Despite Fans' Ire, Jones Goes About His Business

Vols Coach Says He Still Has AD Currie's Support

Monday, October 30, 2017 - by Larry Fleming
Vols RB Ty Chandler
Vols RB Ty Chandler
- photo by UT Athletics

For Butch Jones, Monday was just another day at the office.

The embattled coach shrugged off calls for his firing – and worse – and questions on his status as the Vols’ head football man and if he’s talked to athletic director John Currie, who is being pressured from all sides to get Jones out of Knoxville. Sooner rather than later.

Does he still have the support of Currie?

“Nothing has changed at all,” the coach said.

In talks with Currie, what has been his message to you and what is your message to recruits?

“It’s been a challenging month, but the message is the same,” Jones said.

“We’ve had some unfortunate things happened, but this is when your character is really tested. Our recruits understand what we continue to build here, and understand our relationship with them, so that has been a non-factor.”

How often do Jones and Currie talk?

“We talk every day. He’s a great person to work for,” was Jones’ reply.

Record-wise, this may be the first year you have regressed. How are you handling that and how does it affect your family?

“We’re disappointed, but not discouraged,” he said. “I understand the expectations of Tennessee football and so do the players. It’s one of those years that we’ve had four games come down to the final play and we haven’t been able to close out some games. Things don’t always go according to the plan. You have to go about your business, be better for it and learn from it. We have the internal drive to win football games and do things in the right manner.

“In terms of family, a ton of people have been supportive. This is a great community and we have a lot of great friends here. I understand the fans being upset and if I was a fan I’d be upset too. We need to win football games and I’ll do everything in my power for our players, our university and our program to get that done.”

Winning down the stretch is certainly not a sure thing.

The Vols were 34-point underdogs against No. 1 Alabama. The Crimson Tide easily covered by winning 45-7.

Kentucky, which had won exactly once in 32 years going in Saturday’s border battle in Lexington, was a five-point pick and won 29-26.

The Vols are shaky six-point favorites against Southern Miss, but the question is: how many bettors have the guts to take Tennessee?

The Jones boys have lost four straight games since their last win, a nerve-rattling 17-13 decision against UMass on Sept. 23. Georgia bullied the Vols 41-0, South Carolina posted a 15-9 victory to get the losing streak in high gear.

Tennessee went into the Kentucky game having gone 14 straight quarters without an offensive touchdown. The Vols’ offense got two field goals in the first quarter and then freshman Ty Chandler, playing for the suspended John Kelly, scored TDs on a pair of 1-yard runs.

Kentucky held the Vols to two Brent Cimaglia field goals in the second half.

The Vols’ dampened spirits should get a lift knowing Southern Miss (5-3) is coming off a 30-12 loss to UAB. The Golden Eagles outscored the Blazers 23-0 in the second half.

It will be homecoming in Knoxville.

Kelly and Will Ignont, suspended when drugs were found in their car after a traffic stop on Tuesday, will practice this week with a chance for availability for Saturday’s game.

And, talented defenders Daniel Bituli and Rashaan Gaulden, ejected from the Kentucky game for rare unsportsmanlike penalties, won’t miss playing time against the Golden Eagles.

Beating Southern Miss, considering the Vols’ performances in the last four games, won’t be a gimme.

“They have a very talented defense, a veteran group,” Jones said. “They’re 27th in the country in total defense and 12th in tackles for loss. It’s similar, but different from any defensive scheme we’ve seen all year.

“On offense it’s the same thing. It’s a lot of orbit motions, jet motions, in motion and they do a great job playing two quarterbacks. Special teams are good as well.”

The Eagles’ defensive stats could mean more trouble for Tennessee’s sluggish offense.

Vols freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was sacked seven times for minus-60 yards in the Kentucky contest, a loss that dropped Tennessee to 0-5 in SEC play.

“Right away you think about the offensive line in that situation,” Jones said. “But it was a combination of things. Jarrett needs to throw the ball away sometimes and sometimes it’s a coverage sack. It’s sometimes him not getting rid of the football quick enough. It can be a missed assignment by the running backs or the rhythm throw is not there and he needs to throw the ball away and not take negative yards, especially in the red zone.”

Jones again praised Chandler for his strong effort in Kelly’s absence. The freshman from Nashville, Tennessee, who has a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD this season, ran 22 times and gained 120 of the team’s 203 rushing yards. He had an 80-yard touchdown run nullified by a penalty.

The 120 yards are the second-most by a SEC true freshman this season in conference play. Florida’s Malik Davis had 124 yards against Vanderbilt in September.

“Ty is a talented kid and it’s about time for that light to start to really come on for him and the game to start slowing down a little bit for him,” offensive coordinator Larry Scott said. “You’re starting to see flashes of his natural talent level come through.”

For the season Chandler has rushed for 238 yards on 49 carries. He also has nine catches for 101 yards and nine kickoff returns for 254 yards. He ranks second in the conference with a 28.2-yard kickoff return average.

“I knew I had to step up (against Kentucky) because of the opportunity in front of me,” Chandler said. “I wanted to take full advantage of it.”

Chandler could tell his first touchdown that broke the scoreless offensive streak gave the Vols a lift.

“Everyone was excited to see that,” he said. “I was pumped and excited for it because it was my first rushing touchdown. It brought a lot of energy and confidence to the team.”

“Coach (Robert) Gillespie is a great coach,” Chandler said. “He comes in and pushes us every day to make sure we are ready. When our name and number are called, we have to go out and perform.”

Additional Quotes

Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop

On the good and bad from the Kentucky game:
“It’s funny that you say that.
On Monday we always do a good, bad and the ugly tape for the guys. The good was that we had four takeaways. That’s a positive. That’s been a point of emphasis. Over the last two weeks we’ve had six takeaways, scored on one of them, and really if that’s something we can continue to do through the last month of the season, that’ll help us get back on track here.

“The bad was probably some of the missed opportunities. I felt like Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior both might have had balls hit them in the hands that would have made impacts, would have made differences. Micah was kind of on a slant and it was an incomplete pass and then right before the last touchdown Nigel had the ball – neither of which would have been easy interceptions – but I always joke about Charlton Warren, every ball he throws in ball drills is a bad ball so I thought those guys had a chance to maybe intercept those. Those are ones that you need when you’re in a situation like we are. Those are the ones that can’t slip through your fingers.

“And the ugly was … you know it’s funny they had whatever, 360 yards, and 180 of them came on six plays. You know it’s explosive plays. Six plays accounted for 180 yards and the other 50 plays accounted for 180 yards. So you sit there and you go, ‘this guys is going to have a winning grade, this guys is going to have a winning grade, this guy is going to have a winning grade, and everybody at the end of the game looks up and has a pretty good grade’, but there’s six impactful plays where we’re too far off the field and Snell cuts it back for a long gain, we did that twice. Quarterback run around the edge, quarterback scramble on a third and long, wildcat pass. Those are the six plays that were impact and three of them led directly to touchdowns. And then obviously the sour taste in everyone’s mouth will be the last drive of the game. We played pretty good from the end of the first quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter. (We) created some turnovers, got some three and outs, really did a good job and then just really didn’t execute with the game on the line like we needed to.”

On getting the players to keep a “business as usual approach”:
“I think it’s easier for the players than us. Just my opinion. They seem very resilient. They put the game behind them pretty quickly and today was as good a meeting and as good a
Monday practice as we’ve had. The kids were focused, they were on point. Southern Miss presents some issues on both sides of the ball. Our players were locked in and as we went over some of their game plan and some of their scouting report and I think they’re really excited. I think they all genuinely want to do well and they recognize that, again, you only have so many more opportunities that we’re guaranteed. To be in Neyland Stadium in front of a Homecoming crowd this weekend, I think they want to put forth their best effort.”

Offensive Coordinator Larry Scott

On the decisions to put the quarterback under center and the resulting touchdowns:
"We've always considered that. Those are some of the situations you have to be able to climb under and say, 'Here we go.' You'll be seeing a lot more of that from us from here on out."

On being able to more fully assess players' abilities after Saturday:
"Each and every week always presents its challenges with who you're playing and where you're taking your team and what are the best fits for everybody, who's healthy and who's not, continuity and reps. It's been challenging but we have not allowed that to be an excuse for us offensively. Our mindset and mentality has been each and every day to find a way to move the ball, move the chains, get in the end zone and score points and try to put our team in the best situation to win. Of course, with that has come some challenges with everything that is going on. This group of guys has worked their tails off, hit it head on and went out and I think played hard each and every week. We'll continue to do that for the next four games."

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


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