Kickoff between the Vols and Tigers is slated for 3:30 p.m. EST. CBS will televise the Southeastern Conference East matchup at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri.
Ahead of Saturday’s SEC East matchup, Vols’ defensive line coach Rodney Garner met with media. Everything Garner said previewing the Tennessee-Missouri game is listed below.
On Elijah Simmons' performance against UConn
“Obviously, I think he’s getting healthier. He had a good spring. He was having a good camp until he got hurt and then he was out until midseason. He’s just getting himself back in shape and becoming more consistent. I thought he played his best game he’s played since we’ve been here. There’s still much room for improvement. I think he knows that. He’s just got to keep pressing and pick up where he left off.”
On how he has seen Missouri's passing offense improve from last year
“Missouri, when you look at them it starts with the quarterback. He’s a really good football player. He has a really good command presence. He can lead, he can throw the ball and he’s elusive. He can run. He puts a lot of stress on you. Starting with him, but then you look at their receiving core, those are some special guys that he’s got out there to throw the ball to. You look at No. 3 (Luther Burden III), No. 1 (Theo Wease Jr.), No. 7 (Cody Schrader) and No. 5 (Mookie Cooper), they’ve got a group of guys that are real good football players that he does a really good job of throwing the ball to. Obviously, their offense is very diverse and does a really good job there. No. 7, the running back, is a physical, tough guy that does a really good job of running behind his pads. He brings his own blocker. They’re doing a good job of playing team offense if you ask me.”
On Elijah Simmons returning from his injury
“Elijah was out for most of the season, so he wasn’t even out there with me. He was with the training room. Since he’s been back, it’s just been getting himself back into shape. For a guy to be out seven or eight weeks, you really worry about, especially a big guy that’s had a history of struggling with gaining weight, but we were pleased that he didn’t let it get out of control. But still, it was still the same thing about getting himself back into playing shape. It’s different than running with the trainers and strength staff and all of that than getting out there and actually practicing or doing the strain of football-related things. I think he’s more dialed in, he’s more in tune to what he’s trying to accomplish, so he’s been more attentive to details and hopefully that’s just going to carry over and continue to build and that’s he’s getting a body of work that he wants to build upon. I know he feels good about himself. I think he felt good about how he played this past Saturday. Hopefully he’ll go and start stacking good on top of good and that we don’t ride the rollercoaster.”
On the key to stopping runs from Missouri compared to Kentucky
“You come into the game, and Kentucky had one of the most prolific run games that we had faced up until that point. The running back was averaging almost six yards a carry. We really put a big emphasis on trying to create a new line of scrimmage, trying to play more vertical, trying to force them to make jump cuts prior to what they were. It’s the same thing with this guy. They’re very similar, but this guy may be just a tad more physical where the guy at Kentucky was faster. I think they both do a really good job of pressing the blocks and just finding the soft spot, just squaring up the shoulders, getting downhill. We’ve got to do a great job of playing vertical, creating knock backs, be able to tear up blocks. We’ve got to keep our pads square. We’ve got to tackle. We can’t miss tackles. All the little things are what it comes down to playing in this conference. Just play a great, sound, fundamental game.”
On his journey as a successful coach at Tennessee
“I think that’s compliments to the young men in the program who have bought into what we’ve been preaching. We’re blessed to have some really good young men. I think guys have been beaten down. It had been a long time since Tennessee had been back to the elite status that Tennessee’s used to. For those guys that started out with us that first year, for us to win seven games, I thought that was great, and then back it up to last year and just seeing the improvement, I think they’re taking more pride in getting the program back to where it belongs. These kids have bought into it. They’re doing the little things. Leadership is starting to show up in the locker room, which I think anytime in this league that you have a good program, it needs to be peer-led. We don’t mind leading as coaches, but we have to be honest with ourselves. For it to be really effective, we need the kids to buy into it and we need the kids to hold each other accountable. I think our guys have done a much better job of doing that. Not having to start over that we’re at day one every day, we’re able to move the needle and pick up where we left off. Still got a long way to go, we all know that. We’ve got to continue to improve in all facets of our game. We can’t ever become satisfied. Not that we’ve done anything to be satisfied with, but we’ve got to keep working hard to try and improve every day.”
On how he coaches the defensive line to counter additional attention offenses give their pass rush
“We just got to strain. Obviously, we’ve got to strain. Ball is coming out quick, they’re max protecting, they’re chipping, it’s part of football. We’ve got to just continue to work on our fundamentals. Pre-snap, see some things better, where the back and the tight ends line up. Respect the chip. Being able to chip the chipper. Just different things from a fundamental standpoint to be more efficient in what we’re doing. That’s a part of it. That’s respect. I’m glad people do respect us. Now we’ve got to get better.”