Head coach Butch Jones previewed the Vols' matchup with Arkansas State at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
"Good afternoon, good to see everyone again, kind of a recap from a couple nights ago and then moving onto Arkansas State. From a competitive standpoint, I liked the way we competed, I thought our players were ready to go. I thought they did a great job of really preparing themselves mentally and physically for game day. They put in the work. We talk about investing in victory each and every week, earning the right to win as opposed to hoping to win. I thought our players did a pretty decent job with that considering a lot of these individuals are going through it for the first time of their in-game preparation and weekly preparation.
"I thought they did a good job with our in game management, our overall management of the sidelines. I always had the appropriate personnel out on the field, so that was great to see.
"Offensively we took care of the football. From a communicative aspect, I thought our communication was about above average. We need to continue to improve in that. I thought defensively I thought we did a good job on staying ahead of the chains, staying ahead of the sticks, forcing third-and-long situations. But major, major, major improvements must occur with this football team. It starts with special teams, I was not pleased at all with our performance on special teams. We did not play winning football. In the teams game, we spend, we invest too much time in our special teams game and everyone taking ownership of their role, executing their assignment and doing their job. We chart impactful plays, every individual can impact the game in one shape, form, or another. With Arkansas State, coming in here for a noon game, we need to continue to improve in all facets of special teams.
"Didn't think we had much rhythm and consistency on offense in the first half. We had great field position and we should have had more points at half time. Too many three-and-outs, weren't able to extend drives.
"Defensively, even though we had a couple forced turnovers, I didn't like our ball disruptions. We were trying to get the ball out, I didn't think we swarmed to the football that we expect our defenses to play here. I think we need to make major strides that way.
"And then the ability to run the football, we averaged 2.8 yards per rush. I don't look at averages, I look at run efficiency. What is the definition of an efficient run? An efficient run is four yards or more, or if it is second-and-short or third-and-short you get the first down. Because your average rush or yards per carry could be misconstrued because you could have one 80-yard run and then the rest you are below average. But when you look at the average it looks good. I am more interested in realistic statistics which is run efficiency and I didn't think we did a very good job there. We have to be able to run a little bit more.
"Next challenge now for this young football team, a little less than 50 percent made their debut, offensively there was just one starter that started the game that started last year's Kentucky game. So we started 10 new faces on offense. We need to continue to develop this week with it being a short week it critical. The next evolution of this football team is learning how to prepare your minds and your bodies for noon start. A 12 o'clock game, adjusting your body clocks. That is a little bit different as well in your preparation and your mindset. Everything continues to be new learning experience as we continue to grow and mature as a football team.
"Arkansas State, comes in here, their players expect to win no matter who the head coach has been. They win and they go to bowl games. If you look at their body of work over a period of time it has been very, very impressive. They are an up-tempo, no huddle offense, they like to snap the ball exceptionally quick. Their offensive line does a great job, their center is the gas pedal and he does a great job, they all do. Sprinting to the line of scrimmage and getting lined up. They have one of the best punters/kickers in the country. He can flip field position in a hurry so they are a very good football team. They are a veteran group in the back end of their defense and the secondary and they will pose our receivers some great, great challenges. They are very physical, they run to the football, their quarterback is dynamic with the ball in his hands, he can also distribute the football. They have good wide receivers. So a good football team. Our football team has to come in ready to play Saturday at noon.
"The other challenge is, we need Vol Nation. We had the best football environment in the country, 102,455, our fans were outstanding. It didn't matter, rainbows, rain, shine, they were here and they stayed to the end. Our student section was outstanding, the Rocky Top Rowdies, now as we call them. We are going to need everyone. I am told, again, we are close to a sellout. We need everyone to buy their tickets and support this football team and continue to make one of the greatest venues in all of college football and a home field advantage for this young football team."
(On issues in the run game)
"When you look at your run game, it is all 11 individuals working together as one. There were about eight incidences where we were running the football, and we were one block away from a big play. A lot of times it's your backside cutoffs, your lineman not being on the proper defender. You have to be disciplined and stay low with your pad level. It's not just the offensive line. Sometimes, it may be the tight end on a combination block. It could be the back not making the proper read or the quarterback keeping it. There were a lot of single breakdowns. We are working to get that corrected."
(On who he was disappointed with on special teams)
"All of them. It was exceptionally disappointing. Everything starts with operation and timing. Our punts and field goal executions were too long. I didn't like our coverage on the punt team. Our kickers didn't do a good job of putting the ball in the box on kickoffs. They sprayed the ball, which puts your coverage team in some really challenging situations. Our kickoff return teams didn't maintain blocks or work with space well. We have changed our schemes this year with some nuances, but we weren't able to get the ball back to the field. On special teams, it is one out of 11. everyone has an assignment to do that's impacting to the game. Some of these individuals may only have four or five plays in a game, but you can impact a game. You might be the right guard on kickoff return and only get four snaps, but why don't you be the best right guard return man in America? We invest too much time in special teams to come out and perform like that. We have a lot of new players and faces. The speed of the game was kind of a shock to them, but we weren't in the proper body positions. It was a magnitude of a lot of little things."
(On the returners performance)
"It wasn't the returners. Cam Sutton had a big hand in terms of punt returner in helping us win the football game. One of the hardest skill sets in football is catching a punt with a four second hang time, and the coverage team has six and a half seconds to get down field and make a tackle or force a fair catch. I thought his concentration was outstanding, but he was never given an opportunity because we didn't win at the line of scrimmage. The small details that it takes to make a winning football team are what we didn't do a good job of."
(On making changes)
"We came in on Monday and got right to work, but you have to be cognizant that it is a short week for them, and it was a physical football game. We have to keep that in mind. We have a lot of work to do, and it is a balancing act. What you did last week has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of this week. You have to have a short term memory. It doesn't matter if you win or lose. You have to move on, and that is what we have been stressing with a good football team coming here."
(On status of injured players)
"Matt Darr will be at practice today. He will be fine. He just rolled his ankle. He will go through punt period and practice. In terms of Jacob Gilliam, he will be out for the year. He tore his ACL, and it is very unfortunate. I feel for him and his family. Here is a young man who walked on and earned a scholarship. He earned it. It is very unfortunate, but that is football. The next guy in will be given an opportunity. It could be Brett Kendrick, Dontavius Blair or Coleman Thomas. We have been preparing these guys for this opportunity. Jacob earned the respect of his peers, and he worked so hard to become our starting left tackle." (On the confidence in the new players' ability after seeing them in action Sunday night)
"Well it is on-going. You build that trust over a body of work and course of time. These kids love football and need football in their lives. They understand what they are representing every time they represent The University of Tennessee. You win the week through your efforts in practice. You take the practice to the game field. This is a new week and they have to earn the respect again. They have to earn the right to win. What they did last week has no bearing on what they do this week so that is something we will continue to harp on them. We are educating a football team. These individuals have no idea. I bet you a good 12 of them came up to me after the game and said Coach, I now get what you have been saying. I have now experienced it. If you think about it all the emotions of going through your first game. You show up and there are about 55,000 people to greet you at the Vol Walk. That is a powerful, energetic experience in and of itself. Then you go through your pre game and have a pouring down rain storm. You might have to go through the consequences of having to push back your pre game. You could be preparing for a lightning delay and all of those things are clutter and distractions. All those 17 and 18 year olds going through it for the first time. That is why I thought they handled in game management pretty well for the first game."
(On Arkansas State having five different coaches over the past five years)
"I think it is how you look at it. It is difficult because we know first hand that you win with consistency and continuity, but those have been some great coaches. They have a great coaching staff there now. Their players are well prepared. They challenge us schematically in special teams and all the different looks they present, also in the offense and defense as well. They are an extremely well coached football team. They play with great effort. They have a passion to get to the football. Everything is how you look at it just like how it is in life. They have been touched by some great football coaches. They learn the fine details of football and the fundamentals. It could be held to an advantage because of all the different football coaches you go through and learn different things. They have a great coaching staff in place right now and I have a lot of respect for them."
(On Jacob Gilliam)
"I found out yesterday. He was still in our team meeting. I have spoken briefly with him and we will continue to have dialogue. Our players want him around. They wanted to move his locker to be next to the other tackles. That is the mindset of the buy in. I don't like to say the word buy in, but the investment of this football team right now. They are thinking about the game and about each other. That was great to see. I love him and I love his family. I love everything that they stand for."
(On how Jacob Gilliam is dealing with the injury)
"He is disappointed. He has put in a lot of hard work, effort and commitment into it. It will serve him year down the road with handling adversity. He will be better from it. Obviously you would expect him to be down after putting so much work into it."
(On Fredi Knighten)
"He is explosive, dynamic with the ball in his hands. He has to be accounted for with all he does. He can distribute the football. He can flip field position and change the game in one snap."
(On LaDarrell McNeil)
"(He earned that spot) with consistency and some experience. We will continue to evaluate our secondary. The individual you just spoke about will continue to compete. It will be evolving as the football team continues to evolve. LaDarrell McNeil had a very good training camp."
(On potential medical redshirt for Jacob Gilliam)
"Right now, no. We are looking into anything and everything to exhaust all measures. Right now we are still in the investigating stages."
(On Trooper Taylor, Arkansas State cornerbacks coach)
"Just a little bit, not much. I understand just being at Tennessee and being a long time coach in the SEC. I have had the chance to meet him a few times but not a personal relationship. Just met him and know people who know him that speak fondly of him."
(On the concern of developing the offensive line)
"It is a concern from the overall depth standpoint. We have repped a number of individuals all training camp. We have had a plan in place. You always have contingency plans as coaches. The great thing is Brett Kendrick, Coleman Thomas and Dontavius Blair have all garnered first team repetitions. In terms of teaching and learning it they have had as many reps as Jacob Gilliam's has had. Now it is the individuals working together. The great thing is that they will be next to Marcus Jackson who I thought played a very good football game Sunday night. He is experienced."
(On Arkansas State's defensive scheme)
"It is a similar style to our defense. They are very talented in the back end of their defense. They run well, and they are very physical. Their linebackers are downhill, physical players. Their defensive front is very active. It will be a different defensive scheme for us in term of moving forward from Utah State."
(On where Jalen Hurd can improve)
"Well first of all, pass protection. The first sack he gave up, he didn't sink his hips and he got bull-rushed. He's really been consistently one of our best pass protectors in all of training camp. After that one, I think that was a little "Hello, welcome to college" football and then he settled down but I just think your overall instincts, fundamentals, fine details, pass protection, route running and your run reads, understanding how to run at angles and set your blockers up. Great running backs place the linemen on their blocks and so just the fine details at that position and I think you'll see Jalen continue to improve day in and day out and week in and week out."
(On Hurd's abilities as a pass catcher)
"Very able. He's a weapon and we're going to get him the ball more on the perimeter and in some different sets. You may even see him in the slot at times because he has very soft hands and he's good with the ball in his hands."
(On Hurd showing ability to block)
"Yes. You're exactly right and thanks, John, for bringing that up. Alton Howard did a great job of finishing the run but you know, we talk about the junction point and the point of attack, and Alton would have never gotten into the end zone if it wasn't for Jalen Hurd. To me, that was one of the best plays Jalen Hurd had all game and we talk about playing without the ball in your hands and impacting the game. You can impact the game more from a running back standpoint more than just carrying the ball. That's part of being a complete running back and you're exactly right. He's the reason Alton was able to get the ball into the checkerboards."
(On Jalen Hurd's nerves having not played during his senior year of high school)
"I thought Jalen played well. He got the tough yards and again, a four-yard run is a good run. Four plus four plus four, if I'm not mistaken, equals 12, am I right? So that's a first down. You get four yards first and the big runs will come. Jalen earned tough yards. I thought he ran behind his pads, the screen play. But again, Daniel Helm made the screen play with his block at the point of attack and made that occur but nobody saw that. Again, those are all the things when we talk about playing complimentary football and playing together as one. I thought Jalen, for his first game, did some good things to build upon and in terms of him missing his senior year, I think he benefitted from being an early enrollee. He was able to gain that back during the winter months through strength and conditioning and also in spring football, having those 15 opportunities."
(On how tough it is to prepare for Arkansas State)
"Well it's a challenge and again you have the Montana State game but you have to look at other forms of where they have been and kind of try to say, OK what games are they going to look at. How are they going to try to schematically line up against us so it's a great challenge especially with a young football team. You have to be ready again for anything and everything. It's still another game of the unknowns because we only have one film on them. A lot of times, the packages of offense, defense and special teams will continue to expand and grow from week one to week two, just like we'll do some different things as well. Again, you have to be ready for anything and everything."
(On how to make sure players zone in on this week)
"Well we haven't done anything yet. We've won one football game. Arkansas State is a good football team and it gets back to, I think you already know the answer, the Power of One. One common commitment, one purpose, one mindset, one opponent at a time, one practice at a time. All I want to do is win the day. I want to be a better football team as soon as we walk off the fields of the Anderson Training Complex. That's what I want, is to be a better football team and the Power of One. Our players have done a good job with that, to date. I don't foresee that being any problem at all, but again just focus on the one thing. If each player can better their game by just one thing, collectively we improve as a football team."
(On Chris Weatherd's role)
"Well Chris is a very talented young man. As he continues to grasp the knowledge of the defensive scheme and also on special teams, you'll see his role continue to be elevated within our schemes. He's very explosive, he can run, he's a big-bodied individual who can run and that's the type of individuals we need to recruit here to improve our roster. Football is very, very important to him and he's done a great job of picking things up. You know, when you look at it, it's pretty remarkable. Chris didn't arrive until August and to be doing what he's doing in a very short period of time, I'm excited to see what he can do when he gets a couple of weeks of true practices, not just training camp. He's an individual who should continue to grow and develop and get better and better."
(On the speed of the defense)
"I thought we ran to the football. We're still not quite of what we expect with our expectations and our demands of how we're going to play defense here. But I did see marked improvement. I thought our players played with confidence but again, I thought for the first game we tackled fairly decent. You know when you look at our tackling percentages, but still we have a long, long way to go from being able to play pressure with a three-man rush, with a four-man rush. We gave up a couple of big runs, we mis-fit a couple of runs, we were too wide in our alignments that exposed us in some passes. So again, alignment and assignment. That's where it starts and we still had too many breakdowns and assignment breakdowns that we need to improve going into Arkansas State. But I see progress, Jimmy, to answer your question. In a nutshell, I see progress."
(On Josh Smith's first big catch helping build confidence)
"Well, big. Everything about the game is confidence but you earn you confidence through your body of work , in your consistency and your performance. Josh has been consistent all camp. It was great to see him start off with that big running catch but again, how come you didn't bring up the block by Alton Howard? Without the block by Alton Howard, that long pass never happens. That's what we talk about when playing together as a unit, the power of the position, the power of the unit, making plays for each other, not being selfish and that was as big of a play that Alton had as anyone, was getting that block for Josh to be able to have the big running catch."
(On Brett Kendrick's improvements)
"He's continued to develop and he's done a very good job of it. Now it's for real. But he's really taken coaching and he listens to every work that coach Mahoney says. I started to see him play with a little bit more mentality of what we expect. Not there yet, not anywhere what we expect but I've seen marked improvement in his development. He's very intelligent and very athletic. I'm excited to see how far he can take this."
(On Brett Kendrick)
"He has continued to develop and he has done a very good job of it and now it is for real. He is really taking coaching, he listens to every word Coach Mahoney says. I started to see him play with a little more of a mentality of what we expect. Not there yet, not anywhere what we expect but I have seen marked improvement in his development. He is very intelligent and he is very athletic. I am excited to see how far he can take this."
(On preparing for Arkansas State's quarterback versus Utah State's)
"It helps but you are talking about two entirely different dynamics at quarterback. What we do defensively will be a little bit different than Utah State. Every game is a new story, every game takes on kind of a flavor of its own. So you will see some differences. Both are very, very good quarterbacks, but they are particularly different."
(On Arkansas State's offense)
"They are going to involve the quarterback more in the run game and reads and call plays for the quarterback. He is the catalyst, he makes it happen. Whether it is throwing the ball, whether it is running the football, they have designed run schemes for him and very rightfully so. He is very dynamic."
(On being efficient in the red zone)
"That is one of our keys to winning football games, efficiency in the red zone and being efficient. When we get the ball in the red zone you have to take advantage of it. The whole key to red zone efficiency is scoring touchdowns as opposed to kicking field goals. Although we weren't able to get much rhythm and consistency and continuity offensively in the first half, what I did like was we were able to score touchdowns for the most part in the red zone. We get the great turnover by our kickoff team, we converted it into seven points. If we converted to three points that it really a win for the defense. So being able to, when you get in the red zone, scoring seven instead of three. Again, we spent a lot of time with our red zone and working within the red zone. That is one of the keys to winning football games."
(On the placekicking position)
"They will continue to compete each and every day, whoever has the most productivity in practice will be our kicker week in and week out. We compete in everything that we do in our football program and the placekicker is no different."
(On tracking the speed and distance of Jalen Hurd)
"He is one of our fastest players, from game speed repetitions, that is one of the things from our sports science department we really track, the amount of miles that we spend each and every day. It is really amazing when you think of it, what the bodies of these young kids go through each and everyday with practice. That is why with rest, recovery and nutrition, hydration, the training room with Jason McVeigh, all of those are critical pillars of your football program. We spend a lot of time in the sports science end of things."