KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones was not stressed out, his face didn’t turn red or purple, and he didn’t yell or scream at or about anyone at his press conference on Monday.
If there’s a reason No. 14 Tennessee (3-0) is going about its business in routine fashion entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game against rival Florida (3-0), it’s because that’s the way the head coach is approaching it.
“A lot of times you try to eliminate clutter and distraction and focus on the task at hand,” Jones said at his Monday press conference, appearing more relaxed than anyone could have expected considering the Gators have won 11 straight in the series.
“Everybody understands in our football program what this game is, it’s special, it’s a rivalry game,” Jones said. “Everybody understands the magnitude, but for me, it’s getting our football team better.”
Jones discussed his team’s uncharacteristic fumbles, penalties and lackluster special teams play. His concerns are with trying to establish focus and consistency with his players this week — not the latest Tweet or hot take.
Tennessee’s head coach is well aware of the challenge Florida figures to present with its No. 1-ranked defense, so there’s no time for such distractions.
“We’re playing a Florida football team that has great speed, that has playmakers all over the field,” Jones said. “This is probably the best defense we’ve faced since I’ve been here, they make you earn everything that you get.
“It’s a very good football team and there’s a reason why they were champions in our division last year, we have to take tremendous strides moving forward. I know we’re all looking forward to this week of preparation and playing the game on Saturday.”
Which is why, Jones said, Tennessee didn’t get caught up in Florida’s Twitter chatter over the summer or comments at SEC Media Days.
Gators offensive tackle David Sharpe said in Birmingham that he was eager to get to Saturday’s game.
“I can’t wait to go to Tennessee, man, I can’t wait, that’s going to be the big game this year,” Sharpe said at the Wynfrey Hotel in July.
“We’re just ready to go show them,” the 6-foot-7, 340-pound junior said. “We expect to come back and win ever more than we did last year.”
Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor has taken several shots at the Vols program in the offseason and expressed great confidence in the Gators’ chances at winning.
Jones, however, made it clear he doesn’t believe Tabor’s comments will be a factor in the outcome.
“First of all you shouldn’t need that to motivate you If you are a true competitor,” Jones said. “It doesn’t do us any good to talk about it.
“There’s no clutter, you can’t have clutter and distractions, and we have to work on being a better football team,’’ he said. “We’re playing the champions of our (East Division), so we have to do everything we can to prepare … .and we can’t deviate from that mindset.”
Focus, Jones stressed, will be the key to winning the football game and extending Tennessee’s win streak to 10 games.
“We have to focus on the task at hand, and that’s becoming better, and working to compete against a very, very good Florida football team,” Jones said. “No more, no less, and we’ll be fine.”