KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones’ favorite word in the English language is resiliency.
I don’t know that to be totally true. But it’s an educated guess.
And now we now why.
Tennessee’s fourth-year coach has built a team — and program — that refuses to quit.
After last season’s notorious collapses, the Volunteers — 4-0 for the first time since 2003 — are dominating the second halves. Slow starts be damned.
Are three 10-plus point early-season deficits concerning?
Sure, but this team, Team120, has learned how to win. They’ve learned to finish.
Tennessee boat-raced Florida after halftime en route to a wild 38-28 win on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
After the biggest win of his career, Jones praised every aspect of the program, citing his veteran players, the new strength and conditioning staff and Tennessee’s nutritionist.
“We’re building something special here,” he said.
“They could have folded. They could have come in and got down on themselves. They didn’t. They responded.”
The Volunteers were literally booed off the field at halftime, but they stared at that 21-3 deficit, shrugged and didn’t blink.
All offseason, Jones and players talked of “finding those 25 points.”
Well, Tennessee has outsourced opponents 87 to 24 after halftime in 2016.
Under a searing sun, Tennessee’s resolve — manifested by its newfound conditioning — proved to be the difference. While the Gators talked tough all week, the Volunteers were the team ready to play four quarters.
“I just kept looking at their body language,” junior safety Todd Kelly Jr. said.
“It was bad. They were worried about talking too much. … We looked at the other sideline and knew we had them beat. We just took their soul.”
Tennessee’s “never die” attitude starts with Jones, but it’s carried out by veterans like Kelly Jr., Danny O’Brien and Derek Barnett.
Following the epic comeback, the Volunteers safety recalled how he was in the stands as an 8-year-old the last time Tennessee beat Florida in 2004.
The Knoxville native said he knew what it meant to beat UF, so he refused to lay down after some early troubles.
“We were down, but it didn’t matter,” he said.
“I’ve learned to keep fighting. Keep pushing. To never give up. I knew what that feeling was like. I wanted to get it back.”
What’s Butch Jones’ favorite word again?