Throughout the 2013 season, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has often donned an optimistic and enthusiastic demeanor despite the ongoing challenges of rebuilding a once-storied football program now riddled with adversity.

An inaugural campaign that's included crucial injuries, four 28-plus point losses and a brutal schedule littered with ranked opponents, Jones has consistently preached reassurance through elaborate statements, unique acronyms and heavily-repeated, motivational sayings.

So after arguably the Volunteers' most gut-wrenching defeat this year, a last-second, controversial 14-10 loss to in-state foe Vanderbilt, would the first-year coach still find time to stress the positive direction he believes this program is currently heading?

Most definitely.

It just took a little longer than usual.

After skipping the press conference's usually extensive opening statement, Jones answered the first few questions with uncharacteristically-brief responses before replying with his own inquiry.

"What do you think it's like?" Jones said flippantly when asked about the locker room mood.

A long pause ensued before he repeated, "What do you think it's like?"

This unfamiliar disposition, however, soon changed as Jones returned to his customary answers full of detail and encouragement.

"I see, again, progress," Jones said. "Tennessee football is going to be fine. Right now we're going through some things, but we have an extremely loyal fan base, very proud fan base, a very proud university, and it's a matter of time and we'll be fine."

Just moments earlier, Jones watched 28 seniors end their home careers with yet another devastating defeat as three costly turnovers, two failed field goals and a non-existent passing attack highlighted UT's second consecutive loss to the Commodores in as many seasons.

The outcome, which guaranteed the Vols a third straight postseason-less year, was just another chapter in UT's recent tumultuous stretch that's produced just a 20-28 record since the beginning of 2010.

But Jones' players echoed their coach's optimistic approach as their words suggested Saturday night's result was not a back-breaking setback .

"We are finally working the way a Tennessee program is supposed to work," Daniel Hood said. "We are starting to build the right foundation. Sometimes good things you have to wait for. Right now is one of those processes."

The defensive lineman, a local product of Knoxville Catholic High School and one of the 28 seniors who ran through the "T" for a final time on Saturday, is prepared to honor Jones' outlook, even if it means in a setting other than the football field.

"Out of respect for coach Jones, we have to do the right thing," Hood said. "Even if it means us staying around until January, we have to get these young guys in the weight room working out and doing drills on their own, keeping them here long enough.

"We have to push through; this future team will push through. This week, as seniors, we have to set the foundation. We cost them 15 practices. I think we can still do the right thing by leading them in the right direction."

And, according to Jones, that guidance is imperative in next week's matchup at Kentucky despite the season finale's now-absent bowl implications.

"Well, it's all about continuing to build this football program," Jones said. "It's competitive character, and you get another opportunity compete. We get one more chance to come together as a football family, as a football team, and it's the last time we'll play. Our seniors are a great group of kids. They're very resilient, and I expect them to move forward and be ready for Kentucky.

"Life is sudden change. You have to answer that sudden change. It will be a valuable teaching point. We always talk about sudden changes and the ability to handle those."