Nov. 4, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Butch Jones started his Monday press conference by saying the team that fans saw on the field at Missouri Saturday night "wasn't us." But the process of determining what the identity of this team really is continues as the Volunteers return to Neyland Stadium, Saturday.
With a team whose margin for error has been slim all season, the attention to detail and commitment to doing the little things is crucial. The margin could be as slim as one play, which is how Jones saw the game turn in Columbia.
"We had a great week of preparation, I thought we were emotionally ready to play," Jones said of the game at Missouri. "But so much of it is creating your own opportunities and your own momentum, and we weren't able to do that. We dropped a touchdown pass, that flips the game."
The identity that the team had developed throughout the first part of the season was one of playing hard and tough, avoiding the penalties and mental mistakes that can doom a team in a closely-matched game.
"What separates teams, what separates people is the willingness to do the things that nobody else wants to do," said Jones. "Everybody can do them, but nobody wants to do them. We're going through the realities of building a football program, teaching the expectations. That's not going to be a crutch. We expect to have competitive people that want to win week in and week out."
Getting away from what the team had done well and now seeing those mistakes coming back to haunt the team is a great concern going forward, but developing the character of each individual player has made the effort to turn the season back around a much less daunting task.
"I'm always concerned," Jones said of his feelings on the effort displayed against the Tigers. "We have great character in our football program. Pride and heart matter. Everyone is obviously disappointed and they should be, we didn't play well."
One player that did turn in an encouraging performance was freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs, whose debut as the Tennessee starter was up and down, but left plenty of positives to build on. Dobbs was 26-of-42 for 240 yards, a season-high in passing yards by any UT QB. Dobbs also ran for 45 yards, but threw two interceptions and had a key fumble deep in Missouri territory trying to pick up additional yards.
"I think you take a lot of things from it," Jones said of Dobbs' first start. "You know how cerebral he is. Like coaches, he dissects every single play. He had some good experiences and some experiences we need to correct that he doesn't need to have twice. The experiences that he gained should continue to move him forward."
The process and improvement is an exciting but challenging time to go through. Exciting when moments of progress are very clear, challenging when setbacks present themselves. Though he knows it's necessary, Jones finds it hard to preach patience since he is one of the people with the least amount of patience when it comes to seeing success.
"I want it now, our players want it now, our former players, our VFLs want it now, we all want it now," Jones said. "I see the positives each and every day. I see improvements every day, some days larger than others, but I see improvements every day. We have to put our heads down and eliminate the clutter and keep getting better as a football team."
Jones promised one thing in announcing that he was going to turn up the contact in practice as Tennessee prepares for Auburn this week.
"Tennessee football is not going to be soft."