Butch Jones proud after loss, more notes

Visit InsideTennessee to stay on top of all the latest Vols news. Scroll down to read all the highlights from the Vols' post-game press conference.

With the clock slipping under five minutes in the fourth quarter, Tennessee took a timeout.

The defense jogged toward the sideline. Some paused mid stride, glancing up at the glowing Jumbotron in the north end zone. It read 31-17.

The Gators had the ball at Tennessee's 37-yard line. The game was over. Wrapped up. Finished. Done.

Pack it in, right?


Tennessee's defense huddled. They leaned in to hear defensive coordinator John Jancek's message. A handful of motionless minutes passed. Then the unthinkable happened.

Players began to jump around: head-butting helmets, slapping butts, hands and fists. They then sprinted back onto the field.

The Vols never gave up.

Sure, the 31-17 loss to the 19th-ranked Gators stung. It stung badly. But Butch Jones managed a slight smile post-game.

His team took steps. Small, simple steps.

It was the silver lining in an otherwise unsightly loss. A loss where the turnover-prone Gators tried their best to give the Vols a chance.

"Losing is never accepted at Tennessee and never tolerated, but I'm proud of our defense. I thought they showed resiliency. They didn't quit," Jones said. "They gave us an opportunity to be in the game at the end of the game, and we just have to keep getting better, and it's a long football season. There is no panic."

It's easy to see a team's faults in a loss, especially one against the archrival Gators. A loss that extends Tennessee's losing streak to nine straight.

But there are some things the public can't see. The Vols are starting to buy in.

"We make progress everyday," Jones said.

Sometimes Jones sounds like a broken record, calling this season a "process" till he's blue in the face. But he sees the wheels turning. It makes Jones eager.

"I want practice on Sunday," Jones said. "I want to get going. I want to make more small steps."

Tennessee's defense held the Gators to three points in the first quarter. But they didn't get time to relish in their success.

The Vols' six turnovers sent the "D" marching back onto the field again and again and again.

"Our defense does a great job to get us the ball, and we turn the football over in that first possession, and you can't do that," Jones said. "Our defense was on the field a lot, and they put us in a position to win."

Peterman's proven in practice

Every snap and every throw was evaluated.

Tennessee's coaching staff is thorough. When they announced the practices leading up to Florida would be an open competition for the starting quarterback job, they meant it.

Every quarterback's practice throws would be analyzed before a decision was made.

The analyzing lasted all week. Alton Howard said the team learned of the decision at the hotel on Friday night.

Butch Jones said post-game that Nathan Peterman earned the starting spot based on his performance in practice.

"We thought (Peterman) had the better week of preparation," Jones said.

Jones said the practice week featured more team practice to try and simulate a live game experience.

Obviously, the re-worked practice schedule didn't pay dividends. Jones knows that.

"Performing in practice and in the game are two different things," Jones said.

Lost in translation

Late in the second quarter, Nathan Peterman aborted his shotgun position behind center and bolted toward the offensive line.

He began barking an audible call, trying to change the blocking protection scheme.

Immediately, the entire offensive line turned around.

They all started waiving their hands in an "X" pattern, as if to say "No, no, no!"

Tennessee called a timeout amongst the confusion.

"We were trying to get (Peterman) on the same page as us," Tennessee guard Zach Fulton said. "He wanted to flip the protection but the blitz wasn't coming to the side he was trying to go to. So, we were trying to tell him no."

Fulton said miscommunication with Peterman at quarterback was only an issue "two or three times," but he did admit there's a missing comfort factor with Peterman at the helm.

"We're a little more prepared with Worley," Fulton said.

That said, pass protection issues didn't help Peterman's statistics.

"It's not all on Nate Peterman," Jones said. "I love Nate Peterman… The first half, I thought (Florida) dominated the line of scrimmage with their defensive front."

When the blitz did get to Peterman, however, the youngster needs to learn that sometimes a sack is the best outcome. The interception that landed in the hands of Florida defensive lineman Darious Cummings in the second quarter speaks to that.

"Sometimes punt is a great play," Jones said.

The key word there is "sometimes."

The Peterman-headed Vols punted more times than Jones would like.

Of Peterman's six drives, two resulted in punts, two ended with interceptions and two more halted because of fumbles.

Jones had handed out harsh words in regards to the offense's first half performance.

"I told them we probably played the worst half of football we possibly could offensively," Jones said when asked what his message to the team at halftime was.

More miscommunication

Out came Florida's punter on its first drive.

The Vols' defense bowed its neck, forcing what looked to be a three and out. It turned out to be something much better.

The snap was high. Florida's punter couldn't snag the ball. Tennessee pounced on it, taking over just 15-yards from six points.

But Tennessee couldn't capitalize. It was the theme of the night.

On Tennessee's second play, running back Rajion Neal was met in the backfield by a host of Gators. He fumbled. Opportunity wasted.

Neal said post-game that the fumble was a result of miscommunication.

"(Peterman) thought we were running one play," Neal began, "I thought we were running another play and the line thought we were running another play."

Novice nickelbacks

As much as Butch Jones praised the defense post-game, the unit had its flaws.

Big, obvious flaws.

The defense allowed Florida's back-up quarterback Tyler Murphy to turn the game into his personal highlight reel.

The former Scout two-star gouged the Vols' defense for 90 yards rushing.

It was Murphy's first start since high school. Tennessee's defense was kind enough to let him shake off the rust.

"I was a little nervous. My first time being out and playing an actual football game and getting actual game-day reps. It's been a while," Murphy said. "… I was able to, eventually, get comfortable, get into a little groove."

It wasn't Tennessee's future NFL linebacker in A.J. Johnson allowing Murphy to settle in. It wasn't Brian Randolph failing to play at the line of scrimmage. It wasn't a poor play call.

More often than not, It was Tennessee's nickelbacks.

Time after time, Murphy would drop back, wait a few seconds, tuck the ball and race to edge. Tennessee nickelbacks – or the extra cornerback brought on the field in pass coverage – failed to contain while playing in the flats. They let the ball outside them.

"Our nickelbacks let guys outside them," Jones said. "That can't happen."

Nickelbacks didn't gift Murphy all of his 90 rushing yards, but a good chunk of it. It could be a season-long trend. They will be exploited. And it's easy to see why.

Tennessee's stable of nickelbacks includes Devaun Swafford, Reggie Juin, JaRon Toney and Malik Foreman. Three walk-ons and one true freshman.

Vicious Vereen

A blend of injuries and suspensions forced several inexperienced players to see substantial playing time on the defensive line.

Corey Vereen was one of those players.

In the limited snaps the freshman saw, he delivered, adding a jolt to a weakening group.

Vereen caused a handful of disruptions in his first game back from a knee injury.

"(Vereen) will be here to work on his own (on Sunday)," Jones said. "He gives us everything he has."

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