Embattled Tennessee football coach Butch Jones met with members of the media on Monday, a couple of days after the Vols lost to Alabama, 45-7. It was Tennessee’s fourth loss in five games and UT is an early 5 ½-point underdog to rival Kentucky on Saturday.
The Vols are 31-1 against Kentucky since 1985, with the only loss, a 10-7 defeat, coming in 2011.
Tennessee leads the overall series 79-24-9 and had a 26-game winning streak broken with the 2011 game in Lexington, Kentucky.
There was no word from UT athletic director John Currie on Jones' status as the Vols' head coach. But sentiments about Jones are boiling over. A painted sign on "The Rock" on campus, and tweeted by sophomore defensive back Nigel Warrior, read: "RIP BUTCH 2012-2017".
Here is the transcript of Monday’s press conference, which also included senior offensive lineman Brett Kendrick:
Opening Statement by Butch Jones:
“When you go back and look at the game on Saturday, we were down 7-0 with about five minutes to go until halftime. We had some catastrophic penalties and we did not recover from that point on. Every mistake you make is magnified when you’re playing a team of that caliber. They take advantage of your mistakes. I was really pleased to see Shawn Shamburger step up in his first career start, and as a true freshman. I thought he brought a lot of energy. He was in situations where they tried to attack him on the perimeter, because he is a true freshman. He handled it really well. Daniel Bituli continues to get better with the repetitions he is getting. I also think he is getting more confident with every rep. Not just in games, but also in practice. I want to make sure it is very clear that Tennessee is not OK with being 3-4 and that, I, Butch Jones, am not OK with being 3-4. We have to keep working. We have to work our way out of this. We must learn from our seven prior games and apply what we learn going forward.
“To update you all on the status of Jack Jones, he has had some recurring neck and shoulder injuries. After meeting with doctors, everyone agreed that it may be in his best interest and that he should no longer play football. We hurt for Jack. We hurt for his great family. We will be here for support and he will continue to be a member of this team moving forward.
“In terms of the upcoming game on Saturday, Kentucky is 5-2 and they are having a very good season. When you look at them in terms of the turnover margin, they are +6 in turnover margin. They are third in the SEC in rush defense, only allowing about 124 yards per game. They have some very talented players. Mike Edwards is as good of a player that we’ll face, Josh Allen as well. What can I say about Stephen Johnson, he is a second-year full-time starter. They have a very good running back core with Benny Snell. Their running backs skill sets really complement each other. They play with a high level of physicality. They have playmakers on the perimeter. They do a really good job creating space for those players to make plays with their speed. It’s going to be a great challenge going to Lexington on Saturday night.”
On the offense’s lack of production:
“We are all disappointed with our performance. We see things in small increments that are positive. We are making progress. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show up on gameday. It’s something we have to work our way through. It’s discipline, execution, situational football and it’s big plays. You try to look at anything to give yourself an opportunity, but again we have to score points in this conference, which we have not been able to do. We will continue to go back to work and do everything in our power possible.”
On the possibility of changing play callers:
“I evaluate everything in our program every single day, starting with me, first and foremost. That includes our coaches and our discipline to execute. No, not at all (on the possibility of changing play callers). I see progress. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it on gameday. It’s one of those things where it is an execution-like deal. You just have to continue to work and it will come to fruition at some point.”
On offensive lineman Ryan Johnson:
“It was good to see Ryan in the game. Ryan has worked exceptionally hard. When he went in the game, we thought he did some really good things in moving forward from a toughness stand point and from a leverage stand point. With our depth issues, we are going to need more of him. He was ready go in the game and we thought there were many positive things to build upon with his performance.”
On quarterback Quinten Dormady’s status:
“He’s still ongoing with some discussions right now and we’re making sure he’s okay. I’ll know a little more later in the week. We do expect him to practice tomorrow, but again there’s a lot of ongoing things that he’s looking at.”
On the backup quarterback Will McBride:
“You always have to be ready. As a quarterback you’re always one snap away or two snaps away. Will has gained valuable repetitions throughout the course of the season and that won’t be any different moving forward this week.”
On the underperformance of the running game:
“Significantly, we need to run the football. John Kelly is one of our best playmakers on our offense and on our football team. It all starts with being able to run the football because when you have the ability to run the football, to display the ability to run the football, it opens everything up. It opens up passing lanes. It opens up play action passing and it even opens up drop back passing as well. It all goes hand-in-hand and we need to run the football.”
On Darrell Tayler’s status and the defensive line against Alabama:
“Darrell Taylor continues to progress. We are going to have a meeting today, and I’ll know a little bit more moving forward. He is doing all things we have asked of him to this point in time, so I’ll know a little bit more about his status after I look at everything that’s required today and moving forward, as well. In terms of the defensive front against an offensive line and a running game that has been very explosive, we were able to hold them and do some things. We created some three and outs, so some different things with negative yardage football plays in the first half. I think it’s a byproduct of, I believe we had forty-six plays on offense and they had over eighty some odd plays, an inordinate amount of repetitions. I think it’s a cumulative effect in terms of the physicality of the game, as well, and time of possession. It all goes hand-in-hand.”
On defensive backs Shawn Shamburger and Justin Martin:
“It was great to see Shamburger step up and do some things. Everything is about competition. We fully anticipate Justin Martin being back to practice today and being ready to go. I was really proud of Justin for his involvement on the sideline. He wanted to get in. He wanted to play. We had some individuals that were out at the end of the game and he wanted to go in the game and took a rep on kick off. I thought he was into the game, so we’ll continue to compete and that’s great. A lot of positive things in moving forward from him and, obviously, having Justin back this week will help because they are very explosive in the throw game.”
On differences between Georgia and Alabama and whether he would give an advantage to either one in a head-to-head matchup:
“It’s hard to say. I think they’re both very good football teams. I think they both have great depth in their football programs. Again, they have a lot of older players that have been through it, that understand it. Both teams are playing at a very high level and I think that’s evidenced by where they’re ranked right now.”
On importance of offensive line recruiting class given the injuries sustained this season:
“The offensive line recruiting is paramount for this football program. It’s great in terms of recruiting because individuals are going to have an opportunity to come in here and compete and play early and play right away. Obviously, that recruiting element is big, just with our lack of number and our lack of depth right now. It’s going to mean tremendous opportunities for individuals that come to Tennessee. Again, we have to do a great job as a staff, in terms of keeping our health as an offensive front. I have a tremendous amount of respect, we have a lot of kids that are battling through a lot of things and the challenges are not just on gameday, but it’s also throughout the course of your week or your preparation and how you practice as well.”
On status of senior safety Evan Berry:
“He continues to progress. It’s really a day-by-day, week-by-week process with him. Like I said, he’s working very hard and he wants to get back out on that field. This will be another big week for him and we’ll know a little more about where he’s at probably in the middle of the week. He is taking tremendous strides in getting back.”
On improvement of quarterback Jarrett Guarantano through first two career starts:
“I do see progress in Jarrett. I think one thing you can’t question is his toughness. I thought he showed great competitive grit, and he understood what he was up against going into the game. He stood firm in the pocket, he didn’t flinch, he delivered some throws, he took some shots and he kept battling and battling. Again, he’s going through the evolution stage or maturation phase as a quarterback and he’s learning. He’s learning quickly. I see a young man who’s very confident, who believes in his teammates and believes he’s going to make the play. I saw progress from week one to week two in his development, in terms of being the starting quarterback.”
On how offensive line will look to perform better going forward:
“I think it’s continuing to demand the execution and the discipline, from overall pad level to our footwork to our steps to our strain to our finish, and just continuing to battle. Those kids know nothing but that. They’ve shown it and we see that in practice. Now again, it’s not just that one position, it’s all 11 individuals, from the tight ends when they’re involved in the pass protection, the running backs when they’re involved in the pass protection, the quarterback’s drops, to the rhythm, to the spacing, to the wideouts. So again, it’s more than just one position group.”
On whether there is a particular problem that is causing the offense’s lack of execution:
“You study the video and you look and you go back and you watch all your video film from the week of practice. I think it’s breakdowns at each position group at unfortunate times in the game. We’re going to go back. We’ll have officials at every practice and we’re going to do some things for penalties. When you play the competition that we play, every mistake you make is magnified, from being off in your footwork by six inches, not getting your second step down, your hand placement or your pad level. I think it’s a combination of a breakdown here, a breakdown there. We have to continue to work exceptionally hard on it. So much of offensive football is timing and then I think just the ability to go up and make a play. If you watch games, whether it’s Saturdays or Sundays, it’s just going out and playing football sometimes and making plays. Our players understand that. We have some good football players. I foresee in the near future that they’re going to make plays because I know what I see in practice every day. I see a very determined group, a group that works exceptionally hard, and they want to do well. They work each and every day and that’s all you can do, is keep demanding from it in practice and stay the course and eventually, good things will happen.”
Offensive Lineman Brett Kendrick
On what was the biggest handicap to the offensive plan against Alabama:
“I think sacks came into play. There was too much pressure on the quarterback. We need to give more time for JG (Jarrett Guarantano) and the receivers to get open. You have to give a lot of credit to Alabama too. Coming into it, we knew that they might have the best defense in the nation. We knew we had to execute, try to slow the game down and help our defense out. I think we did that at some points. We did a good job controlling it at some points. We had too many three-and-outs, too many missed assignments. We have to come out and execute this weekend.”
On comparing the schemes of Alabama and Georgia:
“It’s basically the same defense from both teams, style-wise and front-wise. The defensive lines were just about the same. I think Alabama, maybe, had the better defensive line, but their back-ends were both very impressive. It’s what you get playing in the SEC. You get a defense like that every week and it’s not going to slow down from here. We have to play a good defense in Kentucky. The rest of the teams we play the rest of the year, all have good defenses too.”
On losing Jack Jones as a teammate:
“It’s tough. Jack Jones is somebody that is from Tennessee, and he loves this place. We still love Jack, and Jack is still a part of the team. He’s still here every day with us. He texted us right before the game Saturday, and not much has changed. I know it’s hard on him. I can’t imagine what he’s going through, because he loves this game. He loves this school. He loves his teammates. We’re keeping him a part of the team. I can’t say enough about Jack and his character throughout this season. He’s done a good job of handling this so far. I feel for him, and we still love him. We’ll miss him, and he still has our back.”
On getting a positive message across to younger guys:
“It’s important to us to get this program back to where we’ve had it the past couple of years. I wouldn’t really say we’ve gone down. We played two of the best teams in college football in the last few games. South Carolina is no pushover, either. Like I said earlier, you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. These last three games have been tough for us, but I still think there are good things going on in this program. I think our defense is playing great. We just have to step up on offense and know that if we win these next five games, we are 8-4 again. We’ll get to go to a good bowl game and hopefully get a win there. I don’t think it’s all bad right now. I don’t think the sky is falling. It’s just raining a little bit.”
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)