Nobody likes to lose – at any sport.
Butch Jones lives in that world and wants his Vols to join him.
Not only did his Tennessee football team get rocked, 59-14, by Oregon on Saturday, the loss was every bit as bad as it looked on national television.
Jones doesn’t want to see any more performances like that.
“Losing will never be tolerated here or accepted at the University of Tennessee,” Jones is quoted as saying at his Monday press conference via information posted on the school’s athletic website. “You can search for all the excuses you want, but winning is a habit and losing is a habit. Our players are going to understand that.”
The unbeaten and second-ranked Ducks destroyed the Vols after falling behind 7-0 by scoring 59 straight points. They piled up 687 yards of total offense and sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota put up career-high numbers with 456 passing yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters.
It was Tennessee’s most lopsided loss since Mississippi State whipped the Vols, 48-0, in 1910. The 59 points were the most against the Vols since Florida dismantled them, 62-37, in 1995. Florida also scored 59 points in a win over Tennessee in 2007.
The Vols (2-1) now try to shake the ill effects of the Oregon blowout, in which they looked woefully over-matched, and somehow get ready to play the stout-hearted defense of 19th-ranked Florida in Gainesville on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“The demands become greater,” Jones said.
Florida (1-1) ranks third nationally in defense, allowing 208.5 yards per game.
The Gators are No. 3 in rushing defense, begrudgingly giving up just 50.0 yards each game.
The only chink in Florida’s defense thus far has been a moderate amount of passing yards (158.5) they yield.
However, Tennessee’s passing attack, led by quarterback Justin Worley, who has not yet shown the ability to power the Vols effectively through the air, ranks 114th nationally with 137.3 yards per game.
Tennessee’s offense is ranked 78th (381.7) and the rushing attack is 29th (244.3).
The Gators lead the country in third-down conversion defense, giving up just two in 24 attempts against them.
“Third down conversions, I’ve never seen this in all my years of coaching,” Jones said.
After the Oregon debacle, Jones plans to address the problem of the Vols’ mental toughness for their first test in a grueling string of games against nationally ranked teams to open the Southeastern Conference campaign.
How does he do that?
“Just continue to demand,” Jones said. “Everything in our football program is based on mental conditioning, mental toughness. It’s just grinding. It’s the ability to focus and concentrate.”
Jones also admitted Monday that the lack of team speed against the Ducks was extremely difficult to comprehend.
How big was that one factor in the game’s outcome?
“Big factor,” he said. “You can have guys that run 4.4- or 4.5-(seconds) on the stopwatch, but they don’t play that fast. Football is a game of instincts and reactions. I didn’t think that we reacted as quickly as we needed to.”
Jones also addressed questions pertaining to quarterbacks – his own and Florida’s Jeff Driskel.
The Gators offensive triggerman has thrown for 442 yards, completing 39 of 55 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the 2012 game against Tennessee, Driskel proved he’s a mobile quarterback, as well. He ran for 81 yards on eight carries – that’s a 10.1-yard average – with a long gainer of 28 yards in a 37-20 win in Knoxville. The win was built on a 27-point second half.
“He’s been elusive for us,” Tennessee senior defensive lineman Daniel Hood said, “and he’s been able to run against us. We’ve got to do a good job containing him, forcing him to make throws and then getting after him when we know it’s a pass down.”
Jones said with a year of maturity and experience, Driskel’s base knowledge of the Gators’ offense has improved greatly.
“I think he’s in charge of their offense,” Jones said. “He’s going to present many challenges for us.”
“Well, first of all it’s been challenging at the quarterback position because we haven’t had any big-splash plays,” Jones said. “I’d like to see Justin settle in a little bit more and (be) a little more aggressive.
“We need him to attack more.”
Once again Jones said the quarterback competition is open and which one of the four – Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson – has the best practice will likely start against the Gators.
“If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback,” Jones said. “We’ll have more quarterback run in our package this week. We just needs to find ways to generate explosive plays and it’ that’s Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that’s what we’ll do to create plays.
“That’s going to be our focus and preparation this week.”
Worley is not a runner. Dobbs is probably the best running threat of any of the four quarterbacks.
Dobbs and Ferguson are true freshmen. Worley is a junior and Peterman a redshirt freshman.
Jones didn’t give the young receiving corps a free pass on the Vols’ poor offensive showing against the Ducks, though.
And performances at the receiving positions have a direct bearing on the quarterbacks.
“It does,” Jones said. “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 quarterbacks. I tell them their route artist.”
Talented freshman wide receiver Marquez North had only three receptions for 9 yards in the Oregon loss.
Jones had a good reason for that lack of production.
“He’s playing against two NFL corners on Saturday,” the coach said. “I see him getting better, but that’s the luxury that we have. We have to play true freshmen and they have to grow up in a hurry.”
NOTE: Jones said nothing has changed about the status of senior defensive lineman Maurice Couch, who was ruled ineligible for the Oregon game after a Yahoo!.com story alleged he received improper payments totaling $1,350 from an agent’s runner in 2012.
“I will keep you (media) informed on his status and the ongoing process,” Jones said. “You know as much as I do and I have told you everything that I know.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)