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Everything Tennessee Coordinators Said About Vols Loss At Florida

Tennessee Football Tim Banks Doneiko Slaughter
Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle and defensive coordinator Tim Banks met with the local media Tuesday just days after the Vols dropped their first game of the 2023 season at Florida.

Banks discussed Tennessee’s struggles tackling, the play of freshman Rickey Gibson and much more. Halzle discussed Joe Milton’s play against the Gators, the running back rotation and much more.

Here’s everything that both Halzle and Banks said Tuesday.

More From RTI: Joey Halzle Defends Joe Milton III After Florida Loss

Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks

On what attributed to having a better second half defensively in Saturday’s game

“It’s always a combination of things. I think our guys settled down. We were able to talk about some of the things that we need to do better. Obviously, we needed to make some halftime adjustments. To their credit, they’re a mature group. They understood we didn’t play to the standard. I thought they worked very hard that second half, but as you guys know, and they know even better, when you’re playing a good team, you’ve got to start faster than the way we started.”

On the sideline conversations during the game

“Well I’m in the booth, but I think for the most part from what I gather, it’s typically guys encouraging each other and fighting for each other. Any adjustments that we’re trying to make from series to series. Just going through those things. Again, we’re obviously not proud of the outcome, but we’re proud of the way that the guys continued to fight and keep each other accountable. I’m pretty sure that’s what the messaging was. I know it’s definitely coming from the coaches, and I’m sure it was being articulated player to player.”

On potentially giving freshman corner Rickey Gibson more playing time

“We definitely like Rickey Gibson [III]. We feel like he’s one of the freshmen that continues to grow and continues to get better week in and week out. My stance hasn’t changed. We want to play as many guys as we possibly can, develop some depth and be able to play at a high standard coming down the back stretch of the season. Every week is a new week, but as he continues to get better, we’ll continue to try and get him more repetitions.”

On it looking like they blitzed less against Florida

“As far as the pressures, I think at the end of the game the numbers came out just about what they were for me in a normal game based on this season and last season. We’ve been getting to the quarterback with four most of the year – at least the first two games. As long as we can do that, we’ll pick our spots when we want to pressure, but at the end of the day, we’re going to do what we need to do to give us the best opportunity to win. It may have looked that way, but when we self-scout, our numbers actually ended up being what they’ve been for the first two games.”

On why Florida QB Graham Mertz was so effective without throwing any passes 20-plus yards

“They did a good job of getting him on the move a little bit with some of their boot games and perimeter kick-outs if you will. Ball in hand, we’ve got to do a better job of tackling guys and getting them on the ground, but we think we have a pretty good pass rush. We think a lot of teams will try to get the ball out as quickly as they can. He was pretty effective that night, getting the ball away as quickly as he can with some different three-step games and things of that nature.”

On what the team does to work on tackling

“We continue to try and eliminate the tackles that you’re missing. Is it not wrapping up? Is it not bringing your feet? We’re going to practice tackling whether we’re tackling at a 100 percent clip or a night like we had Saturday. We’re going to always try to emphasize tackling, but what kind of tackles showed up? We obviously had some open field missed tackles that we need to get addressed. We try to put them in game-like situations the best that we can. We’re not taking guys to the ground, but as far as our footwork goes and our pad level, where our eyes are, we’re trying to make sure we emphasize those particular tackles.”

On what film looks like breaking down missed tackles

“I think everybody has their own style in how they address it. I can’t speak for all coaches, but I tell our guys, ‘We’re all in this thing together.’ Those guys are an extension of me. Yeah, I ask questions like ‘What did you see here? Do you understand why you missed this tackle?’ I’m a big ‘why’ guy. ‘Why didn’t we make this play?’ A lot of times they’ll be able to articulate exactly what happened, and if they can’t, as I tell them, that’s my job to explain it to you so it doesn’t occur again. We have healthy discussions in there. You guys have all heard me talk about our culture and who we are. Love, trust and urgency is extremely important to me. If you love somebody, you should be able to tell them the truth. I think our guys understand the level of love that we have for each other. I don’t look at it as criticizing. I look at it as correction and trying to help those guys get to where they want to get to. And that’s them being the best version of themselves on and off the field. It’s very healthy discussions.”

On the success of Florida’s run game

“I give all credit to Florida. We knew they had a really good offensive line. They’ve got some good young backs there. They ran hard, they really did. They broke some tackles. We’ve already alluded to the fact that we need to do a better job tackling. Schematically, they did a good job trying to cap some misdirections to try to hold the backers eyes, or even a safeties eyes. I’ll be honest, they didn’t do anything that we hadn’t necessarily practiced for. They hadn’t done anything that, for the most part, we’re going continue to see week-in and week-out in this league. For us to go where we want to go, we know that we have to all collectively, from the front to the backers to the secondary, we all have to tackle better.”

On underclassmen linebackers Arion Carter and Elijah Herring

“Those guys are young. They don’t have a lot of battle reps under them, but as I stated earlier, I thought those guys settled down. I thought you could see that during the second half with their play.”

On addressing secondary issues

“I think we’re always competing. As cliché as that may sound, we’re always competing. It goes back to what we talked about, rotating as many guys as we can. The better you play and the better your performance is, the more lion’s share of reps you’ll get. Those are the same guys that just helped us win two games. Obviously we didn’t come out on top this last game, we didn’t get the outcome that we desired. We’re going to work to correct some things and try to continue with our rotation, but if things don’t get better, then you start thinking about what you can do to increase somebody else’s playing time. But that’s not the message. The message is ‘Let’s get better as players, let’s get better as coaches, and let’s move forward.’ If somebody in that second group steps up when they get their opportunity, then they’ll continue to play more. That’s just where we are at this point.”

On who the leaders on Tennessee’s defense are

“Jaylen McCollough has done a great job. He’s a guy who’s played a lot of football for us here. I think he does a good job of trying to ‘calm the waters,’ so to speak. Make sure guys are able to snap and clear. I think Omari Thomas has done a good job trying to slide into that leadership role. It’s still a young season, and I think guys are still somewhat finding their voice, particularly in volatile situations. It just goes back to that love and being able to trust each other that guys are going to be able to do their job. And if something needs to be said, they’re going to be able to receive it in the right manner, so they can digest it and be able to go out and execute it on the next play.”

On if there were any positives in the loss

“We want to win them all. Our goal is to be 1-0 every single week. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Then you start to comb through the tape. It’s human nature to dwell on what didn’t go right. Didn’t get the outcome you wanted, didn’t play as well as you needed to play in the first half, but there were definitely some positives in the second half. Holding them to three points. I don’t know what their yards were, but they obviously weren’t what they were in that first half. I thought we tackled better in the second half. It’s the fact that those guys didn’t give up. They continued to fight and claw for each other, first snap to the last snap. Those are all things that you can build on. At the end of the day, you’re never going to be happy when you don’t come out 1-0, but there are definitely some pillars that we can build upon to try to make sure we’re 1-0 the next week.”

Offensive Coordinator Joey Halzle

On how he would assess Joe Milton III’s performance at Florida

“Joe was really good at his decision making, his calmness on the sidelines. He kept the calm within the storm out there. Talking to him on the headset, after every single drive he was like ‘alright, cool, move on, what do we have coming next?’ The guy is really even keeled. His decision making is really good. (He) was accurate with the football, the guy played a good game. Was happy with that. Obviously, we can always be better, we can be pushing for our communication for how we all get on the same page in an environment like that when it’s harder to hear and it’s not the friendly confines, so that’s where we can keep pushing to grow, but his overall game management was very good.”

On his assessment of Milton is regards to operational efficiency

“The way we play, you got to get yourself lined up, you got to play fast. We’re not breaking the huddle and he’s not telling everybody where to go, you got to see a signal and get your cleats in the ground. The quarterback position though, is what it is. When that’s not operating at a high level, we have to take it upon ourselves to make it operate at a high level and whatever that is in that moment. One of the things with being up in the box is you can’t necessarily get a feel for what is going on actually on the field with the guys. What is the look in the eye? What is the demeanor of our guys? So, that’s a thing that quarterbacks got to be able to be like, ‘alright, let me settle everything down’. If we need to switch from a verbal to a silent, help us make that call if you feel like that’s what you need. He did that, that’s just a thing that we probably got to a drive or two too late.”

On receiver Dont’e Thornton

“He is a freak athletically. Let’s start off with that. His size and speed combination. What we do is different and sometimes there’s a learning curve. You’ve seen it before. You saw Jalin Hyatt year one to year two was different. You saw Dont’e Saturday night make some big plays down the field. He caught some balls on the edge and made a guy miss and got us a nice play back on track when we were behind schedule. So, you’re seeing him grow and what I love about Dont’e is his attitude hasn’t shifted. He hasn’t gone into, ‘well, I’m not getting the production I want so now I’m mad’. All he’s doing is trying to figure out how do I get more production, what do I do, what do I need to learn, what more do I need to watch? He’s been meeting extra, like as much as anybody, like a freshman. That’s what great about him and I expect his productivity to continue to grow as we go through the season.”

On contributing factors to the tempo not being at its standard

“Well, specifically Saturday it was getting behind chains. It is what it is. Well, now you got to create. You’re playing from two drive starter type plays if you know what I’m saying. You got to do something to start the drive. Well, now I got to start the drive basically over again, so I got to slow it back down, move a body, use a motion, bring somebody in, move somebody out. When you start doing that, it just naturally slows everything down and there’s like a ripple effect. Now on second down, instead of first-and-10 you’re at first-and-15 so you gain six. You’re not in second-and-short where you got what you want, you’re in second-and-long, so now you’re working into third-and-mediums and third-and-longs. Well, there’s more moving parts when you go to that too, because now you got to format it, you got to change your protection based on the stuff that they’re doing. It’s really a ripple effect on the front end. Usually, if we’re slowing down later it’s because we’ve done something to shoot ourselves in the foot earlier in the drive. That’s what happened Saturday night.”

On why they didn’t run the ball as effectively on Saturday and how that impacted the play calls

“We hit some big plays. Jaylen Wright ran hard. It was fun to watch those backs, they run hard. It’s the same thing, you get behind the chains. All of a sudden, those gains of four don’t feel as good on first-and-20 and first-and-15. They’re really good on first-and-10. Now you feel like you can feed more runs in there. Well, now you feel like you got to push the ball out on the perimeter and push it down the field a little bit to stay out of third-and-long. I think it’s just a sum of all the parts. Very similar to his question, it’s you get yourself backed up early in the drive, it’s hard to get into a rhythm. Run game is a rhythm, pass game is a rhythm. If you’re slowing up, moving fast, slowing down, moving fast, slowing down over and over, man it’s hard for the backs, the o-line to get into a rhythm of how do we move these guys off the ball? You’re getting a fresh front every single time. They’re getting a chance to stop, look over, get their call, get their cleats in the ground, sometimes sub. So, they’re getting a much fresher front the whole time. That’s just on us handling our business on the front end of the drive.”

On if Nico Iamaleava could have fixed the offensive deficiencies 

“No, because it’s operation and Joe (Milton III) is operating at a really high level. No.”

On the receivers performing better against Florida

“Once again, similar to the question about Dont’e (Thornton), this is very much a rhythm offense with what we do, how we operate with the tempo, with the splits. You’re still seeing Joe (Milton III) has played a decent amount of football here, so has Bru (McCoy), Ramel (Keyton), Squirrel (White). But they haven’t been a unit for that long, and if you think back to a couple years ago, the same thing, that unit just takes a little bit to get it where it needs to be. Now obviously we are always pushing to make that happen as fast as possible. You want it to be week one, and it to just light on fire the rest of the season, but that group has pushed really hard to become a unit, because that’s what it has to be to operate efficiently. It was still a bunch of guys still learning each other early in the season. I think what you saw was a group that wasn’t affected by the moment because they have played in those types of moments before, and they were able to operate at a really high level.”

On the challenge of getting all three running backs involved

“It hadn’t been. Saturday night, obviously Dylan didn’t get enough on the field. It is what it is for whatever reason. He knows what we think of him, we know what everyone thinks of him, that’s an electric guy with a ball in his hands. We’ll find ways to get that guy the ball whether it’s handing it to him, throwing it to him, using him in the screen game, whatever it is that’s the guy that will have the ball in his hands.”

On Bru McCoy

“Bru runs the ball like a big back. That’s how he runs the ball out on the edge. He’s a guy that has that combination of he can stretch people vertically, but at his size and strength and the mentality that he plays with, he’s a great guy to just get the ball in his hands right now and let him find creases almost like a punt return and go run. So, for Bru, it’s not really like, what do we do with him, it’s like, man, what don’t you want to do with that guy? You want to get him the ball early in games and let him set the tone. He’s actually a good guy to get in the blocking game early and let him get his hands on one of those corners that he is bigger than and kind of set the tone on those guys as well. He’s got a rare combination of that size and strength and the mentality of playing the wide receiver position that a lot of guys don’t have, that he lets you do a bunch of stuff like that.”

On the offense’s struggles on the road

“Yeah, it’s the same answer. If you’re shooting yourself in the foot before the ball snaps, it’s hard to get any kind of efficiency going whatsoever because efficient plays are no longer efficient plays. Efficient plays keep you out of second-and-long. When you have an efficient play on first-and-15 that’s five yards, you’re still in second-and-long,  so you’re playing from behind the chains right from the jump. It’s hard to get yourself out of that. Now, what we have to do as the staff and the players on the field is when that happens everyone settle down. That doesn’t mean that it has to happen on the next drive. If it happens on two drives, it doesn’t have to happen on the third drive. Reset, settle down, fall into the game, and we know how to do this, we know how to operate. You saw it Saturday night in the second half. When we stopped doing that it was just bump, bump, bump, bump right down the field and we had some issues inside the red zone that held us out of the end zone.”

On what he’s seen from the wide receiver group that has him confident in their growth

“I think they’re a group of guys that works really hard. They’re intelligent, they’re athletic and they want it really bad. So, I have no concern that we are going to operate at a high level in the passing game. They’ve done a bunch of really good stuff. You watch in practice, those guys are flying around the field. It’s a really good thing to see. That’s why as a staff, there’s never been a ‘what do you do?’ It’s coming along and getting there. We need to get there faster, that’s on us. I have no doubt in my mind that this is going to come together at a high level.”

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2 Responses

  1. Oh you mean another screen pass and run up the middle didn’t work!! Halze is no Golesh. I would almost guarantee a pick 6 next game because I already know it’s gonna be a screen pass. If I know they know.

  2. Kamal Haddon is done IMO!!! He’s a back breaker! He should not be out there if all he did on UF scoring play is to net even put a shoulder much less a tackle on the guy. He had angle and everything. I can’t stand him now cuz he doesn’t represent TENNESSEE!!!!!!!!

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