Tennessee’s defensive scheme at the end of its gut-wrenching loss at Florida has been dissected, second-guessed and rehashed like it was the Zapruder film.
Even ESPN’s NFL Countdown crew broke down the UF’s buzzer-beating Hail Mary, with Randy Moss, Charles Woodson and Louis Riddick completely laying the blame on Tennessee’s coaching staff.
After the game, Butch Jones was asked about the alignment and scheme. He somberly stated, “We were in a nickel, but with injuries we didn't have a dime. It’s one of those plays that only comes around so often and unfortunately they made the play and we didn’t.”
The comments about an inability to play a dime defense were immediately criticized, as defensive backs Shaq Wiggins, Marquil Osborne, Shawn Shamburger and others were available on the sidelines.
On Monday, Jones was asked if the decision not to utilize a dime package was due to health or personnel. With safety Todd Kelly Jr. unavailable, did that throw a wrench in Tennessee’s dime package plans?
The Vols’ fifth-year coach didn’t exactly provide a clear answer, saying, “In terms of a dime package, there’s so much that goes into from where you play your extra DBs. Is is a corner spot? Is it an inside position? The safety position?
"When we look at the end of the game, they had one timeout left. There was nice seconds to go in the game and they had a very, very talented field goal kicker. We knew what they were going to do. They were going to try and get the ball in the middle of the field. Throw a dig route. Call a timeout and try and attempt a game-winning field goal. It was actually very similar to the same play in 2015.”
Florida did run a very similar play to the one that beat Tennessee in 2015 — Antonio Callaway’s 63-yard catch-and-run score on 4th-and-14 — but the Gators needed 20-yards with time still left on the clock just to attempt a 60-yard field goal on Saturday.
But Jones defended the decision to play a nickel, Cover-2 scheme. He said the issue with the play’s result was an inability to keep quarterback Felepie Franks in the pocket and allow a receiver to get behind the safety.
“They had a shorter dig route, a deeper dig route and an out-and-up and a vertical clear. The thing we can't do, where the play broke down is the quarterback escape the pocket,” Jones said.
“We wanted to be in a four-man rush so we could contain the quarterback. but when he was able to buy time, again, it was just a backside player who had a runoff. When the quarterback escapes the pocket and sets his feet, anything can happen.”
For the second straight week, Wiggins was visibly frustrated at the end of the Saturday’s game, and Jones said he “spoke with him again” in the aftermath. The fifth-year grad transfer from Louisville has played just two snaps all season, and his role on the team appears undefined right now.
“His status is the same," Jones said.
"He’s working to compete for playing time and it’s a body of work over the course of the week of preparation, from the meetings to the practice field and then that matriculates on Saturdays. We spoke with him again. Shaq just wants to play, and I appreciate that.”
Wiggins earned All-ACC honors in 2015 and started as a freshman at Georgia in 2013. He was slowed by a hip pointer in training camp, but has been healthy the last two weeks.
“He’s a competitive individual. We expect him to come out today and compete this Saturday and do everything he needs to do to prepare his mind and body to perform at a high level on Saturday,” Jones said.