Tennessee rounded out day one of SEC Media Days 2017, and cautious optimism reigned. The Volunteers, who ranked ninth in the country in last year’s preseason AP Top 25 poll, finished 22nd overall with a final record of 9-4. “I don’t view it as a disappointment,” head coach Butch Jones stated. “The way I view it is we didn't accomplish everything we set ourselves out to.”
While Jones failed to make any reference to being “Champions of Life,” the fifth-year head coach did point out, “We're one of only three [SEC] programs that have won nine games two years in a row.” He added, “We've been very fortunate to have three straight bowl victories, first time in 20 years in our great program's history and tradition.”
While these accomplishments may be impressive in the eyes of some, the expectations sitting on Jones’ shoulders have not yet been met.
While 2016 marked just the second year that Tennessee has defeated Missouri (the first came in 2015), last year’s matchup was a statistical anomaly of sorts. Looking solely at the statistics from last year’s matchup, one would be easily led to believe that the Tigers took home the victory. Missouri held an advantage in first downs (41-24), total yards (740-609), passing yards (320-223), and rushing yards (420-386). But thanks in part to turnovers, by the fourth quarter, an exciting shootout had turned into a lopsided 63-37 Tennessee victory.
Defensive back Emmanuel Moseley had this to say on his head coach potentially being on the hot seat: “We don’t really worry about that. We only focus on what we can control, and that’s summer workouts, on-the-field workouts, and just trying to have a successful season.”
Speaking on a similar topic, senior offensive lineman Jashon Robertson had this to say about Butch Jones’ rumored job security: “We aren’t really paying much attention to the outside noise, but as far as Coach Jones goes, he really appreciates all of the things we’re doing day in and day out.”
Defensive lineman Kendal Vickers had a different opinion on the rumors surrounding Jones being on the hot seat: “It’s a little disrespectful. He’s changed this program so much, and he’s done everything he’s possibly been able to do to change the culture at Tennessee.”
When asked about how the defensive backfield plans to deal with explosive offenses, like Missouri’s, in the future, Moseley stated: “We want to eliminate the big plays. If we eliminate two or three plays, the game is totally different.”
Asked about Missouri’s sophomore running back Damarea Crockett, Vickers said, “He was good. He slid through holes, didn’t really go down on first contact, and he ran tough. He was a solid, complete running back and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Signs point to this being a make-or-break year for Butch Jones and the Volunteers. Tennessee plays at Missouri on November 11.