KNOXVILLE — LaTrell Bumphus and Theo Jackson did exactly what the Tennessee coaching staff told them to do Saturday against Brigham Young.
Not surprisingly, they were the two players who had the best results.
Bumphus, a converted tight end now on the defensive line, made two sacks against the Cougars, while Jackson — in his second career start — had a team-high nine tackles from his safety position.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt singled out those two during his Monday news conference, noting that he expects to get "more and more guys that buy into doing that."
"I'm going to tell you this, when I woke up Saturday morning, I had it in my mindset that I'm going to do everything I can to get our team to be the best they can possibly be," Pruitt said. "The kids that made mistakes on Saturday, which was everybody on our team — we all do, coaches too — nobody woke up and said, 'Hey, I'm going to make sure I mess this up.' Everybody has the right intentions. But you've got to create the right habits, and I think both of those guys are two guys that are very good examples of guys that have really tried to do exactly what we've asked them to.
"LaTrell Bumphus, when we started fall camp, he was fourth team. He was fourth team. He's a guy that plays on kickoff return, he's a guy that helps us on the punt team. So we've got to get more guys doing things like LaTrell and Theo."
Pruitt has stated repeatedly that he wants his defense to force turnovers. That hasn't been the case as the Volunteers have one turnover through two games — a forced fumble by outside linebacker Deandre Johnson that was recovered by Bumphus — but they've had opportunities, such as a BYU snap that glanced off an offensive player that the Cougars were able to corral. There was also a missed interception by true freshman Quavaris Crouch on the last possession of regulation that would have ended the game.
"That's just a want-to," Jackson said of the lack of turnovers so far. "You've got to want the ball. Coach always harps on being a ball-hawking defense, and we've got to take a big responsibility getting that done."
Jackson added that the defense "played a good game" overall but didn't execute in some key moments.
"That goes back to preparation," he said. "That goes back to studying film and doing more on your own."
That's something Bumphus has done a lot of. The coaching staff had approached him about the position change during the spring, a switch he welcomed. Plus with the lack of experience at that position, there were going to be opportunities, especially after senior Emmit Gooden — the only player with considerable experience at the position — tore an ACL early in preseason camp.
The 6-foot-3, 273-pound Bumphus was one of those who took advantage of a chance. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker already had referred to him as one of the team's best pass-rushers, and Bumphus showed that by hawking down BYU quarterback Zach Wilson twice.
But the end result was still a loss, and the Vols have one more nonconference opportunity with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coming to town before Southeastern Conference play begins next week at Florida.
"We just have to focus on what we can control," Bumphus said Tuesday. "We just have to build that bond and trust everything coaches tell us. It's been tough at times, especially when you struggle, but you've got to lean on each other; you've got to learn from it, but at the same time realize it's a long season, so each week we've got to come out and continue to get better.
"We still need to keep our intensity, continue to fight for 60 minutes. We've got to keep coming in and working on little things we've been lacking."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.