KNOXVILLE — The mere mention of the punt Western Kentucky blocked late in the second quarter Saturday made Tennessee football coach Butch Jones shake his head.
Even 48 hours later, the mistake apparently still was eating at him.
Though the play didn't swing the outcome of the Volunteers' 52-20 win, Jones and his players know it's the kind of mistake that can't be made as the schedule hits its difficult stretch, starting with the trip to second-ranked Oregon this week.
"I'm repsonsible for it," Jones said Monday during his weekly news conference. "I coach the punt, and we've had very few punt blocks over I want to say 15 years of running this punt. The individual is very prideful. It was a mistake, and we'll get it corrected."
One of three players not to retreat to set up a potential return, Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee forged enough of his body through defensive end Jordan Williams and defensive tackle Danny O'Brien -- two players in the three-man shield for punter Michael Palardy -- to get his long arm on the kick.
Jones called it a "fundamental" mistake.
"We're supposed to take them on square. We didn't. We picked a side and he squeezed through," he said. "The shields didn't do a good job of covering it, and we spend as much time on punt as any aspect ... in our football program. Again, that's inexcusable."
The Vols have had a few punts blocked by their scout team throughout practices both in the preseason and the last couple of weeks. Oregon blocked a punt to set up a short scoring drive in the first quarter of its 59-10 rout of Virginia on Saturday.
"I don't know if it was a combination of get-off time or someone just slipping through the shield," Palardy said, "but we'll fix that in practice and make sure that doesn't happen the rest of the season."
Considering the expectations heaped on his 6-foot-8, 351-pound frame during the preseason, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers has been fairly quiet through two games. He's made only three tackles so far, and Trevarris Saulsberry, a 291-pound redshirt sophomore, typically substitutes in for him on third-down passing situations.
"Dan has really improved his pass rush skills, but Saulsberry's been giving us some great reps in our three-down and our third-down package," Jones explained. "We've tried to rotate our defensive linemen to keep that fresh. Dan continues to be work in progress.
"Dan's one of those individuals, though, who needs to learn that your practice habits are critical to carrying over to your game-day performance."
Against Oregon's fast-tempo offense, McCullers' conditioning will be tested, and Tennessee will need him and the whole front four to be disruptive, much like Stanford's defensive line was in the Cardinal's overtime win in Eugene last November.
"Dan is doing things I have not seen him done off of film, in a positive note," Jones said. "I think he's playing greater effort, I think his mindset and his physicality is improved and he's very, very prideful. He doesn't say a lot, but he listens and he holds to every word that you say.
"We expect and demand a lot from Dan because he's very capable of being a difference maker, and I've been pleased right now with his progress in a very relatively early stage of the season."
Multiple offensive players credited the Vols' coaching staff both for the adjustments made and the manner with which they were made at halftime of Saturday's win.
After an 84-yard first half, the Vols controlled the second half and piled up 298 yards of offense.
"I wouldn't say it's frantic at all," quarterback Justin Worley said. "A lot of it is sit down, relax, catch your breath. The first halves of the past two games have been kind of hectic, and then the coaches will come in and we'll basically make a second game plan based on what we've been seeing.
"It's relaxed and get your mind right for a second half of football."
Jones said defensive end and former Ooltewah High School star Jacques Smith (thumb) has been cleared to play and would practice Monday afternoon, and the Vols "totally anticipate" him playing against Oregon. ... Tennessee again is taking a wait-and-see approach with linebacker Curt Maggitt (knee), who practiced last week and went through pregame warmups Saturday. ... The coaches don't expect freshman defensive end Corey Vereen to be ready for Oregon.
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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