KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Butch Jones met with media on Monday and said anxiety likely affected the Vols in their lopsided 45-10 loss to top-ranked Alabama last weekend.
“Anxiety can affect you in a negative sense in terms of freezing up, not playing your fastest, it consumes you, it creates hesitation,” Jones said. “I thought a lot of times we had hesitation, especially in the second half.”
The Vols cannot afford hesitation Saturday when they take on No. 10 Missouri in Columbia, Mo, a Southeastern Conference game that will be televised by ESPN at 7 p.m. The Tigers are coming off a heartbreaking double overtime loss to South Carolina.
Jones said freshman Josh Dobbs will compete this week for the starting quarterback job with Justin Worley, who injured the thumb on his throwing hand against Alabama. Dobbs played the entire second half and performed admirably against the Crimson Tide.
Dobbs gives the Vols a running threat in their spread option offense and that’s an advantage Jones may want to utilize against Missouri’s talented, hard-nosed defense.
“He brings another element in terms of running,” Jones said of Dobbs. “If he is our quarterback you may see a little more quarterback runs. He is a 4.0 student, I think he has a photographic memory, he is extremely bright, he is competitive, so we don't have to scale down the playbook one bit with him.”
Tennessee (4-4, 1-3) and Missouri (7-1, 4-1) are meeting for the second time. The Tigers defeated the Vols, 51-48, in a four-overtime epic at Neyland Stadium in 2012. Missouri leads the nation with 11 overtime wins against five losses. Tennessee is second at 10-4.
Jones’ Vols will be trying to snap a string off 11 consecutive SEC road losses since 2011.
Here is the complete transcript of Jones' Monday press conference:
"Good afternoon, thanks for coming out, just a couple items then I will move forward with Missouri. Today is an unusual academic workload today, so most of our players have exams, midterms, papers, so there won't be any players here. It is not by design so we will make sure tomorrow you will get what you need from media standpoint in terms of access to our players. It is just one of those days where the players that were available had academics. That is kind of where we are at.
"Just quickly on last week and then moving forward to this week... I thought we created some tough situations, some tough circumstances for ourselves very early in that football game. Some of them self-inflicted, some of them because of the quality of opponent. We spoke about starting fast and Alabama is a great, great football team, I think they are a great representative of our conference and being number one in the country and very deservingly. But again it is our players understanding that you just don't show up against a quality team like that and a great venue and just play. We are youthful in all areas of our football program. When I use the term youthful that is taken in the context of a lot of things. First of all, obviously, we are young at some positions, playing 23 freshmen. I think we are very, very young in terms of the learning curve. Young in terms of that learning curve of championship habits. What it takes to really go and play on the road in a tough environment versus a tough opponent.
"I thought we had a lot of anxiety. Anxiety can affect you in a negative sense in terms of freezing up, not playing your fastest, it consumes you, it creates hesitation. I thought a lot of times we had hesitation, especially in the first half. There is a lot of positive lessons, a lot of negative lessons, but all powerful lessons. We need to learn from it and continue to move forward.
"Next game, Missouri. Another great football team, another great challenge having to go on the road. Great, great defense, great defensive line, physical, tough, active, great team speed, playing with a lot of confidence offensively. Up-tempo football team, we are going to have to get lined up, get our signals in, playing fast, physical upfront. Again, great team speed. Maty Mauk, I know a lot about Maty and his family. His brother played at Cincinnati and we recruited Maty, so I have a lot of respect for him. He is one of those players that can turn nothing into something. He can create a big play every time he touches the football. So we have to have great discipline. That starts with a great week of preparation, starting today. We need to learn from our mistakes, learn from last week and continue to push forward and move forward."
(On moving on from the Alabama game)
"I saw a team that was extremely disappointed with their performance. Which as a coach is great to see. We spent an inordinate amount of time after the game speaking about it, just trying to get it right. Everyone being accountable for their performance, from coaches to players to everyone. Understanding where did that anxiety come from. Why did we not play our best. Also, Alabama is the number one team in the country as well. We have spoken about it, everyone was in the building Sunday watching the film, they have been around so I expect a business-like approach this week like every week. Like I said, our players have been outstanding to this whole process so far."
(On Riley Ferguson's status)
"Riley is part of that. We will know more about Justin's status probably tomorrow. Right now, in our mind Justin is day-to-day. He was in watching film this morning. Obviously, Joshua gained some valuable repetitions against a quality opponent in a hostile environment. Riley will be part of that mix as well. The positive thing, I touched on this a little last week, Nate Peterman's cast is off, he is back, and now he is rehabbing the strength and we will see how he progresses. There is a possibility by the end of the week he may be available as well. But you never know with the body and how it heals. He is back and he is rehabbing. So we will see how he continues to rehab and how it affects him moving forward."
(On evaluating Joshua Dobbs performance against Alabama)
"You learn in coaching that it is never as good as it seems and it is never as bad as it seems. For a young man, a true freshman coming into that environment against that type of opponent, he was poised, he was calm, he was disciplined, he was able to get us in the right plays offensively and he had a command about himself. He walked around to the position groups and he was confident. Now we need to continue to have that with the week of preparation, playing against a great opponent. Their defensive front, the best this I can say is there are disruptive. They are quick off the football, they challenge you with different blitz packages, different fronts, different coverages, man-to-man coverage, Tampa 2, Cover 2, you name it he is going to see it if he is the quarterback. I thought he performed well under the circumstances."
(On Joshua Dobbs)
"He brings another element in terms of running. If he is our quarterback you may see a little more quarterback runs. He is a 4.0 student, I think he has a photographic memory, he is extremely bright, he is competitive, so we don't have to scale down the playbook one bit with him. It is more execution, playing to whoever our quarterback is, playing to their strengths. If it is running the quarterback more, if it is more deep balls, if it is more 15-yard throws, if it is more break contain and sprint outs. That is going to be the big thing. We always talk about playing to the strengths of whoever our quarterback is."
(On the quarterback battle)
"However long it takes. It could go all week. I never put a time frame on anything. It is how they develop. We are going to play the individual who gives us the best opportunity to win on Saturday."
(On Justin Worley's hand)
"He had a great week of preparation and he banged it up again. I believe it was when he made the tackle. We knew obviously that there were some issues there but he performed well in practice, that is football. Could he have gone in at the time? Yes. But we wanted to make sure that we tried to see what it was and not doing anything to further injury itself. So there were a lot of things and a lot of thought process that went behind that. Right now he is day-to-day and we will know more about where he is at later on down the road."
(On Justin Worley practicing in gloves)
"Just a comfort level, the ball was slipping out of his hand at times. He wanted to try it and each day was a different experiment, one glove, two gloves, but starting on Thursday, he didn't practice with any gloves."
(On if that was because of his thumb)
"Maybe a little bit of the grip, being able to squeeze the football. But, it was more just the ball's been slipping out of his hands. Some individuals perspire more than others with being able to grip the football."
(On if the ball slipped any against Alabama)
"There was one time where the ball did slip out of his hands, yes."
(On injuries in the secondary)
"Right now we fully anticipate having Byron Moore back and Brian Randolph back. We anticipate that. As a coach, you're always prepared. So, it's going to be another individual's opportunity. Jalen Reeves-Maybin will go back to getting some repetitions at the safety position, which that's what he's always played. He's a very cerebral young man and intelligent, so that won't be an issue. You're seeing a constant theme pop up now as we get in the grind of the SEC schedule, it's our overall depth, and the only way that you improve that is through the recruitment process. So, we have to develop our players and we have to get them ready to play on Saturday and to make sure they're game ready. As of our meeting this morning, we fully anticipate both of those individuals back."
(On Riley Ferguson)
"He's in a boot, just precautionary, but half our team are in boots right now. That's kind of the norm with our football team."
(On the anxieties of their road games and if Alabama was different)
"Each game takes on a storyline of itself, but maybe a little bit different. I've spoken to our football team about it, and there are times you become institutionalized. What are your reference points? Are they negative reference points? Are they positive reference points? What are you going back to in your mind? It's getting over that hump. It's a process. You talk about learning what it takes to play winning football. There's a lot that goes into it in the mentality, mental approach, the mental makeup. A lot of that goes into that. Winning a game like South Carolina was big. It was win number four, but it also helps bring some positive reference points. The South Alabama game, I said it in here the next week, that game helped us because we won a game in the final seconds. So again, that's another positive reference point in terms of moving this program forward."
(On not having any reference points at Missouri)
"Well, their body of work though, speaks for themselves. Coach (Gary) Pinkel's done a great job there. I've followed his work since his days at Toledo. He's really built that program and you talk about a model of consistency, Missouri's been a model of consistency. They're playing for a lot and they have great players and great team speed, so it's going to be another challenge. But, if you look at our schedule, that's the way it's been week in and week out for us, no different."
(On the size of Missouri's receivers)
"It causes you matchup problems. They can play the ball exceptionally well in the air. I know Maty's (Mauk) going to do a great job of getting them the ball. We have to go up and we have to play the ball at its highest point and it's going to test our fundamentals, our eye discipline and our athleticism. We have to really do a lot of film study, and we have to trust our eyes. We have to trust what we see. We have to trust in our technique. We have to do a much better job of playing with great instincts. Trust the offhand coming off the football, trust the break and drive, all those things go into playing winning football out in the perimeter of your defense."
(On Missouri coming off a loss to South Carolina)
"I do. I think we put too much into it. Each week is a new season in of itself. I don't spend too much time on it. I think it helps as a reference point because we played South Carolina but every game is different. Every game is like a new chapter in a book. It has different story lines, the way the game goes, the flavor of the game. I don't really put that much validity in that. What you did last week has no bearing on the outcome of this week."
(On Maty Mauk)
"Well we were engaged in a great recruiting battle. Maty Mauk's a winner. He's the son of a football coach, so he's a gym rat. He grew up with a football in his hand since the day he was born. I'd said he's a winner and he's a playmaker. He's a very very talented quarterback."
(On A.J. McCarron being offended by "the red team")
"To be honest with you, I don't know. It's really out of respect, but I think Alabama's built such a great reputation and very deservingly so, that I think when you go play Alabama, the name Alabama gives them fourteen points already because of the respect that people have. I said it last week and I'll continue to say it. I respect their football program and what they've done as much or more than anyone in the country. I have to prepare our football team and it's part of them understanding that it's a great rivalry. I said it, to make the rivalry relevant; we've got to win some of those. But, it's past and I have a tremendous respect for them and now we're moving forward to Missouri."
(On counseling players on social media)
"Well, it is the world that we live in and that's social media. The best thing to combat it is, don't have a twitter account. We always talk about managing the clutter and managing the distractions, but I think Rick Pitino said it the best at their media day. He said, `Our kids can't go five minutes without picking their phone up or they can't read a chapter of a book before picking their phone up.' I think that's society, that's the world that we live in. Again, it's educating our players of managing the clutter and the distractions. That's all distractions. Just focus on the task at hand and that's an ongoing process that we deal with each and every day."
(On why he hasn't banned his players from Twitter)
"Yeah, I think for the most part our players have shown great maturity in that realm. We do so much in our character education and in our development of our players with social media. So, I haven't really seen anything to ban them from that. It can be a negative, but it can also be a positive. We spend an inordinate amount of time; we see every tweet our players make, so we counsel them on that. Jimmy (Stanton) and his staff do a tremendous job of educating our players as well. That's part of our Vol for Life program. So, I think our players have shown some maturity when it comes to that."
(On stacking up to Missouri)
"We stack up exceptionally well. Michael Sam, who leads in sacks and tackle for losses, is very explosive. I think what you are seeing is a common theme in this conference. The teams that are being extremely successful have great depth. It is a line of scrimmage league. If you look at the depth of the teams that are successful, they go eight or nine deep at the defensive line position. Missouri is one of those football teams. Their players know they have four reps, and they better play their best four reps because then the next set of guys are coming in. That is what we are working towards at getting here at Tennessee. They have tremendous depth. Their defensive lineman understand angles, how to use their hands, and they are explosive out of their stance. They are relentless. This will be a great challenge for us offensively."
(On offensive lines play Saturday)
"I thought they did some good things. We take pride in our first down efficiency. If we run the football, then we need four yards or more. If we throw the football, then it is four yards or more. Our first down efficiency was only 40%, which is not good. In our goals, we have to be about 65% percent. In great offenses, most of the first downs are generated on first and second downs. We didn't win the first down battle or the third down battle. I think it is just a level of consistency. I think we had two explosive runs with one being 43 yards and the other being 11. That was it. We have to be able to run the ball more effectively and consistently."
(On what to look for in naming a starting quarterback )
"We are looking for the same thing we need each week. It is who can manage the offense. We look at consistency and performance each day, who has good command presence that is needed, the leadership, and game management. We look at who can avoid the catastrophic plays and understand situational football. It's 3rd-and-15. You get the ball and you check down. You play field position and punt, which is a productive play. I think the full gambit of intangibles is to understand the game plan. It comes down to execution that starts in practice."
(On ruling Justin Worley out because of injury)
"I will know more probably late tonight to tomorrow. What I have been told is that it is day to day. Right now he is undergoing further examination. We are taking the approach that he will be available and playing. He was in the building this morning. We just have to take it one day at a time."
(On Josh Dobbs' reaction after first game)
"You would never know that he played on Saturday. He is the same Josh Dobbs that we see each day. The great thing about Josh is you know what you are getting every day. We talk about the straight-line guy. He is never too high or too low. He comes to work every single day. I take great comfort in being around players like that. I always ask our players, `What are you selling today?' You are either a fountain or a drain. He is a fountain every day. He comes in with a business-like approach. He has a smile on his face. He has some charisma to him, as does Riley Ferguson. Riley Ferguson is the same way. Both of these young individuals have charisma to them. They are hungry, and they push each other. Nate Peterman has been outstanding in our position meetings. He is an individual who has been out for several weeks, but you would never know it with his preparation. He is in there filling his notebook in the meetings. That is extremely healthy for a football program and that position."
(On using one or two quarterbacks Saturday)
"Whatever it takes to win a football game. I don't like changing quarterbacks unless we have to. I don't like individuals looking over their shoulders and thinking that if they mess up one play, am I coming out? That messes with the overall rhythm of an offense. Whatever it takes to win football games, we are going to do."
(On success in creating more turnovers)
"We take great pride in what we call turnover conscience. We live it. We talk about it every day. We practice it every day. It is a part of playing defense at Tennessee. We talk about ball disruptions. Every play that we evaluate on film, we talk about the ball disruption part of it. We practice it, and our players have done a great job with it. There are a lot of times on Saturday when we didn't get the starting a lawn mower, but we were trying to do it. Those are all the small details that lead to the big details of creating turnovers."
(On forward progress fumble that was called back)
"They told me on the field that the whistle had blown, and they felt that the forward progress of the football carrier had been stopped. That is unreviewable."
(On Riyahd Jones being ready to play)
"I met with him this morning. We will see if he can play. He has to take great steps in moving forward this week in his preparation, intensity, and practice habits. He wants to play. We will see how he practices this week, and how he develops."
(On Cincinnati teams on the road and factors in winning/losing)
"Everywhere we have been, we take great pride in the ability to win on the road. Obviously it starts with winning your home games, but championship teams have the ability to block out external factors and go on the road and win games. Each team is different and has different personalities. I think in order to be a good road team, you have to get the first one. Everyone talks about routine and routine oriented. We try to keep the same routine whether it is home or on the road. I think it is just a maturity level. I think it is a business-like approach. I think it starts in your week of preparation by understanding what you are up against. Our road games have been against some high caliber and high quality opponents as well. It has been a grind for this football program and team. It has been a mental grind and a physical grind. We are looking at seven top teams on our schedule. It is having to play your best game week in and week out. I think this experience is going to prove to be very beneficial as we continue to grow and develop our football program. There is a lot of powerful learning experiences to some negatives. I expect to win every football game. I expect that from our football team too. This is the mentality that we will have, and it is how we will approach each week."
(On quarterback situation facing the No. 3 team in the nation at forcing interceptions)
"Well, you know we always talk about taking care of the football, but obviously the quarterback, that ball holds all of our dreams, goals, and aspirations. There's more than just the quarterback. It's the offensive line providing the stability of protection. It's the running backs taking care of the football. It's them in pass protection. It's the receivers running the appropriate depths of routes. It's their technique. It's being able to win in transition against man-to-man coverage. It's reading the windows in the zone coverage. There's so much, it's the tight ends being able to run the appropriate routes. There's so much that goes in to taking care of the football, and yeah, at the end of the day, it's on the quarterback, but it's all the other pieces around him as well."
(On how Missouri forces interceptions so well)
"They're very, very athletic and very, very physical. They play with great instincts. They're brake and drive on the football, and again they're athletic. Missouri has tremendous team speed."
(On receivers helping the quarterbacks)
"We need our receiving corps to take the next step and continue in that growth and development that they're going through. Marquez obviously has gained a lot of confidence, and again he continues to progress and get better and better. Having Josh (Smith) back will be big for us this week. We have to be able to make the routine plays first. Let's just throw and catch. We had four drops on Saturday, and we can't do that and play with a high level of consistency. I said that a drop in our offense is the equivalent of a turnover. It stifles momentum, it stifles being able to play with any type of tempo, it disrupts the procedure offensively, and so the first step is getting open, playing with great technique, and catching the football. Then, we move on and graduate to the next element and then to the next element. It's a step-by-step process.
"I do think Jason Croom made some great catches for us. I thought it was a great learning experience when it was 4th-and-3 I believe on the 5-yard line last week, so we were in those game situations, and I thought Josh did a great job of going through his progressions and putting the ball where it needed to be, and Jason Croom making the catch and playing big. You know Jason's a big-bodied receiver, and we challenged him to play big. Play like a 6-3 or 6-4 guy, don't play like a 5-10 guy. It's all those things, and they're all young. I think I looked out on the football field against the #1 team in the country last week, and we had a freshman tight end, three freshmen at receiver, and a true freshman quarterback. Those are the growth stages that we're going through, but I think in moving forward down the road it's going to prove to be extremely beneficial. I'm as encouraged as I've ever been. Am I disappointed? Absolutely because I expect to win every football game, and as I told you, I'm extremely impatient, but we're not going to take any short cuts. We're going to do it right, and it'll be done right."
(On Jason Croom being a primary target on 3rd and 4th downs)
"I just think he's run the appropriate routes. When his number's been called, he's executed. I think when that happens, you develops trust in individuals, and our quarterbacks trust him right now."
(On Alabama containing Pig Howard)
"I thought that was one of the things where we weren't able to get him the football as much as we'd like. They did a great job, and they're a great football team and great defense, and again all you have to do is look at the results of their football team. There's a reason why they're the #1 football team in the country."
(On Maty Mauk)
"The thing that concerns me most about him is that he's able to improvise. He's able to take a bad play and turn it into a big play. He's able to scramble and move around. He throws exceptionally well out of the pocket, and he's got a little bit of swagger to him. That's Maty Mauk. We signed his receiver at Cincinnati who was the leading receiver in the history of Ohio high school football, and Maty was his quarterback. He's a winner, and he makes plays."
(On how his team knows that he's encouraged with them)
"I tell them that all the time. I'm brutally honest, and I tell them the things we need to improve, I tell them what I think, and I want their input as well. They understand that and the standards and expectations. They've been great. I think we have that type of relationship. I tell them where we're at, where we need to go, how we're going to get there, and this is what we need to do. They listen, and when you're developing a team and a program, there's good days and bad days unfortunately. They're all a learning opportunity, and like I said, we're going through a grind, we're going through the toughest schedule in the country. The only way to do it is you put your head down, and you keep working to get better each and every day.
"I see progress every day, some days more than others, but I continue to see progress, and I'm encouraged. I'm encouraged with where we're at in recruiting. We're attracting the right type of student athletes in our opinion here. I think our players are continuing to develop. The individuals that we're redshirting, they're working exceptionally hard. They're going over and above what we ask of them. I think there's a lot of positive things going around that sometimes you don't see on Saturdays. I feel it in the Anderson Training Center. Our standard and our expectations are exceptionally, exceptionally high, and that will never change."
(On Maurice Couch)
"I'm still waiting for word on Mo Couch. As soon as I know anything, I'll make sure you guys are informed of the circumstances and what's going on, but I have not heard anything yet on that situation. I have no anticipated date of that decision, but when it comes, it comes."
(On Couch possibly returning after so much time off)
"I'd like to think that he's staying in shape. He's doing everything that he needs to do if that opportunity is presented. There will be a learning curve. There will be a part of where he is, but that's all hypothetical right now. I'm just worried about our football team and the players we have right now ready for Missouri."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)