It's only the first month of the season, but Butch Jones has already found the need to defend his program against the criticism coming out of a poor second half Saturday against South Alabama. Jones opened by reminding everybody that changing a culture and changing bad habits takes time and dubbing today "Positivity Monday." We had some technical difficulties with the live blog, but part of it is here. For the rest, a transcript will be out later today, but we have a bullet summary here.
- Reasons to be positive about the program right now: Rajion Neal's rushing total Saturday was the highest since 2009. The running game has produced the same number of 200 yard games this season that they produced in the last three seasons combined. [Editor: Fire Dooley]. The Vols have played 14 true freshmen, 22 freshmen overall, and the first two touchdowns Saturday were by true freshmen. Tennessee is top ten nationally in fewest penalties and least penalty yardage, as well as interceptions and points off turnovers. Also, Tennessee won. [Ed.: Jones has has great success recruiting and with off-the-field things more generally, and that has largely counterbalanced dissatisfaction with on-the-field results for the last couple weeks. No longer, as the fans are frustrated, and Jones felt the need to address it. But while there are certainly things to criticize, Jones is right to remind us that there are things UT is doing very well and that changing the culture was never going to happen in five games. With the current state of the roster, this won't be the only reminder over the next 18 months or so.]
- Depth is a really, really, really big problem. A.J. Johnson played 83 snaps Saturday. Dontavis Sapp played 94. The starting corners played somewhere in the high 70s. That wears on a team, and if the Vols can't find second teamers who can step up and shoulder some of the load, the starters will continue playing too many reps, and that will be a problem.
- More general thoughts on the South Alabama game: people need to realize that every play matters. People need to work on mental toughness and effort for 60 minutes. Corey Miller and Marlon Walls were specifically mentioned as players whose effort was exemplary, and Miller made a play on a FG return that might've ultimately saved the game. But the team reverted to bad habits with a big lead, and turnovers are a major (and inexcusable) problem. That said, a win is a win, and we'll never be disappointed with a win. There were some good red zone stops, and having faced some tough circumstances (some admittedly of the Vols' own making) and overcome them should be good experience down the road when it happens again in SEC play.
- Other players who stood out as having excellent games: Jason Croom and Rajion Neal had their best games of the season. Neal was decisive and ran north-and-south, which will be needed against Georgia. Croom played physical and fast, made some catches and blocked well on the edges. Corey Vereen was also excellent.
- Georgia is very good. Their running game is great and will be great even if they don't have Gurley. They have outstanding depth in all three phases of the game. Their quarterback can complete passes even against well-covered receivers. They're a veteran group who knows how to win big games. Tennessee needs to win the line-of-scrimmage battle without sacrificing the one-on-one battles on the edges.
- Jones felt it was time for gray uniforms. The players are excited for them, the fans are excited for them, and a national TV game makes for a great marketing opportunity. They won't win the game for the Vols though.
- What about the quarterbacks? The whole offense needs to get better, not just Justin Worley. Receivers need to run better routes, the line needs to make sure the defense can't tip balls at the line of scrimmage. But Worley needs to trust his coaching and trust his preparation and know when to throw the ball away. The true freshmen are not ready yet, although they get closer every week. If they get ready this week, they'll play. If not, Jones owes it to them, their parents, and the team to not put them in too early. [Ed.: This will probably be a weekly feature unless Worley has a Crompton breakout or a freshman finally plays. If they didn't play against South Alabama, I'm beginning to suspect Jones wants to redshirt both. But we'll see what happens. He has made quarterback changes mid-season before.]
- Yes, Jones talked to Tiny about his tweet. He wasn't bashing on the fans, he was just expressing pride in the performance of the offensive line.
- Injury update: Lane is day-to-day with a lower extremity injury [Ed.: At least he didn't say "lower body injury."]. Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones are back practicing but are not at game speed yet.