the running back position too. In terms of, if the play is set for four yards, we can't get four yards, we need fourteen yards. I do think both Rajion Neal and Marlin are complimenting each other. I think they've both improved greatly. I thought Rajion did a much better job of getting north and south, but we can't turn the football over, that's inexcusable in our program. They're both working exceptionally hard. I think they both have improved their pass protection skills. Those two are getting better. Now, we need the Alden Hills and the Tom Smiths to continue to push those two. What we need in our football program is competition. Competition is the greatest motivator of all, and I do. I saw Tom Smith did some really good things at the end of the game, and so did Alden Hill. We're going to start relying on them."
(On Marquez North)
"Marquez is going through that transformation of a true freshman. He's extremely talented. John brought up team speed. We put him on the track and he's a 4.4 forty (yard dash) guy. He can run, he's physical, but he's still learning the little nuisances of how to create separation, how to get released from the line of scrimmage. He's playing against two NFL corners on Saturday. They're going to be in his face pressing him up. I see him getting better and better but that's the luxury that we have. We have to play true freshman and they have to grow up in a hurry."
(On true freshmen receivers impacting the quarterback situation)
"Well it does. Everyone looks to the quarterback, but there were two instances when we had seam routes wide open and our slow receivers were off their landmark. Everything is about rhythm, spacing, and timing. It's about reception areas and every once in a while you look to the quarterback, but the receivers paint pictures for the quarterback. I tell them they're route artists. They have to take pride in the smaller details. Zach (Azzanni) is on it each and everyday. We're getting better. It's really hard to judge the quarterback just because all the moving parts and pieces, the different dynamics that we're going through. We lose two slot receivers on Wednesday and Thursday. We had to simplify. Half of our game plan for Oregon had to be put aside just because of being able to move receivers around just to be functional. It is what it is."
(On Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson)
"We do expect them back. Today is a big day to see how far they have come but we do anticipating them practicing today."
(On considering going for it on fourth down)
"You always think everything through. But I don't ever want to put our defense in negative situations if we are still in the game at all. I am not a double-down, I play the percentages, everything is strategically thought out in the game plan. Percentages are where they have been over the past couple years and where you go for it on the football field, is it fourth and one or is it fourth and eight. How does it effect your defense. Nothing is just roll the dice, everything is very calculated."
(On comparing Oregon to SEC teams)
"It is really hard, all I know is Oregon is an extremely talented football team. They have great team speed, they are very well coached, they are masters at what they do. They know what they are, they have their identity, and they do it exceptionally well. Now moving forward into SEC play, you walk in and coming from Oregon, now you have to go on the road and play a rivalry game in Florida, which I already told you statistically and defensively, explosive and play man coverage, a lot of pressure looks. The other thing, the missing part of where we are at in our program, just to talk Tennessee, is our special teams. When you talk about the speed factor, I thought the speed differential was much different in terms of the areas of special teams and that is an area that we have to do a much better job, technically, discipline wise, fundamentally. You may see our entire starting defense playing special teams, it is what it is. We have to put speed on our special teams."
(On the quarterback competition)
"We may open it up and give more repetitions. Obviously we have to prepare the guys that are going to play in the game. You have to earn your spot each and every week. We will see what the freshman can handle. Nathan Peterman continues to progress along. He is an individual, it is 6 AM, he is the first person in the building every single day. He has a great grasp of knowledge and I continue to see him getting better. I think Justin is getting better. I just think competition is healthy. It is going to be a week to week process, who can manage the offense the best."
(On wanting Justin Worley to be more aggressive)
"When I am talking about a gun-slinger, I am not talking about a gun-slinger. I don't know what your definition of a gun-slinger is. I don't think any quarterback just gets back there and blindly throws. You have been watching North Dallas Forty too much. A disciplined quarterback can trust his eyes. The great quarterbacks, they have anticipatory skills. They understand the body language of the receivers. You are throwing a 15-yard dig, you know when that receiver is coming out of his dig before he gets to that 15-yards because of his body language. And that is why routes on air, you talk to Peyton Manning all the time, that is the most productive part of practice. It's not skelly and team periods, those are essential to winning, it's those routes on air when they are building that trust. I think the influx at the wide receiver position has set back the development of Justin and Nate and all that. When I talk about being more aggressive, I am talking about going back there and trusting your receiver. Throwing him open, understanding that if the reception point is at 12-yards, that is where that ball is going. I think a number of times what Justin has done, he has waited for the receiver to become open and then he is throwing the football. Anticipatory skills in the quarterback, that is what separates a great quarterback and throwing him open. You look at the touchdown pass to Jason, he got back, he was aggressive, he trusted what he saw and he threw him open. I guess that is more on me, define what I am looking for, that is more what I am looking for. What we are looking for as a staff, what we are looking for in our quarterbacks. Aggressiveness and kind of that arrogance, every great quarterback has that. They have that `it' factor."
(On looking for a running quarterback)
"We would like to great plays with their legs a little bit. That is why you are going to see the open competition with Dobbs and Ferguson more this week. We are trying to find ways to make plays. Justin has a knack to create plays. I am talking about it being third and four and he gets five yards. That is the equivalent of a 40-yard run by a quarterback. It is keeping plays alive and I think that comes with experience, and you only gain that with practice and game experience. It is more about just command, feeling the pocket break down and get you four or five yards at a time."
(On zone reads)
"He has the luxury to call it. You saw it in the first three games. He may not be a home run hitter where he is going to get you 50 or 60 yards. But if he is going to get your four yards. Four yards in our book is an efficient run. Four plus four plus four is 12 which is a first down. We are just looking for our quarterbacks to just be efficient enough in the run. You look at last year in the Cincinnati offense. He was a drop back passer but he was able to create plays with his legs down the stretch and that helped us to win a championship. We still want a high vision guy who can see when the protection breaks down and the pocket collapses, a high-vision guy in the scramble drill. But if it is not there, just get us four or five."
(On making being a running quarterback easier for Worley)
"I think first of all repetition is the mother of all learning. Just working on it over and over and over and constantly force feeding him. Getting him some quick touches. What has happened is we have seen so much press that they have kind of taken that away. Now the next evolution is once he gets the middle screen, at the collegiate level you are not going to beat everyone running east and west. Put your foot in the ground and get north and south. Those are all things that freshmen go through. There is a learning curve."
(On the run game)
"First of all we had zero negative yards rushing the football. We have talked about when you run the football you can't have negative yards in our offense. Would I have liked to have been able to run the ball more efficiently? Absolutely. For us, we have to establish the line of scrimmage and this week it will be a tremendous challenge with their defensive front. They have a lot of Sunday bodies in their program, a lot of players that will play on Sunday. It will be a good test for us. But we have to do a better job of play-action, run-action, doing different things to alleviate the stress and pressure that we put on our offensive front. That is done with the quarterback, the running backs, the tight ends and guys in the perimeter."
(On Florida's defense compared to Oregon's)
"I think first of all schematically they are a little bit different. Florida can play eight, nine deep defensively and there is talent to this first group. That is nothing to take away from Oregon. Oregon is a fine, fine football team. I think speed and size, the combination. When you think of defenses in the SEC, you watch Florida on film, they define SEC defenses."
(On taking positives from the Oregon loss)
"You try and take positives out of the game and obviously we lost the football game and there weren't a lot of positives. But when you look at the film, there were some. I think the experience of the live game repetitions, the speed of the game, the quality of the opponent, you have the ability to think fast. All of those will be valuable lessons and we will reap the benefits as the season progresses, not just this year but two, three years down the road. We are going to revert back to this game for a number of years and this game will be a measuring stick for us. Especially for our younger players as we continue to progress and move forward as a football program.
"I think our first year at Cincinnati we had to go and play on national television vs. NC State and they physically dominated every aspect of that football game and embarrassed us on national television. And that game was a game that we looked at for the rest of our tenure at that other place. We continue to move forward, there are great lessons to be learned. Sometimes I think you can learn more from losing, than you can from winning. I think sometimes when you win, you sweep things underneath the rug. When you lose everything is exposed and it is all about getting better. I said it, and I think you all see it and are all in agreement with me. It is going to be a process. We can't get ahead of ourselves or too emotionally up, or too emotionally down. We just have to keep focusing on being a better football team minute-by-minute, day-by-day. That is all we can do. Our players, everyone was in the building yesterday, they are very prideful, they are eager and they are ready to get back to work today. That is what I needed to see and I liked what I saw. It is what it is. And that is the only way we are going to continue to get better. Stay the course."
(On the history with Florida)
"All I know is the present. It is Team 117. It is a great rivalry game, versus a great football program, a well-coached football team with great football players on the road in a great environment. It is a great opportunity but it is going to take everything that we have. We must be the team that overachieves Saturday. Our players understand the rivalry, what is at stake. I think they understand what has gone on before them. The only thing we can control is our preparation and how we play on Saturday."
(On Mo Couch)
"I know nothing else on the Mo Couch situation. You guys know me, as soon as I know anything I will keep you informed of his status and the ongoing process. You know as much as I do and I have told you everything that I know."
(On losing Trevarris Saulsberry)
"A great challenge. I thought Trevarris Saulsberry, if you want to talk about an individual who has come a long way in the football program from a mental toughness standpoint, that he has progressed better than any D-Lineman that we had. He was probably playing the best of anyone that we had up front. So losing him was a major, major setback for the interior of our defense. It is what it is. Some individuals have a great opportunity. Jason Carr, a true freshman from Memphis is going to have to grow up in a hurry, he will gain some valuable repetitions in practice and he has to be game ready to go for the Gators."