Moving From Florida Debacle, Jones Says: 'I'm Responsible'

Embattled Coach Tries To Explain Wasted Late Scoring Chance

Monday, September 18, 2017 - by special to The
Tennessee football coach faced the media Monday, two days after the Vols lost a 26-20 decision when Florida scored on a 63-yard Hail Mary as time expired.
Tennessee football coach faced the media Monday, two days after the Vols lost a 26-20 decision when Florida scored on a 63-yard Hail Mary as time expired.
- photo by Dennis Norwood/File

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, under heavy criticism after the Vols’ disappointing last-play loss at Florida, said Monday the resulting team's sense of urgency “starts with me. … I’m responsible.”

Jones made the remarks at a weekly press conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, as the Vols begin preparations for Saturday’s home game against UMass.

Referring to numerous late-game miscues, Jones said, “We pride ourselves on situational football. The sense of urgency starts with me. It starts with our coaching staff. It starts with our leaders. I’m responsible. I can promise you that we will get to work and make the corrections.”

It will be interesting to see how the Vols (2-1, 0-1) will respond to the heartbreaking 26-20 defeat in their SEC opener when they host UMass in a non-conference game at noon at Neyland Stadium and will be televised by the SEC Network.

More Quotes from Monday’s Presser

Coach Butch Jones

(Opening Statement)

“Well obviously, like we spoke about after the game, it was a very disappointing loss. I am very disappointed. I think our will to win gave us an opportunity, but our details did not. When you go back and look at the nuances of the game, we pride ourselves on situational football. That is an area that we must make tremendous strides in. In terms of the situations that presented themselves, it starts with red zone efficiency and scoring touchdowns in the red zone. We turned the football over and we gave up seven points because of it. We can’t do that. Coming out of situations and in terms of the end of the game, we must take care of the football. We cannot turn the football over. We must improve on tackling. We had too many missed tackles, a lot that occurred in space or the open field.”

“With all that being said, there is a lot of football left to be played. There are nine games left. I’m extremely optimistic. I am proud of our players. I think the effort they gave was remarkable. I think it was symbolic on Justin Martin’s play (the forced fumble as the Florida running back was about to cross the goal line). He punched the ball out. But again, it gets back to the small details that it takes to play winning football. We have a group of prideful individuals. If you are a competitor, you can’t wait to get back to work and compete on Saturday. In closing, we cannot and we will not ignore the details it takes to play winning football.”

(On how do you keep this one loss form turning into two)

“We all hurt. We are angry. Now it’s what we make of it. How do we become better because of this? Sometimes there are situations like this, where you suffer the adversities of a long football season and they can galvanize you. It can bring you closer together as a football team. We must get back to work. UMass is not going to feel sorry for us. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We must get back and we have to go to work. That’s a part of being a mature football team. This is not something that you want to hear, but it is what it is. We have to get ready to play the next game and move forward. The details will not be ignored, I can promise you that.”

(On the quarterback play and the physical play of the offensive line)

“The quarterback is always a bi-product of the individuals around him. We had too many missed assignments out on the perimeter. That was probably one of the most disappointing things. It’s hard enough to compete with our competition. The margin of error in our conference is very small. When you have mental errors that stops you from being successful. I think Quinten (Dormady) has to continue to improve by not compiling a mistake, a missed assignment or a mental error and try to fix it and make another error. That comes with growth and maturation. Again, the quarterback is a byproduct of everyone around him.

“In terms of the offensive line, I feel like we got stronger as the game went on. I think conditioning became a factor. What can you even say about the effort of John Kelly and his yards after contact. He is becoming the face of leadership for our football program. I think that energy is starting to permeate across the team.”

(On Cortez McDowell’s injury)

“Unfortunately, Cortez is out for the year. It is a wrist injury. It is pretty much the same type of injury Jauan (Jennings) has. We are going to miss him from a defensive and special teams standpoint.”

(On playing a nickel defense throughout the game)

“Everything is about matching personnel groupings. They have different types of personnel, so we wanted to have our nickel package on the field. Rashaan Gaulden is our starting nickel. He is obviously one of our leaders on defense and one of our best defensive players. We need to keep him on the field as much as possible.”

(On being 6-5 since 11-game win streak in 2015-2016)

“I think that’s just the nature of our competition we face week in and week out. We’re doing the same things; it’s just the small details. Depth on our football team, I also look at as, where did those come in terms of our season. But make no mistake about it, the expectation here is to win every single week.”

(On John Kelly’s touchdown celebration that received a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct)

“The energy and passion is John Kelly’s edge. That’s what makes him who he is. It was just the heat of the moment. I think the passion, the energy (caused it). We spoke about it. He was the first one coming off the field and said, ‘Coach, I can’t do that. I hurt the team.’ So he was the first one to acknowledge that. We have what is called a score standard, and obviously it gets back to the details. He makes a great play but now you’re putting our defense and our special teams in a challenging situation. But John was the first one to come to the sideline and say, ‘I screwed up coach. I shouldn’t have done that. I hurt the team.’”

(On failing to score after having 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line)

“That can’t happen on the goal line. You have 1st-and-goal on the one, and we need to score. We had a run play called. They were a 70 percent heavy pressure football team with all out cover zero blitz, so they have a couple individuals that you can’t account for in your run scheme, so we knew that going in. Would we have liked to run the football there? Absolutely. Then the plan was, on second down, to get underneath center and do a quarterback sneak or run the football outside. Quinten (Dormady) tweaks his knee, and we didn’t think it was fair for Jarrett (Guarantano) to have to go in the game and do an underneath center snap when he didn’t have time to practice the underneath center snap. There’s a lot of nuances that occurred through the course of those two plays, but make no mistake about it, we get the ball down there and we need to run the football, we need to score touchdowns.”

(On progress of LB Daniel Bituli)

“I’m really excited about his progress. We are asking a lot of Daniel right now, not just from a defensive standpoint but from being in the four core elements of our special teams. He’s a backup on some and a starter on a lot. I think it’s just an accumulation of reps, as well. We have an individual that counts the reps, not only on defense but special teams.”

(On recovering from loss and whether he talked to players
on Sunday)

“All of our players were in the building yesterday, which is great to see. I even pulled a number of them aside. They hurt, but they also understand what’s at stake. They’re pretty much conditioned that it’s a long football season. Football is life, and it never goes according to plan. You just keep working and you put your head down, and you have to forget about it. Unfortunately, it’s a hard one to forget about, but we have to move on. There’s a lot of positive things that occurred in the game, progress that we made from game one to game two that we’ll continue to build upon. The great thing about it is everything we talked about, improvement, it’s all about the details. We’ll leave no stone unturned, I can promise you that. We’ll be better for it.”

(On Tyler Byrd's health status and not going into a dime package on the final drive)

"In terms of Tyler Byrd, him missing that one week set back his growth and development a little bit. I expect Tyler to be more active offensively. He was in yesterday watching film. He wants to try and help the team every way possible.

“When you look at the end of the game, they had one timeout left with nine seconds left in the game, and they have a very talented field goal kicker. We knew they were going to try and get the ball to the middle of the field by throwing a dig route, call a timeout and kick a game-winning field goal. It was very similar to the same play they ran in 2015. The thing we can't do (is) let the play break down (and let) the quarterback escape the pocket. We wanted to be in a four-man rush so we could contain the quarterback. He was able to buy time. When a quarterback can set his feet, anything can happen."

(On the struggles with short-yardage plays and if Cortez McDowell is eligible to redshirt)

"Cortez's injury was very similar to Jauan’s. In terms of the short-yardage situation, Florida did a good job of moving the front. We didn't pick it up very well. Again, we have to do some things like getting the ball out on the perimeter. We call 3rd-and-ones 3rd-and-musts. We have to have it. Prior to that, we had done a good job. We have struggled more from 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-3. We have to make sure we come away with a first down in these situations, so that will be a point of emphasis this week."

Kendal Vickers, Defensive Tackle

(On putting the Florida game behind them)

“Yeah, anytime you lose the way we lost you’ll always be frustrated, but that’s what we want. We want guys to be frustrated that we lost [because] it shows an investment. They’ve been showing throughout the year, but we are a mature enough team to look towards the next week. We got UMass coming up so we got to look towards them. We got to play well on Saturday.”

(On what the defense did well)

“I think that for the most part, we were physical upfront as a d-line. The linebackers were physical too. I think for the most part as a collective defense that we really stepped up. Of course, there are things to work on. We lost so it’s not that we played perfect football. There are always things to improve on.”

(On staying focused)

“I believe once we get on the practice field, and we prepare for UMass, all the stuff in the past will go on. I think once you’re on the football field, it’s your sanctuary, so once you’re on there, you ain’t got that much time for thinking about the past. We will be alright.”

Marquez Callaway, Wide Receiver

(On advice given by upperclassmen after loss to Florida)

“(They said to) just keep our head up. It’s a long season ahead of us, and we can’t let this loss keep us down and hold us back from the next opponent coming up.’

(On not being able to stop the game-winning play)

“Well, it hurt us badly, being on the sideline. We couldn’t really do anything. There was nothing we could do about it. It was just a play executed by them (Florida) and not by us. So, we’ll be better prepared next time for it, so that it won’t happen again.”

(On Florida’s interception return for a touchdown)

“It was just bad execution on our part, as an offense. It was a hitch route. I ran it too far deep, and my quarterback (Quinten Dormady) threw a good pass. I just couldn’t come down with it. It was something that won’t happen again, I assure that.”

Details a Point of Emphasis for Vols this Week

Jones praised his team's will to win and resiliency, but did not do a good enough job with the small details it takes to win close games.
"I think our will to win gave us an opportunity, but our details did not," Jones said. "When you go back and look at the nuances of the game, we pride ourselves on situational football. That is an area that we must make tremendous strides in.

"We cannot and we will not ignore the details it takes to play winning football."

Kelly Continues to Emerge as Offensive Leader

One of the major bright spots for Tennessee on Saturday was the play of junior running back John Kelly, who set career highs with 141 yards rushing and 96 yards receiving to go along with a 34-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter.

The Detroit, Michigan, native currently ranks fourth in the country with 540 total yards from scrimmage and leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 116.3 yards per game. Kelly's 349 yards on the ground through UT's first three games are the third-most since 2000, trailing only Travis Henry (355 in 2000) and Travis Stephens (412 in 2001), who went on to set the program's single-season rushing record that year with 1,464 yards.

All Eyes on UMass

Despite Saturday's disappointing loss, the message from Jones and Vols' players was that the team must focus its attention solely on Saturday's opponent.

"We want guys to be frustrated that we lost [because] it shows an investment," Vickers said. "They've been showing that throughout the year, but we are a mature enough team to look toward the next week. We got UMass coming up so we have to look toward them. We got to play well on Saturday."

Callaway said that the team's upperclassmen made sure to let the younger players know that the season is far from over.

"Just keep our head up," Callaway said in regards to the upperclassmen's message to the younger players. "It's a long season ahead of us, and we can't let this loss keep us down and hold us back from the next opponent coming up."

(Contact Larry Fleming at and on Twitter @larryfleming44)

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