KNOXVILLE – Tennessee coach Butch Jones could’ve shrugged off last week’s 59-14 loss at Oregon as a case of facing an opponent that was simply on a different level than the Vols.
He might’ve cited injuries, playing on the road or just the incredible team speed and talent that Oregon boasts as excuses for why the Vols didn’t win – or even come close. Jones doesn’t believe in excuses, however.
“Losing will never ever be tolerated here or accepted at the University of Tennessee and it’s unacceptable,” Jones said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “You can search for all the excuses that you want, but winning is a habit and losing is a habit and it’s unacceptable.
“Our players are going to understand that. It means talks about your week of preparation, it means players stepping up and making big-time plays, it’s preparing our team.”
And part of this week’s preparation for travelling to No. 19 Florida (1-1) includes more open competition at several positions, including quarterback. Starter Justin Worley completed just 13-of-25 attempts for 126 yards against the Ducks. He found an open Josh Smith for 51 yards, but outside of that, struggled with his accuracy in the hostile environment.
That doesn’t mean Worley has lost the job. It does mean that Jones is going to take a closer look at UT’s other options, which include redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson. Jones sounded especially optimistic about the progress that Peterman has made.
“We may open it up and give more repetitions,” Jones said of the practice play for quarterbacks this week. “Obviously we have to prepare the guys that are going to play in the game. You have to earn your spot each and every week. We will see what the freshmen can handle.
“Nathan Peterman continues to progress along. He is an individual, it is 6 a.m., he is the first person in the building every single day. He has a great grasp of knowledge and I continue to see him getting better. I think Justin is getting better. I just think competition is healthy. It is going to be a week-to-week process, who can manage the offense the best.”
All three of the current backups bring more athleticism to the field than Worley. That could be a factor going forward. Jones has regularly discussed the need for more playmakers in this offense. Perhaps a more dynamic runner gives UT (2-1) a better shot against a Florida defense ranked third nationally.
“We’ll have more quarterback runs in to our package this week,” Jones said. “We just need to find ways to generate big explosive plays and if that’s Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that’s what we’ll do to create big plays. That’s going to be our focus and preparation this week.”
Injury notes: The most serious injury from the Oregon game appears to be defensive tackle Travarris Saulsberry, who could miss 3-6 weeks due to a knee injury, according to Jones. Jones did note that they are awaiting further results from an MRI before giving a final prognosis on him.
Linebacker Dontavis Sapp is expected to practice and play this week after leaving the Oregon game early. Receivers Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson are both likely to return at Florida after missing the Oregon game as well.
There’s no update on defensive tackle Maurice Couch (eligibility issues) as of Monday. He should be considered out indefinitely until further notice.
Depth chart notes: Senior defensive end Jacques Smith is listed as the starting ‘Leo’ defensive end over Jordan Williams. Smith played as a backup at Oregon in his first game back from a broken thumb.
With tight end Joseph Ayres (ACL) out, true freshman A.J. Branisel is listed as the backup to starter Brendan Downs. Woody Quinn is third at that spot.
With Couch and Saulsberry out, Greg Clark and Danny O’Brien are listed as the backup defensive tackles behind Daniel McCullers and Daniel Hood. True freshman Jason Carr is expected to get some snaps against Florida as well. Both Jones and Hood expressed concern about the lack of depth on the D-line going forward.
South Alabama game time set: The Vols will face South Alabama on Sept. 28 at 12:21 p.m. ET on SEC TV, the SEC announced on Monday. UT faces Florida this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga