Tennessee is coming off that long-awaited "signature win" over South Carolina. It was a great victory that thrilled players and a hungry fan base. But now it's time to move on.
"Everything that occurred last week is not going to help us win this week. That's in the past, we need to move on," said head coach Butch Jones at his weekly press conference on Monday. Jones said it's time to hit the reset button, and the players understand that.
Not that he didn't take a few minutes to talk about the defeat of South Carolina. He praised the team, their preparation, their mental toughness.
"Have we arrived?" he asked. "Absolutely not. But we can see smalls steps of progression."
He also praised the fans.
"I do want to thank our crowd. I believe we are third in the country in attendance. The environment was electric, gave us a spark," said Jones.
And he made a promise. "We haven't even come close to playing our best football game."
Will that best game come against the number on ranked Alabama Crimson Tide?
"We're going to be tested at Alabama. They're very deserving of being the number 1 team in the country. There are no weaknesses. There just aren't," said Jones." It's a great challenge, but also a great opportunity. Now our players believe. They can see the results (of winning)."
"The more you win, the more you expect. You work toward putting yourself in a position to play meaningful games in November," Jones said.
He said to beat Alabama, it will take everything they have. He said they will continue to practice with the same intensity they have all season. That intensity is what he credits with the team's mental discipline and energy. And of course, the physical conditioning doesn't hurt.
Jones talked about the intense grind of the SEC schedule. The great players and coaches, the physical conditioning and mental toughness, their consistency in performance and preparation, the tough venues, and the capacity to play a high, passionate level.
Coach Jones' full comments, courtesy UTSports.com:
"Good afternoon, thanks for coming out. Just to recap last week and then moving on to Alabama. Great win. Why? Because it is win number four. Great win, I thought our players showed resiliency, we made some plays at the end of the game to win the football game. We had some individuals step up in some critical moments. I thought we managed the football game exceptionally well on terms of field position. Michael Palardy had six punts inside the 20-yard line which is phenomenal. So we played the field game percentage so to speak.
"As we continue to move forward we must take tremendous strides this week in practice. We must really improve as a football team. That has to be the point of emphasis in everything. First and foremost, tackling. We had way too many missed tackles Saturday afternoon and we can't have that happen. We had 15 missed tackles and for us to accomplish what we need accomplish and working to be a much improved football team and defense, our tackling has to take great strides this week as we continue to move forward, just our overall fundamentals, same details, body position, hands inside, using our hands, running our feet, catching the football, little things. Thought we had way too many pre snap penalties, that is a pet peeve of ours in our football program. You can't have pre snap penalties, those right there kill you, it puts your behind. We had first-and-ten on the 35 at the end of the game and we had an unfortunate 15-yard penalty that put us out of field goal range. We never recovered. Those are the small details that has to get corrected to win game down the stretch as we continue to move on through the season.
"Our special teams have to improve greatly. We gave up the one big kickoff return, fortunately there was a penalty on the play, they were holding. We have to take giant steps moving forward with this football team. So improvement, obviously, is critical as we continue to move forward.
"I do want to thank our crowd. I believe we are third in the country as far as total attendance. The atmosphere was electric. It provided us a spark. It was a great home field advantage. I know our kids have tremendous belief. I thought Dave Lawson and Mike Szerszen, our entire strength and conditioning staff did a great job. Since Dave Lawson has been with us his program is 43 and 2 when we lead at halftime, that is pretty impressive. That is a mindset. We talk about the mental conditioning. Now going into Alabama, all of that is going to be tested. Our mental conditioning, our physical conditioning. Eveyrhting will be tested. They are very deserving being the number 1 ranked team in the country. You look at them defensively, very impressive. Athletic, very physical. Best secondary we have played, a lot of press coverage, fundamentally sound, detail oriented. Everything you would expect from Alabama. Then offensively, they do so many great things, big, physical, strong offensive line. Quarterback who has won a couple of national championships, very poised, very confident. Great team speed on the perimeter, deep at running back. Again, they are the number one team in the country and very rightfully so.
"This week we have to really continue to improve our intensity, our focus has to take great strides in moving forward. Very proud of our kids, proud of what we are building here, where we are coming. They have to understand now, what you do with momentum. The more you win, the more what is at stake. Now you are putting yourself in position to play meaningful games into October and leading into November. That is what you work towards. It gets to every new game is a new season, a new game plan. Each week is a new week. That snap and clear mentality.
"We haven't even come close to playing our best football game. Everyone has to take accountability in their performance, in their actions to get better this week."
"It is definitely a great challenge. They are no weakness. They have depth every where across the board, from special teams to offense to defense. They are very physical, they play with great effort, they are technically sound. They just don't rely on their abilities. They are fundamentally sound. You have a quarterback who can make all the throws, he is a control, big imposing offensive line. I think where they have really taken great strides offensively is they have great perimeter skill and speed. So yes, it is a great challenge. It is really hard to simulate it in practice."
(On Alabama's running backs)
"They are similar in terms of stature wise and they play with a high level of physicality. They both have great speed. I think the one thing they can say about their program is it is what we are building here at Tennessee, it is based on competition, it is a competitive environment every day when you walk in there, that is what we are building here at Tennessee. I don't see weaknesses, I see a great football team, that are extremely well coached and well disciplined."
(On Justin Worley's hand)
"No we weren't close. He is just banged his hand a little bit, he should be good to go. That is just part of playing quarterback. That is part of the improvement that we have to make. We talk about keeping the quarterback clean. We can't give up hits on our quarterback, that is our invested. That is kind of the mindset that we really stress with our offensive front. He is fine."
(On Justin Worley)
"Developing. I see him taking great strides, day in and day out. You see the way his preparation is off the field, the classroom, the questions he is asking, his confidence, his command of the offense, the leadership capabilities. The leadership we expect from that position, every rep he takes is a teaching moment. I think he is progressing. He has made some big throws now in some key games and some key situations. Now it is just the overall consistency, setting your feet in the pocket, trusting your eyes, making quick decisions, functional intelligence, taking the classroom setting to the field and taking care of the football. We didn't turn the football over Saturday. Anytime you don't turn the football over you have an opportunity to win a football game. We talk about playing discipline football and that was a very talented and physical defense that we played Saturday and we didn't turn the football over. Those were great strides, again that is part of the formula to winning football games and playing winning football."
(On Justin Worley's leadership)
"It is in him, we see it. It is now getting it out of him and it is having the confidence in himself and his teammates. Everyone wants to point towards the quarterback, the quarterback is only one out of 11, there are 11 other individuals on the field. I think what you are seeing is the players around him are performing better. Our wide receivers are making plays, Marquez North goes up and high points the ball and plays the ball in the air extremely well, makes some great catches. Alton Howard is giving us something that we knew was in him. So we have some players stepping up on the perimeter. We have been able to run the ball effectively and efficiently. I think the offense coming around and everyone thinks that Justin is playing better, and he is, I think it is a by product of everyone else around him as well."
(On comparisons between Oregon and Alabama)
"I think Oregon and Alabama, they possess different challenges. They are a little bit different in terms of style of play. Alabama's so deep, they're so fundamentally sound, the back end of their defense they don't let you breathe. They're going to be up in our face. You're going to see a lot of press and different types of coverage. They don't beat themselves. They're a football team that plays winning football. They make you earn everything that you get. They don't lose contain. They don't have missed assignments. They're a good tackling football team. They're number one, I believe, in the SEC in total defense given up. I believe 9.7 points per game. There's a reason for that. The results speak for themselves. Their players expect to win. So, it's going to be a great challenge.
"Where are we going into this game as opposed to Oregon? I think we know a little bit more about ourselves. I think our players understand it's a great challenge but it's also a great opportunity. Now, there's evidence. Before it was blind evidence, it was belief. Now our players believe. They can see the results. I think we have stronger leadership in terms of belief. Expectations, our players are starting to hold themselves to a very high level of accountability. I can see a very very small culture change starting to happen. Have we arrived? Absolutely not, we still have a lot of work. I think we all know that but we can see small steps of progression. We're progressing and it's going to be a great challenge. We have to take, instead of some small steps this week, we have to take big steps forward."
(On why Mack Crowder started at center and will he against Alabama)
"We'll see. We'll see how Alex Bullard's ankle is. He's been nursing his ankle a little bit, so we'll see how he progresses. There are a number of reasons why we start individuals. Some is health related and some is discipline related as well."
(On whether it was health or discipline related)
(On the difference in getting ready for tough competition every week)
"First of all, it's your job. As a coach you never take any opponent lightly. Everyone says it is coach speak, but it's really the truth. The next game is the most important game, the now. So, I think every coach, no matter who the opponent is, prepares with a high level of intensity and effort and mentality. I just think the overall grind of an SEC schedule, the great players, the great coaching, and the physicality that's required week in and week out, the mental effort, and the mental intensity. I think that's the big thing, not having a team that's up and down. Having a team that's consistent. Consistency and performance, consistent in the way they prepare each and everyday, consistency in terms of their mental capacity to play at a high level, a high passionate level, a high level of intensity week in and week out. I think that's the big thing is having experienced the highs and lows of a season and then I think the venues that you have to go play in. You're playing in hostile environments on the road each and every week. Again, it's that mental endurance that it takes to compete in the SEC on a week-to-week basis. So, there are a lot of things that go into it."
(On if he found out a lot about his team this week)
"Well, I know this. Everything that occurred last week is not going to help us win this week. What we've done, that's in the past. It's time to move on and you have to rely on your maturity and your leadership. Our players understand now what's at stake. If anything, it's how do you handle success? Does it drive you to want more? Do you want to continue to get better and better? Or do you become complacent? That's not just one win, that's win four.
"The last couple years, we won nine or ten games. You have to push the reset button every week and it's starting a new week over, new game plan, the mental effort, and the intensity, how you prepare. Our kids have done a great job with that. I think we've been ready to play, which is attribute to them, every week. Everyone talks about the energy level that we have and that's been pretty consistent throughout the entire course of the season. That's because of the way we practice. That's the way we meet. That's the standard and expectation in our football program. Again, you're going on the road, hostile environment, and number one team in the country. It's going to take everything we have."
(On if he considered having Worley earlier in the clock due to runoff rule)
"Did you come up with that? That's a great question. I've considered that. It was a consideration. That's why I always like to have one timeout. It's like you read my mind. I've been, I was thinking about that during the game, after the game, yesterday, and all day today. What's she talking about is, you know, if we would've jumped offsides and we didn't have a timeout to buy or a helmet comes off, it's a ten second runoff and the game's over with. So you go, do you spike the ball with eleven seconds on the clock? But now, you make the field goal, you're kicking off, and anything can happen.
"Our thought process, if you noticed, we had two huddles. We had the first group out there and there's so much that goes into just kicking that game winning field goal. So, we had the first huddle lined up. We had the second huddle lined up ready to go. With that timeout, we were able to remind our kids the discipline. Don't flinch be ready to go. So, we did consider that but we pride ourselves in being a disciplined football team and we're going to rely on our discipline down the stretch."
(On the secondary's performance the past two games)
"Well, we're playing very good team defense right now and they're complimenting each other. There's a number of times, we talk about opportunity sacks, we talk about coverage sacks, there's a couple of times when they drop back to throw the football there's nowhere to go with the football. It aided and basically extra time for us to get to the passer and impact the quarterback. There were other times where we came off the ball with a mentality that we expect with our defensive front.
"So, I could see both but a lot of times Jacques Smith, I thought he was explosive off the football and he generated a couple opportunity sacks because we thought this was Dan McCullers's best game since we've been here. He pushed the pocket. He played with a higher level of physicality and effort that we expect. I think that Jacques aided in that with his effort and that's what call, in terms of opportunity sacks, is making the quarterback flush the pocket or push the pocket and you spin off your defender and you make a sack. I think it's been a combination. I thought our linebackers did a much better job in terms of coverage. There were a number of times when they tried to match their running back up with our linebackers with option routes and I thought we took great strides. Again, this week we're going to be challenged with all that again. I think it's been a combination of a lot of little things adding up to big things."
(On Josh Smith and Devrin Young)
"Josh Smith ran yesterday. I'll know a little bit more probably Tuesday, but we anticipate him back for the Alabama game. Devrin Young, it's going to be a progression with him at coming back. I thought we put him back there for a spark on punt return and I thought he did a great job of fair catching it in a stressful type situation with defenders around him. Again, getting him back on kickoff returns, now that off returner has to keep him in when he's deep into the end zone. I think another week of practice you should see more of him. Everything is earned in practice. I keep saying it. If he comes and he has a great week of preparation in terms of our punt returner or our kick returner, understanding his assignments and performing those in practice, he'll play more. That's the same way with Alton Howard. It's the same way with Jason Croom. It's the same way with Alex Bullard. It's the same way with Mack Crowder. That doesn't change."
(On Marlon Walls's performance)
"Yeah because he plays with a high level of energy. He's playing through the nicks and bruises and certain pains associated with the football season. I thought he really set the tone and the temperament for our defensive front on Saturday with his energy level. Again, he had some opportunity sacks and he also created some opportunities for other individuals with his energy. So, I can't say enough about him and what he's bringing to the table not only on the field but in the locker room and as a leader as well."
(On Daniel Hood and the player staff)
"You know when you ask that question the first word that comes to mind is character. You know both these individuals of the utmost character. Dan Hood says it all the time, `just tell me what you need coach. What do you need today?' and them being on the players staff they take great ownership in that and I'd like to feel that we built a great relationship, a very trustworthy relationship. These individuals have been all in, they're all in for Tennessee and whatever we feel or they feel together but when we present something and they understand it's for the betterment of themselves for our football program for Tennessee football, they've been outstanding so I just can't say enough about those two individuals. They're special people."
"I do, and we talk about a work ethic and I know everybody believes that with their football team but we believe that and we always talk about making conditioning a factor and it's just a mindset in our football program just like everyone else says the same thing to their football team. You have to live it every day and you have to talk about it and talk about it and a lot of times it's just a mindset and it gets back to that mental conditioning aspect of it and everything that goes in to it - the body language, how you treat yourself, whether your inward focused or outward focused, you know snap and clear mentality, pushing the reset button after every single play and letting it go and treat every play like it's a life of its own. That may sound kind of corny but it is really true. The great players are able to take it one play at a time and if you mess up you can let that one bad play effect you two, three plays down the road and that's everything we talk about in our football program. Sometimes it takes a while. Each individual is different but when they get it you can see it.
"It took Derek Wolfe, for the Denver Broncos, it took him a complete full year. It took John Hughes - you know I tell the John Hughes story all the time, it took him a year and a half and John Hughes is one of the greatest stories I've ever had in coaching. Starting defensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns, I believe he is a 3rd round draft pick. It's the middle of his senior year and nobody even knows who John Hughes is and all the sudden we're in scout team on a Tuesday and I look down at the opposite end and John Hughes after every play is turning and sprinting and touching the far sideline and sprinting back to the huddle and playing a play and this continues to go on and on. I kind of get a smile on my face and I walk over there and I go, `John what are you doing?' he goes `Coach, I'm getting myself in shape to play winning football and all the sudden after about game five every NFL scout is walking in wanting to know where this guy came from. Football rewards those who are in great condition, mentally and physically and for a lot of individuals it's hard for them to push that and simulate game conditions in practice but what happens is it only takes one and all of the sudden by the end of the year our entire defense is doing it. That's kind of the mindset that we're trying to build here. Do we have a long ways to go, yes but I'm starting to see it develop in here."
(On the win and what Team 117 did to be successful)
"Well I think before its blind faith. They're believing it but they're like `Coach we're doing all this but we're not seeing the wins and losses' but I see, and I said it two weeks ago here in my press conference, I see improvement every single day and sometimes it doesn't occur in wins but I see it every day. I see it in mentality changing, I see it in the attitude, in the relentlessness. I see the film study, I see the team coming together. I see guys now calling unit meetings on their own and watching film together so I see that but now the last couple games they're starting to see that hey you know what, this stuff works. We're searching for the inches. But again you have to prove yourself. This is the most humbling profession in sports and in the world. You have to prove yourself week in and week out. Alabama doesn't care what we did last week so we have to go reprove ourselves again and it's going to be a great challenge."
(On Michael Palardy)
"I think just developing a relationship with him. I found it very early being here that he took hard coaching. You could coach him. He listened and was very coachable but he's extremely competitive and he wants to be great and right now like I said we've improved defensively because of him and offensively we're now generating some more points because of field position. Field position in the game of football is everything and he's playing with a lot of confidence. So he's been a weapon for us in everything he's done in terms of kickoffs, punting the football and placekicking."
(On Alabama's wide receiver Amari Cooper)
"Well Amari challenges you in so many ways. First off he has great speed, he has great length. He can run, he can go get the ball, he can high point it - very, very athletic and can run after the catch. It's going to be a challenge for us."
(On how you cover Cooper)
"You have to mix it up. We're going to have to mix our coverages up because also the quarterback is a great player and he's seen anything and everything from coverage standpoint to everything so we have to do a great job at really mixing the coverages up, not letting them get comfortable but again not only can they throw the football but they're imposing up front, have great running backs and they can run the football. It's a great challenge when they play action pass we have to be disciplined back to our eye discipline and we can't have eye violations and we have to be disciplined in everything we do to have an opportunity to compete on Saturday."
(More on Michael Palardy)
"I think each individual is different. You treat everyone fairly but every individual responds to a different type of coaching. I think the great coaches, the great teachers they coach, they teach, they mentor each individual in their own way but you treat everyone fairly. The expectations, the standards never change but I like to apply pressure. I like to have confidence as a coach that he's going out there and he's got to perform under pressure. I want to make sure that he has to also perform under pressure in practice so that's why we do a lot of the things that we do. I want our players to be thick skinned so I try to, as you know set that temperament, that mood, that temperament in practice and they've responded and they've done a great job with that."
(On the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry)
"Well, I understand the rivalry and I understand the tradition that's in this football game but every game I coach in is critical. This isn't any more important than last week or three weeks prior or the following week. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but every game is the most important game in terms of coaching. This week is critical. I put a lot of pressure on myself, on our staff and on our preparation. We talk about pride in preparation and this week we have to be extremely prepared for anything and everything but not only are you preparing your kids physically but mentally going into a hostile environment, playing against some very skilled athletes in the physicality of the game, preparing their mindset and making sure they're ready to execute the small details and we put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves as coaches for that. Gamedays are for the players and managing the football game. Every game to me is the end all be all of games. I take it one week at a time."
UT players Ju'Juan James, Justin Worley, and Michael Palardy speak at Vols weekly press conference
Transcript of players press conference, courtesy UTSports.com:
JUNIOR QUARTERBACK Justin Worley
(On improved play since August)
"Over the course of the season, whether you have success or failure, you gain experience. With the way we've played these last few weeks, I think our confidence has grown. I definitely think we're a different football team than we were earlier this year."
(On his hand)
"It was a little sore. I banged it up a little bit, but it's fine. Our training staff does a great job of getting us ready to play, no matter the situation."
(On translating practice and meetings to the game field)
"Kudos to Coach Jake (Bajakian) for preparing us and getting us ready for a game time atmosphere and any situation that we're going to see. I think our practices are set up, it really helps us transfer from the classroom or the media room to the practice field, and then from both those settings to the game."
(On gaining confidence in his offensive teammates to make plays)
"Like I said earlier, over the course of the season I think our experience level and confidence level have grown. With these younger guys around me and the veteran offensive line, knowing that we're building chemistry day in and day out, I have faith in them, and I'm really happy with how we've come along so far."
(On feeling more prepared this year to face October schedule)
"Our conditioning is incredible, and it's really carried us this far, and it'll continue to carry us throughout the year. Also, experience, especially with the offensive linemen who have started for three or four years. We know what is at stake, and having some success against Georgia and South Carolina can definitely help us in the next few years to come."
(On if he likes having difficult October schedule)
"I don't pick the schedule. We know what we're facing week in and week out. We play in the best league in the nation, the SEC. Every week's a challenge."
(On Alabama's defense)
"They do not make many mistakes. They are a very fundamentally sound team. They have a lot of depth and experience. They are a well put together team."
(On being able to rely on Palardy for points)
"We are always taught as quarterbacks not to force a ball in the red zone. We have three points in our back pocket. I think that comes with having confidence in our kickers and Michael's abilities. We can't do anything stupid in the red zone like turnovers or penalties that could cost points. Confidence in our kickers definitely helps with our mindset."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN Ja'Wuan James
(On being better prepared to face Alabama)
"We've just gotten experience over the season, from playing these games, going down to Florida, playing Georgia. I feel like people like myself, the older people, put confidence into the young guys who haven't really been in an environment like this."
(On what the Alabama rivalry means to him)
"It means a lot. It's another opportunity, another game. Every time we play them, they're usually #1 so we can go out there and compete with the best and size up with the best."
(On feeling more prepared this year to face October schedule)
"I feel a lot more prepared. I think everybody does. Conditioning-wise, I feel like Coach Lawson does a good job with us over the spring and the summer. I feel like this is the most conditioned team we've ever had. During this stretch in October, this is when you need that conditioning, that second wind. I feel like that's why we're finishing games better."
(On Coach Jones having confidence in line play)
"It means a lot. I saw a different team in that Georgia locker room at the end of the game. In everybody's minds we believe that we can win these types of games. I feel like we went out there and showed it against South Caroina. Just to have that confidence from him and the other coaches, it helps a lot because if they believe in us to the fullest, then we can believe in ourselves and we can go out there and execute."
(On challenge of running the ball against Alabama)
"They are experienced and disciplined. They are big guys so we have to bring our A game. If do what we practice, then we will be alright."
SENIOR PUNTER/KICKER Michael Palardy
(On if he's changed based on new coaching staff)
"I feel like I'm definitely a lot more confident kicker and punter than I have been these last few years. Like I always say, the coaches instilled a lot of confidence in myself, along with the entire team, so I think going out there and having that confidence has really helped my play this year."
(On Coach Jones preparing him to make a game-winning field goal)
"Absolutely. He'll sometimes at the end of practice or even in the middle of practice will yell out over the microphone `Game-winning field goal!' just to kind of get me prepared for that situation. He always tells me to be prepared for a game-winning field goal every week, no matter what the result of the game is, always be prepared for the game-winning field goal. Ultimately, I feel like he's prepared me pretty well as well as I have prepared myself for that situation."
(On his thought process during game-winning drive)
"Well, I was pacing up and down the sideline for quite a while, but I was pretty calm for the most part. I didn't really think much. I just kind of took it as `I've done it before. It's every kick that I've executed in practice or a game. I just need to execute it the way that my team wants me to,' and it worked."
(On help from kicking often during the game)
"The big thing to me is when my number is called, how will I execute? Everything I do is performance based. When I am called in to punt, I have to change field position. That is my job. I have to make the opposing offense's job harder and make the field longer. That also makes it easier on our defense. I have been going out with a lot more confidence this year. On Saturday, I struggled a little bit on punting. I pinned them deep a couple of times, but I felt like I could have done better job of kick placement. There is always room for improvement. Other than that, I felt confident."
(On practicing kick placement inside the 20 yard line)
"Every practice, we have a specialist period. I really focus on pinning them deep, doing a pooch punt, or where to place it like out of bounds. Pinning the other team deep though, is my main focus throughout the week because when we do our punt period, it is backed up. We try to switch the field position. On Thursday, we work on pooch punt and scout punt."
(On thoughts before the game-winning kick)
"My visualization starts at the beginning of the week. I visualize throughout the week, even in practice, about kicking a game-winning field goal. No matter if it is an extra point or a 45-yard field goal. The biggest thing for me is maintaining focus/composure and not letting my adrenaline nerves get the best of me. When we are put in that situation as kickers, we have to execute. That is our job. When I went out on the field, I was more confident and calm than I would have thought prior to the situation. I just tried to maintain my focus as long as possible."
(On tough coaching)
"When Coach Jones came in here, I found out early that you have to have thick skin. No matter what position you play, he will be in your ear. He will consistently be in your ear. He is always yelling at me, but it isn't because he is angry but to lookout for the best of us. I like to think of myself as having thick skin with all of the criticism I have taken over the past couple of years. He has really instilled a lot of confidence in me."
(On being more prepared for game-winning kick now compared to past years)
"I would say it is a complete 180 on opposite ends of the spectrum. Like I said, he prepares me for that kick every single day in practice. I kick field goals every single day. If I miss a field goal in practice, it is consistency and performance. My confidence while going out on the field was the biggest thing for me."
(On being most confident now than ever before)
"That is absolutely safe to say. Over the past couple of years, I have had good and bad games. As a kicker and punter, you can't have that. You have to be consistent nine games out of ten or even ten out of ten. That is the way that it goes. I would just say that I feel a lot better about my play and myself. There is still a lot more improvement to be done, but I feel we are well prepared for the Alabama game."