KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As Tennessee prepares for the biggest football game ever with the ‘Battle at Bristol’ this weekend, coach Butch Jones remains miffed about a play that happened four days earlier.
Jones once again addressed star linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s targeting ejection during Thursday’s close call against Appalachian State, guaranteeing “that the play will be on every teach tape in the country for the next few years when it comes to targeting.”
“I’m all for player safety,” Jones said.
“Within the rules, that’s going to be called. I can’t argue about the call. … But it’s also like, ‘How can we protect the guys going down to make the play?’”
Reeves-Maybin, who will not have to miss any time against Virginia Tech, was flagged for his helmet-to-helmet hit on App State’s Jaquil Capel, and the senior linebacker admitted Monday he had limited options to make the tackle once Capel went low fielding the punt.
“It was kind of a weird play,” Reeves-Maybin said, who added he’ll never hold back and always play at full speed.
“I tried to stay away from the head, but once you’re going low and somebody also is going low, it’s kind of hard to avoid. When you’re playing football full speed, sometimes people forget that I can’t just stop on a dime. Once you make a decision, sometimes you’ve got to live with it. But I guess I’ve got to slow down or go even lower.”
Jones wants the rules committee to “tell us how to teach that,” also saying, “You have an individual who, when you look at their leverage, couldn’t have done it another way unless you dove at the ground and tried to sweep the legs.”
Reeves-Maybin’s ejection stunned Neyland Stadium on Thursday night, and Tennessee’s defense briefly lost its footing without their senior leader.
However, Reeves-Maybin was proud of his understudy’s performance, complimenting junior linebacker Cortez McDowell for filling in admirably in a pinch.
“He seemed real composed,” Reeves-Maybin said of McDowell, who ended up tying for the team-lead in tackles with 9.
“He played his game.”
Moving forward, Reeves-Maybin said the ejection won’t affect his mindset in future games. He only knows “one way to play,” and he refuses to relinquish his starring role on special teams, either.
“It’s just part of the game,” the senior explained.
“I think you’ve always got to play at full-speed. Whatever happens, happens. Once you start to slow down, that’s when you get hurt. If that’s the way you’ve played the game your whole life, it’s hard to adjust from that.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com