Despite Struggles Scoring UT Still Confident In Offense

Vols Continue Prep Work For Saturday's Kentucky Game

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - by special to The Chattanoogan.com

Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, sophomore linebacker Daniel Bituli and senior tight end 

cmail19.com/t/d-l-uilyiiy-waexu-d/" target="_blank">Ethan Wolf met with the media on Tuesday afternoon to talk about the team's prep aration for Saturday's road game at Kentucky.

The Vols will hold their second practice of the week on Tuesday afternoon at the Anderson Training Center.

Saturday's game at Kroger Stadium is set for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff and will be aired live on the SEC Network.

The Vols and Wildcats are both trying to bounce back from road losses – by identical 45-7 scores – to SEC West foes last Saturday.

When the Vols and Wildcats meet for the 113th time this weekend, UT will be looking to extend its winning streak over Kentucky to six games.

The Vols have dominated the series with an all-time record of 79-24-9. Tennessee's 79 wins are the most against any opponent in program history. More impressively, the Vols have come away victorious in 31 of the past 32 meetings with the only loss in that span coming on the road in 2011 by a score of 10-7.

Despite the long history of success over Kentucky, Tennessee knows that they'll be facing a tough and talented Kentucky team in Lexington this Saturday.

"They're a very physical team, a very tough team," Guarantano said. "They're 5-2, so they figure out how to win games. They definitely could have beaten Florida, but they had a few mental errors in the process. They're definitely a very good team and we're just looking forward to the test."

The Vols also know they'll be going up against another solid defense this week, which is one of the many challenges that comes with playing in the SEC.

"They have some linebackers that will run around and hit you," Wolf said. "They play some 'Bear' front, which always proposes a challenge. That's what we've been seeing these past couple of weeks. The biggest thing we can do is apply the Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina games and everything we learned to now because it's going to be the same defense. Not much is going to be different, just different guys.

"We've got to come out here this Saturday and start from the first play and finish all the way through the last."

Despite the team's recent struggles on the offensive side of the ball, Guarantano and the rest of the offense still have confidence in their ability to turn things around.

"There are some things that we've done to hurt ourselves, but our confidence is still there," Guarantano said. "I think the offensive linemen still have trust in me and John Kelly and the receivers to make plays, and John Kelly has trust in them. I think that we're just in a good position and we're ready to explode these next couple of weeks and just play well."

Wolf agreed that the offense isn't lacking in confidence and that turning things around simply comes down to execution and a passion for being successful.

"You just go out and practice every day and make plays and execute," Wolf said. "It comes down to more than being successful at football, it comes down to loving to play it. That's why I play the game."

In the absence of starting middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., Bituli has been one of the players to step up his game and fill that void.

Bituli leads the Vols with 57 total tackles this season and ranks fifth in the SEC with 8.1 tackles per game. The sophomore from Antioch, Tennessee, returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter of last week's game at No. 1 Alabama as well.

"I was a spy on the running back, but the running back decided to stay in the box and block for the quarterback," Bituli said when describing the play. "I actually thought Quart'e Sapp was going to get a sack, but the quarterback didn't see me because of Quart'e's blitz, and he just threw it and luckily I was under the ball and able to make a play."

Among the many strides Bituli has made this season, he believes that pass coverage has been one of his biggest areas of improvement.

"I'm feeling a lot better. The coaches have done a good job of talking to me and explaining what I have to do, so I definitely feel like I'm growing into that."

QUOTES

Freshman Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano

On his first impressions of Kentucky:

“They’re a very physical team, a very tough team. They’re 5-2, so they figure out how to win games. They definitely could have beaten Florida, but they had a few mental errors in the process. They’re definitely a very good team and we’re just looking forward to the test.”

On the offense’s overall confidence:

“There’s some things that we’ve done to hurt ourselves, but our confidence is still there. I think the offensive linemen still have trust in me and John Kelly and the receivers to make plays, and John Kelly has trust in them. I think that we’re just in a good position and we’re ready to explode these next couple of weeks and just play well.”

On what the offense has been missing recently:

“There’s no missing ingredients. I think we’re finally going to go out there and make plays like we should have been. As practice has gone on we’ve continued to do so, and I think through the weeks we’ve developed a chemistry that will be put on display.”

On John Kelly taking time to emphasize the importance of protecting the quarterback to other players after practice:

“I didn’t know he had done that until just now, but it definitely means a lot. I know the guys have my back and I sure definitely have their backs. Going into it, I’m going to fight for them and they’re going to fight for me. That’s just the way things are.”

On his first road start:

“It was definitely a good first road test going into Tuscaloosa. It’s definitely a different place, and I think that it’s just a great place to play there. The crowd was great on their side. It was magical, and I was very happy to even be able to take part in something like that.”

Sophomore Linebacker Daniel Bituli

On his 97-yard interception return for a touchdown against Alabama:

“I was a spy on the running back, but the running back decided to stay in the box and block for the quarterback. I actually thought Quart’e Sapp was going to get a sack, but the quarterback didn’t see me because of Quart’e’s blitz, and he just threw it and luckily I was under the ball and able to make a play.”

On how he feels in pass coverage compared to earlier in the season:

“I’m feeling a lot better. The coaches have done a good job of talking to me and explaining what I have to do, so I definitely feel like I’m growing into that.”

On adapting to the college level after playing at a smaller high school:

“I was actually made fun of and told that because I was at the single A level, I wouldn’t be able to hit with the older guys, so I definitely wanted to prove myself. But at the end of the day it’s football, I knew what I signed up for. I love to hit, and I am where I am because of my physicality, so it really didn’t take that long to adjust, it’s just the mental aspect and learning was the hardest thing.”

On the defense wearing down throughout the game the past few weeks:

“No excuse. Coach [Bob] Shoop preaches about it every week. We have to step it up for four quarters, and that’s on the defense, not the coaches.”

On his confidence that Tennessee can finish the remaining season strong:

“Those are my brothers in the locker room. And I know they have my back, and I have theirs, so I just have to lean on them and hope they do a good job, and they have to lean on me, hoping I’ll do mine. That’s where the confidence comes from, and we just have to get the job done.”

Senior Tight End Ethan Wolf

On frustrations over past month:

“Over the past month there has definitely been a lot of frustrations. Nobody likes losing. That’s one of the biggest things over all that we get frustrated about. We all put our heart and souls into this game 365 days a year, and when you don’t capitalize on those 12 opportunities that you get, it’s frustrating. I would say that is probably the most frustrating thing over all, there is little things we can do to improve on that. That is definitely at the top of our priority list right now is to figure things out on offense and win these last five games.”

On Kentucky’s defense:

“They have a really strong and solid secondary, back seven, linebackers too. Their defensive line is definitely solid as well. I would say their strength is back there, and they have a lot of good players. They have some linebackers that will run around and hit you. They play some bear front, which always proposes a challenge. That’s what we’ve been seeing these past couple of weeks. The biggest thing we can do is apply the Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina games and everything we learned to now because it’s going to be the same defense. Not much is going to be different, just different guys. We’ve got to come out here this Saturday and start from the first play and finish all the way through the last.”

On keeping confidence up:

“You just go out and practice every day and make plays and execute. It comes down to more than being successful at football, it comes down to loving to play it. That’s why I play the game. I don’t play the game to make a bunch of money or get the scholarship, or get to be on TV. That’s not why I play it and I don’t think that’s why anyone on our team plays. Just like anything you do in life that you love to do, if you’re not good at it or you’re failing at it you’re just going to keep coming back and trying harder and harder to succeed at it. That’s the kind of mentality that I take and I am pretty sure a lot of people on our team take. That’s where you come back to the question, how much do you love football? If you love it enough and you’re invested enough into it then it will really matter. We have the talent and the resources.”

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)

 



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