Player Quotes: Defense Ready for One Last Ride in TransPerfect Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With only two days left before the 2021 TransPerfect Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium, the Tennessee football team wrapped up their second-to-last practice of the season Tuesday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium.

The energy, excitement and focus the team has felt going into the bowl game has been on full display in the on-site practices the Volunteers have had this week. The defensive players who met with the media following Tuesday’s practice echoed a similar tone as the offensive side of the ball: this team is ready to play and finish the season off the right way.

“We’re all dialed in,” senior safety Trevon Flowers said. “We definitely want to win this game. We’ve been going hard all week and we’ve been locked in.”

Vols DB Theo Jackson / Credit: UT Athletics

Offensively, the Vols have reached new heights this year. The defense has been able to benefit from that success and use it as fuel to up their level of play. With this test against a very pass-heavy offense, the mentality stays the same. Defensive lineman Ja’Quain Blakely feels that intensity in their play and is fired up to play in his second Music City Bowl after playing in the 2016 edition his freshman year.

“We know that our offense is fast, our offense is going to score. So, we live by the philosophy, ‘they don’t score, they don’t win,’ so we got to come out on fire ready to go,” said Blakely. “It’s been fun just (being) out with the guys and just enjoying my teammates. This is the last hoorah, so just enjoying my teammates and in Nashville, no better place to be.”

Bowl games are also a great place for the young players to get some work and veteran leader Theo Jackson has seen the future of the program put in the time to develop into an elite group. It has been a case in the defensive secondary all season: next man up. That approach has paid dividends as the game of football demands that the whole team is up to any challenge in front of it.

“That’s a big thing that we’ve kind of harped on all year, just to have no drop-off at all. If somebody goes down, then the next person comes in and they know what to do, how to do it, so it’s really easy for when we do have to come out,” Jackson added. “We don’t have any nervousness of who’s in the game. We don’t have to change up the play calling or anything like that, so it’s just nice to have that feeling.”

The bowl game also signals the end of an era, and for Matthew Butler and other seniors who have given their all for Tennessee every day, it is the last time they will suit up in Big Orange. Players of their magnitude, with a grit for the game, a love for Tennessee and yearning to win and improve as individuals, it can be sad to see it all come to a close. Finishing the right way, as Flowers mentioned, is one thing, but taking it in, and playing their final game in Nashville in front of Vol Nation, could not have a more storybook ending.

“It’s a positive thing,” Butler said. “Eight guys in my class–and the class before me, everybody here, we’ve been through a lot, so I just see this as another milestone. This is my last game, but I was just thankful to be a part and I am thankful to be a part of this really wonderful program, and then pave the way for this program to go places that are above and beyond anything that we can think. You think championship, but how do you win that championship and the culture around the program and all these great things. I’m just thankful to be a part of setting that standard. There’s no negative thoughts like, ‘oh gosh, this is my last game,’ just go out there and ball.”

Kickoff between Tennessee and Purdue is slated for 2 p.m. CT on Dec. 30 in Nissan Stadium and will be broadcast on ESPN. Tickets for the game are on sale through the bowl at musiccitybowl.com. For more information on the bowl, visit UTsports.com/musiccitybowl.

Player Quotes – 12/28/21

Ja’Quain Blakely – DL – R-Senior

On why the defense has been strong early in games…
“I think we’re starting strong because we know that our offense is fast, our offense is going to score. So, we live by the philosophy, ‘they don’t score, they don’t win,’ so we got to come out on fire ready to go.”

On if there’s any anxiety after seeing other games canceled…
“A little bit, just because we’ve worked so hard for this. This is something that I’m excited for and I’m ready to get into, and just to know that any given day it could be canceled is kind of sketchy and scary.”

On this being his second Music City Bowl and how this one is different…
“Very different. It’s been fun just (being) out with the guys and just enjoying my teammates. This is the last hoorah, so just enjoying my teammates and in Nashville, no better place to be.”

On facing a Purdue team that throws the ball a lot…
“It’s exciting. They throw the ball a lot, so we get to pass rush and kind of have fun and do what we do.”
 

Matthew Butler – DL – Senior

On what the Nashville experience has been like for him…
“I like Nashville. I’ve been here a few times over the past I guess five years that I’ve been here, so I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve just been able to relax and kind of do some of my regular things I do here, but for the most part it’s been at the hotel enjoying the experience at the Gaylord Opry.”

On if other bowl games getting canceled has discouraged the team from going out too much…
“I mean, we’re always careful and I don’t go out too much. Obviously, I want to play this football game and excel in it, as well as the rest of the team, and of course win the game, so all precautions are taken.”

On if he thinks about this being his last game at Tennessee…
“Oh man, I think about that of course, but it’s a positive thing. Eight guys in my class – Jay Blakely, who I think you all just talked to – and the class before me, everybody here, we’ve been through a lot, so I just see this as another milestone. This is my last game, but I was just thankful to be a part and I am thankful to be a part of this really wonderful program and then pave the way for this program to go places that are above and beyond anything that we can think. You think championship, but how do you win that championship and the culture around the program and all these great things. I’m just thankful to be a part of setting that standard so there’s no negative thoughts like, ‘oh gosh, this is my last game,’ just go out there and ball.”

On if it’s hard to believe he’s been at Tennessee this long…
“Yeah, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been around this program for this long. But, through the ups and downs everything has really been extremely enjoyable. I do love Tennessee. Coming here, I had high expectations for wins and stats and this and that, and obviously that didn’t go exactly as planned, but I got so much more just from the experience and the people I’ve met and the things that I’ve learned on the field and off the field. I grew into more of a man, so that’s a testament to all the great people that I’ve been around, whether the football side when, perfectly or not perfectly, I’m thankful for everybody who’s been through this program with me as teammate, coach, administrator or anything else, so it really has been great.”
 

Trevon Flowers – DB – Senior

On facing a persistent Purdue passing attack…
“We’re up for the challenge. Of course, as DBs we like action, we want to be able to play fast and communicate. Man, it’s the last game … we want them to throw it a lot and we’re looking forward to making plays.”

On finishing the season the right way…
“We’re all dialed in. I’ve seen guys go harder in practice this week than (they have) the whole season. We definitely want to win this game. We’ve been going hard all week and we’ve been locked in.”

On the competition within the defensive backs during bowl practices…
“It’s been good, but like I said, we’ve been competing all year. Nothing has really changed too much, of course you’ve got to focus on the details a little bit more because you had a starter, Alontae Taylor, leave. We’ve just been locked in and all of us are focusing on our details a little bit more.”

On spending time in Nashville…
“It’s been good, (the people) have showed us love. I’ve had a good time with the guys. This is my first time actually experiencing the city, so it’s been great.”

Theo Jackson – DB – Senior

On Purdue’s pass-heavy approach and potentially seeing reserves play in the secondary…
“I feel like from all the snaps that we’ve taken in recent games, we’re good. But if we do need to go deeper in the depth chart, we will. With how our bodies feel and the things they do, that we’ll be fine.”
 
On experiencing a bowl game in his hometown…
“It’s always a positive to go home, but just doing it with the guys who I had started with, it kinds of means a little bit more to do it here with them.”
 
On younger cornerbacks seeing extra time in bowl prep…
“They’re preparing well. They’re getting extra reps and learning about Purdue’s offense. They’re taking it in well, and I feel like they’re going to play well too.”
 
On younger DBs stepping up when their name is called…
“That’s a big thing that we’ve kind of harped on all year, just to have no drop-off at all. If somebody goes down, then the next person comes in and they know what to do, how to do it, so it’s really easy for when we do have to come out. We don’t have any nervousness of who’s in the game. We don’t have to change up the play calling or anything like that, so it’s just nice to have that feeling.”
 
On finishing the bowl game…
“We just treat it like another game. Going in, we understand what kind of game this is, but we’re just treating it like any other game. Go in, and have the mentality to win.”

-UT Athletics

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