KNOXVILLE – Tennessee got whipped at the line of scrimmage in its 31-3 loss at Missouri on Saturday.
Spectators could see it, coach Butch Jones could see it and the stats certainly showed it as well.
The Vols were outrushed 339 to 94. Missouri had two sacks; Tennessee had none. Tennessee true freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs was under regular pressure, while Missouri QB Maty Mauk had more time to make plays.
“I thought we were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Jones emphasized at his Monday press conference. “It is what it is. That will not be tolerated here at Tennessee. I thought that anytime a team can rush the football against you for over 300 yards and we had less than 100 yards rushing, makes it extremely difficult.”
Added senior center James Stone, “It was extremely disappointing. We let our team down.”
Tennessee doesn’t have the personnel to make sweeping changes on both lines. The Vols also can’t instantly become significantly stronger in the last four weeks of the season. So Jones is left with one option at this point – stress physicality and toughness in practice and rep it throughout the week.
“Full-padded practice, live practices and we’re going to be a tough football team,” Jones said of the plan for this week as the Vols begin preparation for No. 7 Auburn. “I know this: those individuals understand that they didn’t perform well and I think you’ve got to give your opponent credit as well.”
It’s a slight change of philosophy after UT backed down on hitting in practice over the past few weeks. The level of work in practice can be a delicate balance in the SEC. Too much can wear a team down and lead to injuries, especially after the pounding that SEC teams take on a week-to-week basis.
But not enough contact can lead to a physical advantage for opponents as well. It appeared that UT’s lightened workload paid dividendsin games against South Carolina and Georgia in October. However, after falling to Alabama and Missouri by a combined margin of 63 points in the last two weeks, Jones knows the Vols can’t afford much more rest.
“You have to live toughness every day in your football program and you just can’t talk about it, you’ve got to be about it,” Jones said. “It’s got to stem in practice. It’s got to stem with all the different things that we talk about and a lot of it is strength and the strength and conditioning.
“Some is will; some is technique. Some is being in great shape. You can’t play physical if you’re not in great shape. And a lot of it is the way you use your hands. A lot of it is body position; some of it is the way you run your feet. So there’s a lot that goes into the definition of being tough.”
Tennessee’s physicality and toughness will again be tested this week with Auburn, a team that averages 306.2 rushing yards per game, coming to town. Winning at the line of scrimmage will be Tennessee’s best chance to upset the Tigers.
“They’re pretty sound at running the football,” said defensive end Jacques Smith. “That’s something we’re taking to this week. That’s exactly why we’re going back to full pads. We need more physicality in stopping the run game.”
Injury update: Jones confirmed that quarterback Nathan Peterman (hand) would be “full go” in practice this week. Peterman practiced on a limited basis last week but didn’t make the trip to Missouri.
He’s been out since injuring his hand against Florida on Sept. 21.
Jones also said that kicker Michael Palardy struggled with back spasms late last week and that as of last Thursday or Friday, his availability for the Missouri game was in question. Jones credited the training staff and Palardy’s toughness for getting him through the game, a contest in which he punted six times and made a 51-yard field goal.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga