Fresh off the heels of a 59-30 win over Bowling Green, Butch Jones is getting his Tennessee team ready to host the Sooners Saturday night. In his weekly meeting with the press, Jones was sure to point out that his crew was taking a step up in level of competition. The Sooners opened the season with a Top 20 ranking but following their 41-3 thrashing of Akron, Jones believes they are deserving of a much higher position.
"Now we all also understand that the team we are about to face here in less than a week, I believe is a top 5 football team and a top 5 football program. I have a lot of respect for Bob (Stoops). I think he illustrates the difference between building a team and building a program. His administration and his fanbase has stood with him through of the trials and tribulations, and they've developed one of the best programs in all of college football. They're a great football team. I think they're one of the most underrated football teams in the country and you can tell they have a quiet confidence about themselves. They're very very skilled, they're physical, they're tough. And they're a complete football team in all three phases. So it's going to take anything and everything that we have to be able to compete with them on Saturday." - Butch Jones on the Oklahoma football program
The Sooners posted 41 points on Akron with quarterback Baker Mayfield throwing a season opener school-record 388 yards, while the Vols gave up 433 yards through the air to Bowling Green. Obviously this presents a challenge to the Tennessee defense and Jones is well aware of it.
"Well, we need to get better in a hurry. We have a football team coming in here that's skilled. A very big, physical, imposing offensive line. Three running backs that I would argue would be as good as any three running backs in the country. Not a tandem, but they have three. They complement each other just like Jalen (Hurd) and Alvin (Kamara) do. We need to get better in a hurry, but I think, with a naked eye, everyone wants to point towards the secondary. That's not how pass defense works. It's all 11 individuals, and it starts up front. It starts up front with generating a pass rush. It starts up front with our get-off, off the ball, [and] the use of our hands. It starts with the second level, with our linebackers, and then the third level is our secondary. We did not play well defensively at all in the game [against Bowling Green.] We had some individuals do some uncharacteristic things, but again, it gets back to that base line performance. Our players take pride in their performance. They understand that, and the great thing is, we can work to correct the problems this week, but it wasn't just the secondary." - Butch Jones on the Tennessee defense
As if the Big 12 vs. S.E.C. wasn't a big enough billing for this game, a nationally televised audience, the first home game of the season for the Vols (Tennessee played in Nashville last week), and a match-up of Top 25 teams make this one of the best games of the week. However, Jones said that his team is just taking it one day/game at a time.
"It's the most important game because it's the next game, that's it. Every single game is critical. That's what makes college football special, is one bad day can take you away from all your dreams, goals, and aspirations. Every game is important, but it's like I talked about, the base line experience. Every time they run out the tunnel, it's something new. For a lot of these individuals, it will be their first game in Neyland Stadium. A lot of these individuals, it will be their eight game playing in Neyland Stadium. You just have to keep it in perspective. I think the biggest storyline is the quality of opponent. We're playing a great, great football team." - Butch Jones on the magnitude of the Oklahoma game
Things come back full circle though to the key match-up being Oklahoma's passing offense vs. Tennessee's passing defense. Jones was quick to mention that covering OU's receivers go way beyond knowing where Sterling Shepard is.
"The problem with them, is that they don't only have Shepard, they have a corps of receivers that are very, very talented, and very, very elusive. They do a great job of getting the ball to their [running] backs and creating space. They're an up-tempo offense. Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma offensive coordinator) does a very good job, and they create mismatches. Again, we have to do a great job of moving our personnel around. They do a great job at tempo. I think that's the thing that people need to realize. When you play up-tempo offenses, the situational part of defense, the sub defense, the match-ups, the personnel, you're not able to do that because of the tempo. There's a lot of communication that goes involved in lining up and playing fast, so that's why it's important that your players are locked in. You don't have that luxury of facing a huddle team, where you're able to match players on players, and do some different things that way because of the tempo." - Butch Jones on Oklahoma's offense
For a complete transcript of Monday's Butch Jones press conference click here.