Tennessee Now Focusing On Bitter Rival Florida

Vols-Gators To Open SEC Season Saturday On CBS

Monday, September 11, 2017 - by special to The Chattanoogan.com
Todd Kelly Jr. (24) and Nigel Warrior (18), taking down an Indiana State player in Saturday's 42-7 Tennessee win, started thinking seriously about SEC rival Florida at Monday's practice in Knoxville. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.
Todd Kelly Jr. (24) and Nigel Warrior (18), taking down an Indiana State player in Saturday's 42-7 Tennessee win, started thinking seriously about SEC rival Florida at Monday's practice in Knoxville. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.
- photo by UT Athletics

The No. 23-ranked Tennessee football team began preparation for No. 24 Florida on Monday as head coach Butch Jones and several student-athletes met with members of the media before an afternoon practice. 

Tennessee (2-0, 0-0 SEC) and Florida (0-1, 0-0 SEC) will meet for the 47th time on Saturday, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The game will air on CBS.

Jones thanked the University of Tennessee administration and support staff for assisting players' families who were affected by Hurricane Irma, and said he is preparing Team 121 to play in Gainesville.

 

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Irma," Jones said. "We've been very pleased that we were able to take care of our families that needed the appropriate help. We have a number of families still in town right now and that's been great. I'm very appreciative to our administration and to our entire football family.” 

Jones was pleased with Tennessee's effort on third down on defense in the 42-7 victory over Indiana State on Saturday that moved the Vols to 2-0. UT did not allow ISU to convert on 11 third down tries, but Jones said the team will need to play with more physicality moving forward. 

"In terms of the game [against Indiana State], there are things we were pleased with as a coaching staff, " Jones said. "Defensively, third down conversions, we were able to get off the field. For us defensively, we were 11-of-11 on being able to get off the field. I thought we improved our tackling from Week One to Week Two. We were able to have individuals gain valuable repetitions, whether it was on offense, defense or special teams.

“We have more to improve upon and we have a lot of work to do with this football team. It starts with our overall physicality. I didn't think we played to the level of physicality that's up to our standards and our expectations. We did not take the ball away defensively and that's a by-product of playing physical football. Same thing on special teams and then offensively, we turned the football over twice: one that led to a score and one that was in the red-zone or scoring zone.

“We played a lot of newcomers on special teams this game. It was great to be able to evaluate and put their football identity on video. It's also them understanding that the expectations never change by the way we play special teams here at Tennessee.

Jones also said slot receivers Tyler Byrd, Latrell Williams and Josh Smith are expected to back on the field against Florida. Williams, a 5-11, 175-pound redshirt freshman from Naples, Florida, is listed as the starter. Byrd and Smith are listed behind Williams.

Smith, Jones said, could have played against Indiana State, but was held out to insure his playing status for Florida.

Reserve tight end Eli Wolf, who suffered a sprained left ankle against the Sycamores, is listed as questionable this week. Also in that same category are kick returner Evan Berry and offensive lineman Marcus Tatum.

SEC In Contact With Vols-Gators About Saturday Game

Greg Sanky, the SEC commissioner, is staying in contact with officials at Tennessee and Florida about the status of Saturday’s game in Gainesville in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

“Now that the storm has passed through Gainesville, the University of Florida is working with local authorities to assess the effect of the storm on the campus and the Gainesville community, at the same time ensuring the appropriate security and local officials available to host a game,” Sankey said in a release from the SEC office in Birmingham, Alabama.

Vols’ Kick Return Units Ranked Nationally

With 11 touchdowns on kick returns and punt returns, Tennessee is now tied for fifth-most amongst FBS schools since 2013. In kick returns alone during that time span, UT's five scores rank seventh.

Since 2015, the Vols have scored nine kick or punt return touchdowns, ranking second only to Alabama (10). The program's five kick return TDs tie for second behind San Diego State (7).

"I think that's a direct correlation to all the hard work that we've put into it and that ownership and responsibility that comes with playing winning football on special teams," Jones said. 

Freshman Ty Chandler returned Saturday’s opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown against Indiana State and was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. It was Tennessee’s first game-opening kickoff for a TD since Evan Berry did it against Arkansas in 2015.

Quarterback Pressure Focus Point For Defense

The Vols held the Sycamores to just 93 passing yards last Saturday while stymying their third-down offense. A key to that defensive production was the UT's 11 tackles for loss that totaled 37 yards.

"Well, it's always a focal point because the structure of a defense is built upon impacting the quarterback," Jones said. "I believe Indiana State threw three drop-back passes. When they did throw the three drop-back passes, we were able to impact the quarterback."

Tennessee will look to continue its production on defense as it prepares for Florida's explosive offense.

"We can do that by being gap sound, playing physical, getting off blocks and playing the ball in the air," Jones added.

Tennessee vs. UMass Game Set For Noon

It was announced on Monday that Tennessee's Sept. 23 game against the UMass Minutemen will be a 12 p.m. ET kickoff. The matchup will be aired on SEC Network. 

Fans can still purchase tickets for the contest between the Vols and UMass. Tickets may be purchased online via AllVols.com or by phone by calling the Tennessee Athletics Ticket Office at 1-800-332-8657.

The student-ticket request period runs from Wednesday to Thursday.

Additional Quotes

 

Coach Butch Jones

(On the defense’s progression from week one to week two)

“It’s been a challenge to evaluate everything defensively because of the different types of offenses we have played the last two weeks. They have been entirely different.  We can evaluate the fundamentals, the effort and the details. I think that something everyone in our football organization can agree on is that we have to get better in a hurry. I’ve met with a lot of our players. A lot of them have already been in and watched the film. They understand that the level of competition is going up. We have to get back to details, accountability and toughness. It’s all about that.”

(On Kyle Phillips playing well against Indiana State)

“We thought he played one of his best games since he has been here. When we graded the defensive line, we thought he played the best in that unit. He was explosive, he used his hands well and he ran to the football. Again, he is another great story of resolve and perseverance. After everything that he has been through with injuries, he is becoming a great leader for us.”

(On Jarrett Guarantano’s first game playing QB)

“I don’t believe in the term ‘gamer.’ Those are instead what we call ‘floaters’ where the athlete never develops to their full potential.  Jarrett is not like that. I love his approach to practice. He competes every day just like everyone else. He did some very good things. A couple of times he had some really good ball locations. He did a really good job at staying in the pocket and delivering the ball. All the nuances of managing the line of scrimmage and getting in the right plays come with reps.”

(On the DL lining up a yard behind the line of scrimmage)

“I think everyone is looking for that now. We are always about a yard past the line of scrimmage or hand behind the ball. Not quite a yard, but that is something we continue to talk about, and to grow and develop. We have seen some very nontraditional offenses in the last two games and with the amount of communication that was required last week our players were allowed the ability to communicate. When you have to move the front, shift the front, knock the front and try to find the eligible receivers and do so within a short amount of time, it challenges your preparation.”

Offensive Lineman Brett Kendrick

(On trying to beat Florida on the road for the first time since 2003)

“Obviously, it would be huge. My sophomore year, we had that 13-point lead and ended up not getting it done, so that still has a bad taste in my mouth. The other guys that were here, Ethan [Wolf] and all of them, I think we still feel like we have a lot to prove going back down there. It would be huge for our senior class to get that win down there.”

(On if he likes playing in a hostile environment)

“Yeah, I do. I think it’s fun to be able to go into a place [like Florida]. We talk about renting the stadium for however long it takes for us to get the win. If you can go into a stadium like the Swamp and you can make it go silent, I think that says a lot about your team.”

Tight End Ethan Wolf

(On being 2-0 and the confidence of the team heading into Florida Week)

“First of all, 2-0 is a great feeling. That’s our goal. We just want to take everything week by week. Last year is a good reminder of what it feels like to beat Florida and that’s something we want to make a little bit more routine around here. Obviously, having the momentum from going 2-0 the first two weeks carries us into the game as well. We know we have a lot to work on and a lot that we have to get better at this week in practice, but I’d definitely say spirits are high and we’re ready to go.”

(On Florida’s defense)

 “They lost some guys, but Florida is notorious for having great defense and they replaced the guys they lost. They played quite a few guys on the defensive line that I’ve seen already. We’re going to prepare for them like we do every year. It’s Florida and no matter who is out there, they’re going to play as hard as they can. In terms of what’s different, I don’t know. They have different names on the jerseys, but they have some really talented players.”

 Defensive Lineman Kendal Vickers

 (On Florida’s offense line)

 “I know they have a couple guys back from last year. They’re big and physical and we just have to make sure we watch film, stay in the film room and stay in the weight room this week because they’re going to come out physical and we have to do the same thing for us.”

 

(On where the defense is now)

“I think we played well, but there is always room for improvement. The mistakes we made these past two weeks, even though we got the wins, are still mistakes we have to take care of. Florida is a tough opponent and we have to play well against them. We can’t make the same mistakes we did the past two weeks.”

(On the incentive of winning at the Swamp)

“I know last time we were at the swamp it didn’t end to well for us, so we have a chance here to right our wrongs and go out there and put on a show. As long as we prepare for the game and we’re playing our butts off this Saturday, I think things will go well for us.”

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



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