For the fourth time in what ended up being four defeats, Tennessee held a lead in the fourth quarter before succumbing to a comeback victory by the opposing team. The narrative all season long has been one of the Vols being simply unable to finish what they've started after gaining double-digit leads in three losses, and it was only exacerbated after they went up on Alabama by one point with 5:49 to play in the game before falling.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones has worked ceaslessly to address those problems, and after Saturday's loss the question remained: How do the Vols seal the deal?
"When you look at it, we play winning football and put ourselves in position to win football games for 56 minutes," Jones said at Monday's press conference. "Now, how do we continue to elevate our play to close and finish games off? That's been the topic after the game and will be the topic again today."
Jones and his team will head to Kentucky for a bout with the Wildcats having lost three of its last four SEC games, but Saturday's trip to Lexington will provide the Vols with a chance at some redemption and a statement win to prove they're capable of holding a lead and keeping it for good. While Jones wouldn't point to any tangible goals to close out the year, running the table is a definite possibility and something Tennessee will surely aim to do as it closes out the regular season.
"Our kids come to work every day, and we have only had one goal in our football program since the season started. That one goal is to be a better team and a better football program each and every day," Jones said. "Those goals are still in place. I believe if you have that goal and accomplish that goal, it provides positive momentum and energy, and the rest takes care of itself. I thought our kids showed great competitive grit.
Throwing In The Towles
Butch Jones knows Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles better than most. After all, he was one of Towles' hardest suitors when the UK quarterback was searching for a program coming out of high school.
"We recruited him at Cincinnati. He was our No. 1 target," Jones said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He's a winner. He comes from a great, great high school football program and I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in our conference."
The Highlands (Ky.) High School star has completed 60 percent of his passes through seven games for 1,730 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. Jones praised Towles' awareness when the pocket collapses and ability to toss the long ball.
"He's a leader and you can see that," Jones said. "He can make every throw. He's very, very active. He's athletic. He can make plays with his legs. He can make plays with his arm, and he can complete all the throws, but I think he throws the deep ball very, very well. He can make the throws in awkward body positions when the play breaks down, so what he's been able to do over a short period of time in his collegiate career doesn't surprise me."
Medley's The Man
When asked if there would be a kicker competition following Aaron Medley's three missed field goals against Alabama, Jones put the issue to bed rather succinctly.
"No," Jones said. "Aaron Medley is our kicker."
The sophomore missed field goals from 43, 51 and 51 yards against the Crimson Tide and is now 9-of-17 on the year. Jones conceded Monday that he did consider going for it on fourth down before Medley's second 51-yard attempt, but it doesn't sound like junior backup kicker George Bullock will be seeing the field anytime soon.
"We have great confidence in him and I know Aaron has great confidence in himself in his well," Jones said. "He went back to work on it on Sunday when we got back to correct some of the steps and the strides. We believe in him, and we're going to be there for him, and we're going to need him down the stretch."
Butch Jones updated the status on a trio of injured players who missed the Alabama game Saturday.
Starting guard Jashon Robertson, who has been battling an ankle injury all season, is expected back for Saturday's tilt with Kentucky.
"We anticipate Jashon Robertson being ready to play," Jones said. "We'll know a little bit more today when we go out there, obviously in pads."
Freshman wide receiver Preston Williams suffered a hamstring injury Tuesday that prevented him from traveling with the team to Tuscaloosa. Williams is working to come back and could be available Saturday.
"Preston Williams is doing everything he can to get back," Jones said. "We've been told he'll practice on Tuesday."
Starting right tackle Brett Kendrick missed the past two games with both an elbow and knee injury, and his status moving forward is still up in the air.
"We'll know a little bit more on him on Tuesday as well," the third-year Tennessee coach said. "Right now, of the three individuals you just mentioned, I would say Jashon Robertson is probably ahead of them, but all three individuals are working very hard to get back, so I would not rule any of those out at this particular time."