Butch Jones liked a lot of things about his team's 27-24 win over South Carolina, but one negative stood out to him: the focus of his squad playing at home. Heading into what most people believe will be a cakewalk Homecoming win over North Texas (1-8, 1-5) Saturday, Jones hopes his team is able to stay locked in to the task at hand without easing up because of the opponent.
"I didn't think we (had) that intensity. It's, again, teaching a young football team the maturity of playing home," Jones said. "The distractions are so much different from a road game versus a home game from the amount of people around. We're going to close it down a little bit. We're going to take more approach of the locker room and create more tight-knit in terms of restrictions in our locker room and different things that way. When you're a young football team, you really struggle at times with focus."
Last week the third-year head coach reiterated having 'Neyland Focus,' and he didn't see it last week against South Carolina after the team relented a 17-point lead before eventually sealing the game by forcing and recovering a fumble with the Gamecocks driving. More players dress out for home games and the distractions can multiply with recruits, family members and friends around the program leading up to kickoff.
"One lack of focus on a play can generate a big play for (an opponent)," Jones said. "A lot of times younger players have a hard time at snapping and clearing, and sometimes they get mesmerized by the situation. They stare and their reaction time is a little bit different. I want to tighten our overall focus, our mentality with everything. Like I said, it's a lot different when you play at home."
Dobbs Dinged Up?
Was Josh Dobbs banged up during Saturday's game against South Carolina? It depends on who you ask. According to his head coach, Dobbs played through some bumps and bruises to lead his team to a 27-24 victory.
"He was banged up a little bit but gutted through it," Jones said. "It's nothing that he hasn't been doing all year. He'll be fine for the game. He'll practice today. Josh Dobbs is a very tough-minded individual."
But the Tennessee quarterback said he didn't feel hurt at all.
"No, I wasn't banged up," Dobbs said. "I feel good. I played well as well. We came out, we competed and we came out with a victory. We just did what we needed to do to win based on the playcall."
The junior ran the ball 13 times for 35 yards in his team's 27-24 victory, and Jones said after the game he wanted to limit how many carries he gave his quarterback to keep him away from contact.
"[Dobbs] has been banged up," Jones said Saturday. "He's been a warrior. He grinds through it."
Getting The No. 2's In
Tennessee's game against North Texas could turn into an extended audition for the second and third team players looking to put their game identity on film. If the Vols go up big early, a lot of young players should get the opportunity to log big minutes — an opportunity for meaningful snaps that would pay dividends down the road and keep the younger plays focused throughout the week.
"Especially the young players, they're going to get to play a lot. That's how you look at it," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "All the younger guys, all the twos, are thinking, 'Hey, if I can show support to the ones and they can do a good job, I can get in the game. That's how I thought about it when I was younger ... Those guys will be especially locked in this week."
Saturday's tilt might also be Vol fans first extended look at freshman quarterback Quinten Dormady running the full offense, something Jones wants to do if his team is up big.
"That's our plan, but that's our plan every week," he said. "Quinten continues to grow and develop and mature. Obvioulsy you learn through game live reptitions and your reptitions in practice. We would like for him to gain those repititions, but we'll see how the game goes."
Early indications on the injury front were positive for Tennessee. Butch Jones said he expects sophomore offensive guard Jashon Robertson, junior offensive guard Dylan Wiesman, sophomore right tackle Brett Kendrick, freshman wide receiver Preston Williams, junior wide receiver Marquez North and freshman safety Stephen Griffin to practice this week.
“We anticipate all the individuals that you just mentioned to be out at practice today,” Jones said. “We anticipate all of them to be practicing come Tuesday. They’re making progress.”
The status of those players could change as the week progresses, but as of now, Jones sounded confident all would be available throughout the week.
"As of right now, all should be available for Tuesday’s practice, and then I’ll know a little bit more on Wednesday, after Tuesday, our real hard practice, to see kind of where they’re at," Jones said.