KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Butch Jones says he’s his own toughest critic.
Lately, he’s had plenty of competition in that regard.
The loss to Georgia capped a week in which Jones had criticized media coverage of his program by saying that “sometimes the negativity is overwhelming.” He struck a different tone Tuesday while discussing how he keeps his focus amid the criticism with Tennessee in an off week before its Oct. 14 matchup with South Carolina.
“It’s all part of the territory,” Jones said. “It’s pretty easy on me. I get up. I come to work. I don’t listen to anything. All of our focus is on South Carolina. All of our focus is on this work week. It does not affect me or the staff at all.”
Tennessee (3-2, 0-2 SEC) won its final six games in 2015 and its first five contests last year for an 11-game winning streak, but the Vols have gone just 7-6 since. Tennessee has dropped six of its last eight SEC games.
After the Georgia game, Jones said that “we have no starting positions” and that whichever players performed the best these next couple of weeks would start against South Carolina. That includes the quarterback spot, where starter Quinten Dormady has struggled and Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t distinguished himself in sporadic appearances.
Tennessee has scored a total of three points in its last six quarters despite having the SEC’s leading rusher in John Kelly . The Volunteers also are giving up 5.16 yards per carry and 252.6 yards rushing per game to rank 121st nationally in run defense.
Jones acknowledges he goes back over game tapes and analyzes what he could have done differently in specific situations.
“That’s all part of it,” Jones said. “When you watch the game, you always look at it as your worst critic. What could you have done better in this situation? Sometimes I’ll refer back to practice. How many times did we rep that particular defense or that particular play? Did we put our players in positions to succeed? Game management-type things, style of play, demands, sideline etiquette, all that. I always approach it as I’m my own worst critic.”
Tennessee suffered a major talent drain when its best linebacker (Darrin Kirkland Jr.), top returning tackler (Todd Kelly Jr.), top returning receiver (Jauan Jennings) and one of the nation’s premier kick returners (Evan Berry) all got hurt. Jones announced Tuesday that Kelly wouldn’t play again this year, joining Kirkland and Jennings on the list of players with season-ending injuries.
Even with all those players missing, Tennessee’s recent performance has worn out the patience of a fan base that hasn’t celebrated a division title since 2007 or a conference crown since its 1998 national championship season. Tennessee’s remaining healthy players say they try to ignore the criticism their coaches have received on social media and sports talk radio.
“I don’t really try to follow that kind of stuff,” tight end Ethan Wolf said. “That’s other people’s opinions that aren’t h ere. A lot of people that say stuff like that probably haven’t played football, don’t understand the magnitude of the situation and how some things are out of the control of the coaches. At the end of the day, players have got to play.”
Jones understands Tennessee hasn’t been good enough lately. He deemed Tennessee’s performance “unacceptable” after a 17-13 victory over 27 ½-point underdog Massachusetts on Sept. 23 and called the Georgia game “as bad of an offensive performance as I’ve ever been a part of.”
He knows the best way to silence the complaints is to win consistently.
“We’re adults,” Jones said. “We’re professionals. But we are human. But again, all our focus is not on our feelings or how we feel. All our focus is on our football team, our football program and our players and our recruiting. That’s the most important thing. All you do is you continue to work every single day, and we’ll be fine.”
More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25
Follow Steve Megargee at www.twitter.com/stevemegargee