KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones is known as a master of coach-speak, often relying on cliches and football catchphrases to avoid being too revealing.
On Monday, Jones was as up front about his No. 9-ranked Tennessee football team as anyone could have expected.
“We have to get better in a hurry,” said Jones, whose team plays Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday in the Battle of Bristol on the infield of Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. “The sense of urgency has to pick up, and I’ve seen that already.”
The Vols (1-0) were pushed around plenty in their 20-13 overtime win over Sun Belt Conference member Appalachian State last Thursday.
UT was outrushed 184-127, and it needed the good fortune of recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to pull out the game.
Senior quarterback Josh Dobbs had one of the worst performances of his career, rushing for negative yards for the first time in a Tennessee uniform, and missing several open receivers and throws en route to a 16-of-29 passing performance that included an interception as well as a TD throw.
Jones indicated many of the Vols’ problems started up front, and there’s a plan of action to sharpen up the offensive line play before meeting the Hokies.
In a word: competition.
“The five individuals that give us the best chance to win the game, those are the five that will start the game,” Jones said. “Just like any week, every position, they are competing for it, and it’s who has the best week of practice.
“We’re going to be challenged with a very disruptive (Virginia Tech) front that causes you communication problems. We’re going to see every blitz known to mankind.”
Bud Foster is in his 21st year as the Hokies defensive coordinator, and in that time Virginia Tech has more sacks and interceptions than any other FBS program.
“Everyone in our program has to have a tremendous sense or urgency to make the progress needed from game one to game two,” Jones said. “There were a lot of things to build upon Thursday night when you watch the video, but we found a way to win the game, and that talks to the perseverance and resiliency.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee football for The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.