KNOXVILLE – Coming off an uninspiring 31-24 win over South Alabama on Saturday, Tennessee coach Butch Jones chose to focus on all of the positives he could think of.
He began his weekly press conference by re-emphasizing that Tennessee did win on Saturday and then the first-year UT head coach began rattling off positive stats involving UT – many of them involving the run game, turnovers and lack of penalties.
In the end, he declared it “Positive Monday.” Jones hopes that will snowball into an extremely positive week for his team and program.
There will be plenty of opportunities for good things to happen. The Vols play host to No. 6 Georgia on Saturday on national television (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), a team they came within one score of upsetting last year. And with the national spotlight turned on UT and many recruits expected on campus, the Vols will also unveil their alternate “Smokey gray” uniforms.
“I think it was time,” Jones said of the decision to wear gray uniforms against the Bulldogs. “First of all, it’s an opportunity on national television against a great opponent in Georgia. Obviously, recruiting. Players look forward to seeing the different uniforms. I know our players are looking forward to wearing them.”
But whether UT wears orange, white or gray, Jones and the players know that doesn’t mitigate the challenge of facing Georgia (3-1), a team fresh off a victory against previously unbeaten LSU on Saturday.
“Use it for the extra juice,” center James Stone said of the new uniforms. “It’s all about how we play, not what we wear. But it’s something cool, it’s something fun.”
Added Jones: “[The jerseys] make no impact on the outcome of the game. The game is won between the lines.”
And between the lines, Georgia poses one of the biggest challenges of the year for the Vols. That’s especially true for the Bulldogs’ offense, which features veteran quarterback Aaron Murray, a stable of talented running backs and an experienced offensive line and group of tight ends and receivers.
“That’s what makes them exceptionally hard to defend,” Jones said of Georgia’s balance. “They can run the football and then you have an NFL quarterback [Murray] who can make all the throws.”
Jones said that the injury status of Georgia star running back Todd Gurley (day-to-day with a sprained ankle) makes “no difference” in their offense.
While the task is tough this weekend, the payoff could be big for a Tennessee team looking for its first statement win under Jones.
. Jones said running back Marlin Lane is day-to-day going forward with a “lower extremity” injury. He did not take any carries in the second half of the South Alabama game.
. Senior defensive end Corey Miller played his best game of the year against South Alabama, according to Jones. Miller had a key sack on South Alabama’s final drive that helped prevent the Jaguars from potentially tying the game or taking the lead with around two minutes left on the clock.
. After starting freshman walk-on Devaun Swafford against South Alabama, Jones expects former starter Jaron Toney to return tothe defensive backfield this week against Georgia.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga