Tennessee Football: Coaching the Reason for Volunteers' Turnaround

Daniel HudsonCorrespondent IIIOctober 21, 2013


They say "It's not about the X's and O's but the Jimmys and the Joes." I can buy that for a little while, but after seeing the difference between the 2012 Tennessee Volunteers and the 2013 Tennessee Volunteers, it's clear that coaching makes a major impact.

With this team, it's by far the biggest reason for the turnaround since last season.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all is back to normal and that the Vols are going to win out. The road ahead is still incredibly difficult, but no longer does it seem insurmountable.

Now, Tennessee has Butch Jones.


SEC Debut

While the game at Florida wasn't the Volunteers' best effort, Tennessee has performed extremely well against No. 6 Georgia and No. 11 South Carolina this month. The win over the Gamecocks was the first October win over an SEC team since 2009.

It was also the first win against a ranked team in four years. It was the first win over a Top 15 team since 2007, too.

I've always said that great coaches show you something early. It doesn't mean they have to win the conference in year one, but they also don't sit on their hands for three years. Butch Jones' entry into the SEC schedule has shown the unity and the grit on this team.

He's shown us something.


The Playmakers

The players who made the biggest difference on Saturday all have one thing in common: Butch got them there.

Oct 19, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Marquez North (8) catches a pass while being defended by South Carolina Gamecocks cornerback Ahmad Christian (4) during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 23 to 21.  Manda
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

First, Marquez North committed just last winter. He made three unbelievable catches. Without two of them, Tennessee doesn't win the game. He was recruited by Jones' staff and has steadily improved each week.

Second, Corey Vereen and Cam Sutton are Jones recruits and might be the biggest X-factors on defense. Vereen continues to provide a spark on the defensive line. He made a huge third-down tackle of Connor Shaw as the mobile quarterback was trying to run.

Sutton has been spectacular, starting every game of his true freshman season. He reeled in his second interception of the season after a long run by Shaw that was made longer with a late hit.

Third, Michael Palardy has gone from one of the most inconsistent Volunteer kickers in recent memory to one of the MVPs of the upset win over South Carolina. Palardy has hit all but two field goals this season and landed six of his punts inside the 20-yard line against the Gamecocks.

These players either weren't in Knoxville or might as well have been somewhere else last year. A good coaching staff recruits and develops.


Mental Discipline

South Carolina only had a handful of big plays on Saturday. Three of them had terrific, immediate responses by the Vols.

After Mike Davis' 45-yard scamper in the second quarter, Tennessee pounced quickly on a fumble the very next play.

When Connor Shaw connected with Damiere Byrd for a 76-yard touchdown pass, Tennessee responded with a four-and-a-half-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive of its own.

Finally, once Shaw broke loose for 17 yards and tacked on another 15 after a personal foul, Cam Sutton snatched an interception to halt what looked to be a scoring drive.

There's always a lot of talk about forgetting the last play and only focusing on the current one, but that's very difficult to coach into players. There's plenty of evidence to believe Butch Jones is able to do this.

It's never all about one guy, coach or player. Credit must be given to the team for working hard in the offseason and each week to get better. When a play must be made, it's their job to execute the calls and outdo the other side.

But there's no denying the drastic difference a few months can make. Behind it all is one constant that will hopefully be there for the next decade and beyond...

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