KNOXVILLE — The assessment was blunt, and the corrective measure will be without mincing words, too.
Butch Jones felt his Tennessee team was dominated at the line of scrimmage in its 28-point loss at Missouri, and the first-year coach was adamant that he won't tolerate that from the Volunteers while he's in charge.
So he's ratcheting up the physical nature of practice this week ahead of Tennessee's home game against seventh-ranked Auburn.
"He made it evident that we need to get back to the physical part of Tennessee and playing physical Tennessee football," defensive end Jacques Smith said Monday.
"It won't do anything but help us. I think Coach Jones has the best intentions for our football team, and I can't wait to get out there and get better. I think everyone on this team is eager to get better. We know that we're a great football team. From the standpoint of what situation we're in right now, we have to improve on our confidence. I think that'll improve with our play."
Missouri ran for 339 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry while its defense sacked Josh Dobbs twice, forced the Tennessee quarterback into an interception with pressure, added five more tackles for loss and held the Vols to 3.9 yards per run.
Jones didn't hide his disappointment with the play of Tennessee's veteran offensive line, though he did direct some of the culpability for the struggles to other parts of the offense Monday. The Vols' offensive linemen have played a lot of football in their careers, and the poor performance should motivate them against another ranked opponent this week.
"It was very tough," center James Stone said of the unit's film review of the game. "It was extremely disappointing to see our performance. We needed to be leaders for our team, and we didn't perform to our abilities and what our team needed from us."
After easing off the physical dimension in practice the past few weeks in trying to manage a thin roster, Jones said the Vols will "get back to doing what we do," which means full-padded practices today and Wednesday and more live contact.
Tackling has been an issue the past three games, and Jones was unhappy with how his defenders fought off blocks against Missour.
"It's the standard, and that's the way we're going to play football here: We're going to be a physically tough, tough-minded football team in everything that we do," he said. "We call it 'Tennessee Tough,' and it's not just a fancy slogan. We have to get much tougher as a football team.
"I'm not going to tolerate it as the head football coach and the caretaker of Tennessee football. Tennessee football's not going to be soft. As we know, building toughness is a process. It just doesn't happen overnight. It's a cumulative effect that occurs in your winters, strength and conditioning program, to spring football, to August camp to the season.
"You have to live it. I've been through this journey before with developing toughness, and it takes some while. But the great thing is, is our players, in meeting with them, they've embraced it."
Like pretty much every team in the country at this point of the season, the Vols are beat up physically, as the natural wear and tear of the season takes it toll. A handful of players are battling minor bumps and bruises and playing through pain. Tennessee does have its second open date of the season next week.
"I just feel like you have to be smart about it, but at the same time, you have to realize that that's the only way to go out there and play as physically as you want to play," Stone said. "You have to practice it and do full-speed things in practice with full contact and good-on-good.
"I have a lot of confidence in Coach that he's going to be smart with it and be able to do it enough to get us some good physicality going."
Auburn is 8-1 on the strength of its ground game, which leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally at 306.2 yards per game.
"We better get tough," Jones said. "We better get more physical in a hurry. They have a mentality to run the football."
By tweaking the style of practice, Jones is trying to improve the mentality of his own team.
"We've got to get more physicality in our defensive line play," Smith said, "and we definitely have to stop the run this weekend."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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