Jones, Volunteers aware of what seemingly overmatched opponent can do

Most coaches would dismiss the possibility that their football team might overlook a seemingly overmatched opponent.

Not Butch Jones.

The University of Tennessee coach knows first-hand how a smaller program can sneak up on a larger one in matchups like Sunday’s season-opener against Utah State at Neyland Stadium.

So he did his part to put players, fans and anyone else on notice.

“Absolutely, I know that all too well being at Central Michigan,” Jones said. “There are great football players. All you have to do is look at the body of work over a long period of time from what is going on at Utah State. They have done a tremendous job. You just have to put the film on. You see a very well coached football team. You see a confident football team and you see a capable football team.”

Utah State plays in the Mountain West Conference but has stacked up well against teams from the top conferences. It lost by two (16-14) at Wisconsin in 2012 and by three at USC (17-14) last fall.

The last time the Aggies opened on the road against an SEC team was 2011 at Auburn, which was fresh off a BCS title. They narrowly lost that one, 42-38.

Utah State has won 25 of its last 33 games overall and is one of just nine FBS programs with at least 20 wins and two bowl victories over the last two seasons. Among SEC schools, only South Carolina and Texas A&M can say the same.

“Our players understand,” Jones said. “They know good football players. I think the other thing is that (Utah State has) a bunch of veteran players. Even though they had to replace a lot of players in the offensive line and other key positions they are replacing them with veteran players. We have not had that luxury. We are replacing players with freshmen.

“That is the mark when you have a program is when you graduate the next person steps up and he has gained valuable experience maybe on special teams or playing in a part time role. Now they have worked their way into a full time role. That is what they have been able to do.”

It’s up to Jones and his staff to make sure that program does not take another major step, one that comes with a victory over an opponent from a power conference.