Vol Report: Vols Focused on Road Test at Kentucky

Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Following a homecoming win over UAB, the Vols spent Tuesday in full pads focused on their return to SEC play on Saturday at Kentucky.

“We focus on the most important game,” senior linebacker Daniel Bituli said. “The most important game is the next game. We can’t overlook Kentucky, because they’re a really good team. They like to run the ball and they’re a really established program.”

Bituli has collected 43 tackles and a pair of sacks after missing the first two games of the season. As he prepares for his final three games in Orange and White, he is reminded that no game in the SEC should be overlooked.

“We’ve seen in the past how intense the games have been, so what we can’t do is overlook a team,” Bituli said.  “We’re in the SEC and every team is really good, every team has a whole bunch of talented guys. We’ve just got to focus in on our assignments and worry about Kentucky. That’s it.”

Focusing one week at a time, the defense has been on a dominant trend the last four weeks. The Vols have held opponents to 318.5 total yards of offense, 18.3 points per game, 100.5 rushing yards per game, and 3.2 yards per rush since defeating Mississippi State.

“We’ve been improving a good bit, we’ve just got to focus on attention to detail and clean football,” said junior defensive lineman Matthew Butler. “We’ve never had a problem with toughness. We’ve never had a problem with going hard and effort, but maybe an issue we had was just clean football and attention to detail. We’ve been improving in that and we’re going to continue to.”

Butler recorded a pair of tackles last week, totaling 26 on the season. In the last four games, the junior has collected 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.

“Automaglia” 
Junior placekicker Brent Cimaglia leads the SEC and is tied for third in the nation with 18 field goals made, while his 90.0 field-goal percentage (18-of-20) and total points scored (78) lead the SEC.

“I mean right now, I’m just focused on Kentucky,” Cimaglia said. “I’m not focused on anything in the future right now. I’m just going to go out there, one kick at a time and just hope it goes in. First off, I just want to give a big shout-out to Riley Lovingood and Joe Doyle, and the guys on the line. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do anything or be able to kick.”

Last week against UAB, the Nashville product went 3-for-3 in field goals. His second field goal of the night was a 48-yarder, his seventh make of 40 yards or longer. On his third and final field goal of the night, he made a 53-yarder to set a new career-long, and tie the eighth-longest make in school history. He is perfect from 50-plus yards this season adding a 51-yarder to the ledger as well. Cimaglia also moved into first place in program history in with a 78.26 field goal percentage after this past weekend.

New Kid, Instant Impact
This season, the Vols added junior defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon, a transfer from Michigan, to the roster to help provide a spark to the unit.

“The real question is, why wouldn’t I choose Tennessee?” Solomon said. “Tennessee, they have legends here, Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt, Coach (Tracy) Rocker, Coach D.A. (Derrick Ansley), coaches like that. The coaching staff they have, the atmosphere here – it’s incredible. It’s unbelievable, so the real question is why wait? Why not choose Tennessee?”

Solomon has made an instant impact, starting six of the Vols’ nine games this season. The junior has collected 23 total tackles and a pair of sacks to date. In the Vol’s 30-7 Homecoming win over UAB, Solomon filled the stat sheet with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and his first career fumble recovery.

Tennessee Players Media Availability (Nov. 5)

Aubrey Solomon, Jr. DL

On why he chose to come to Tennessee:

“The real question is, why wouldn’t I choose Tennessee? Tennessee, they have legends here, Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt, Coach (Tracy) Rocker, Coach D.A. (Derrick Ansley), coaches like that. The coaching staff they have, the atmosphere here – it’s incredible. It’s unbelievable, so the real question is why wait? Why not choose Tennessee?”

On what about the team has allowed them to overcome adversity this season:

“We know our season’s not done. We know our season isn’t defined by one game. We’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to put on more steam.”

On how his game changed since arriving at UT:

“I would say, being with Coach (Tracy) Rocker, he’s shown me that I just don’t have to be a run-stopper. I can also do some pass-rushing. I think that’s where my game has lacked a little bit in the past. I don’t normally see myself as a pass rusher but being here I know that I can do different things and Coach Rocker has really implemented, ‘You could be a pass rusher. You could do this. You could be on third down to stop the pass, as well as the run.’”

On how he would describe what Coach Tracy Rocker has been like:

“Coach Rocker, to me, he’s like a father figure. There’s nobody else I’d rather have coaching me than Coach Rocker. It’s unreal because he’s recruited me since I was in like eighth grade, so I really know Coach Rocker a lot. He’s a mentor and he’s a father figure and he’s a hell of a coach.”

 

Trey Smith, Jr. OL

On the grind of being a student-athlete:

“The physical demands and also mental. You have to deal with blocking this 300-pound, 6-4 or 6-5 freak, every week in the SEC, I’m figuring out how to block him, but also have figure out my chemistry homework, my calculus, all that, yet perform well on Saturday. Playing the O-line, it can be a very potent position, because at the end of the day, if you don’t get your job done, you can get exposed on television. It’s a hard thing, especially as a young guy, coming in with all of those outside external pressures at a young age.”

On lessons that he imparts to younger teammates: 

“Confidence. Everybody’s going to have a bad play, everybody’s going to get knocked down, but you just have to learn to keep going. You have to clear your head after a bad play, even if it’s a good play, you have to clear your head and keep going to the next play.”

On freshman offensive lineman Wanye Morris:

“Wanye’s a great ball player, obviously we all make mistakes. He had a rough night, but he’s going to come back better tomorrow. We watched film together and identified the issues and went to work yesterday. He stayed up, watched a lot of film, was really critical of himself, apologized to us. He’s really working his tail off. Wanye’s ceiling is so high. He’s such a talented player, he’s so natural, with a lot of the things that he does. The sky is the limit for Wanye, and he understands it. He understands he’s going to increase his level of play as he goes further and further. It’s part of his growing process…Wanye’s identifying his issues and we’re going in the film room together just so we can be more cohesive on the left side of the offensive line. At the end of the day, we want to be successful; we want to dominate the guy in front of us. We want to be those top-tier guys.”

On the improved toughness of the offensive line: 

“We sort of have a reckless attitude and I like that. When I say that, it’s not that we don’t care. At the end of the day, it’s us, together. Whatever task we have in front of us, no matter who we’re playing we’re going to get it done. It’s sort of like a level of toughness that we haven’t always had. I think a lot of guys are really buying into what the coaches are bringing and presenting us. I think that could be a testament to Coach (Craig) Fitzgerald in the offseason pushing us and guys like (Coach) Mike Farrell and Coach B (Byron Jerideau) in the weight room, just pushing us day in and day out. Everything we’ve faced on the field from a physical and mental standpoint, we experienced before in the offseason.”

 

Matthew Butler, Jr. DL

On the defensive improvement over the past few games:

“We’ve been improving a good bit, we’ve just got to focus on attention to detail and clean football. We’ve never had a problem with toughness. We’ve never had a problem with going hard and effort, but maybe an issue we had was just clean football and attention to detail. We’ve been improving in that and we’re going to continue to.”

On what the key to producing more turnovers has been over the past few games:

“Focusing on them. Like I said, a concerted effort to do that. That’s part of the attention to detail. A big part of a game could be getting a turnover and putting the offense in good field position. If you make a concerted effort to get them, they’re not just going to happen by themselves. Also, just seizing the opportunity. If a guy has the ball out here or we know that a quarterback is known to over(throw) or underthrow, just play coverage the right way and knock the ball off a guy.”

On how much pride the defensive line takes in holding opponents to less than 100-rushing yards in the past two outings:

“That’s definitely something that is a big deal, but at the same time I don’t really feel like there’s pride in it quite yet. Frankly, we have a ways to go. We have goals in mind and we have Kentucky ahead of us. It’s not a matter of whether once, twice or three times, but it matters if you can do it again. So, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

 

Daniel Bituli, Sr. LB

On turning the season around after early struggles:

“Just being a bunch of competitors and realizing it’s not really those teams that are beating us, it’s really us beating ourselves. We play as physical as possible, but if you’re not fitting the right gap any team can gash us and go for a big play. If we’re not playing with the proper footwork in the back end, any man can run a route and beat us, so we just have to be in sync and communicate as much as possible.”

On eliminating distractions and talk surrounding bowl games:

“We focus on the most important game. The most important game is the next game. We can’t overlook Kentucky, because they’re a really good team. They like to run the ball and they’re a really established program. We’ve seen in the past how intense the games have been, so what we can’t do is overlook a team. We’re in the SEC and every team is really good, every team has a whole bunch of talented guys. We’ve just got to focus in on our assignments and worry about Kentucky. That’s it.”

On the challenge of facing a running quarterback:

“Just the extra gaps they can create. When you play a quarterback as a running back, they can create extra gaps with their running backs. Our safeties need to be involved, we really need to be strong with our gap control and keep the quarterback in the pocket, because at the end of the day if he tries to get out on the perimeter, he has an extra running back trying to help him out and get that extra block. So, we just have to try and keep him in the pocket as much as possible, and try to force third and longs, fourth and longs, because we know he’s not too comfortable throwing the ball.”

 

Jauan Jennings, R-Sr. WR

On what it’s like for receivers to have uncertainty at the quarterback position:

“I mean, it’s been about the same since spring practice. You’re always going to get reps with each quarterback, and they’ve all been doing a good job handling their responsibilities. As a receiver, we just take pride in catching the ball. It doesn’t matter who’s in at quarterback.”

On how the nickname “Juice Man” came about:

“It kind of came from previous years. Every day I wake up and come in with juice, and it’s just something that you’ve got to possess. You can’t go out there and just buy the juice. You’ve got to own it. You’ve got to already have it, and ever since I’ve been here, I came up here with large amounts of energy, and it’s never changed so I’m Juice Man.”

On whether or not the team talks about making a bowl game

“No, not really. This is college football, so that’s just what comes with playing this game. As a team, we just focus on the next game, and that happens to be Kentucky. Saturday’s going to come up real quick and we can’t wait to go out there and execute and show the world what Tennessee is capable of.”

 

Jaylen McCollough, Fr. DB

On how much the game has slowed down for him after making a few starts:

“The game has slowed down a lot. I’m just out there reading my keys, trusting the call, and trusting the other ten guys on the field. I’m just going out there and playing.”

On what has made the difference in defensive play the last two weeks:

“I feel like it starts in practice. We’re starting to practice like a top-tier defense, and it’s starting to show in the game. Coach Ansley and Coach Pruitt are staying on us about the habits that we’re forming, and I feel like those habits we’re forming are showing in the game.”

On how much he depends on Theo Jackson and Nigel Warrior in the secondary:

“To be a successful secondary, we need one another, so I depend on those guys a lot. We’re just back there talking, communicating, and making sure everybody’s on the same page. I feel like that’s why we’ve been pretty successful these last couple of weeks.”

 

Brent Cimaglia, Jr. PK

On where his competitive nature comes from:

“You see most kickers and they’re kind of quiet. Me, I’m different. I’m born different and I probably got it from my dad, who’s very competitive in anything he does. I’ll go out there and I’ll be very competitive, never back down.”

On how much it would mean for him if he received an All-SEC honor this season:

“I mean right now, I’m just focused on Kentucky. I’m not focused on anything in the future right now. I’m just going to go out there, one kick at a time and just hope it goes in. First off, I just want to give a big shout-out to Riley Lovingood and Joe Doyle, and the guys on the line. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do anything or be able to kick. Shout-out to them and just know that I go out there and play for an audience of one. I glorify Him upstairs, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything without those guys out there.”

On when he began playing football:

“I saw my brother kick in high school, so I was like, ‘I’m going to try football.’ I made it. I made the seventh-grade team. I kicked for, probably, half the season. I was told to quit by the head coach, so I quit. I kind of just stopped playing every sport because that kind of hurt. But I kind of picked it up again eighth-grade year, kicking over at the high school with my brother and his coach.”

 

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