By Brian Rice
I closed out my column a week ago by asking the question how would Tennessee respond to the Florida loss. The answer on Saturday against UMass was not great.
And so begins another week of the sports talk radio game “how many things can we be mad at Butch Jones about?”
Look, I’m not going to defend how Tennessee played on Saturday. There’s no defense for it, inept performances against awful opponents are not acceptable. Butch called it exactly that in his postgame comments Saturday afternoon. He said it was “unacceptable” and he was exactly right. It was a waste of three hours for the announced crowd of 95,324, although the half of that number that was in the sun headed for either shade or for home before the second half began. Most importantly, though it was a waste of three hours for a Tennessee football team that very badly needed to figure some things out.
That said, it should not have come as much of a surprise either. Closer-than-necessary performances that frustrate fans in games like this have been a recurring happening under Butch Jones. Sure, many of them haven’t been this close for this long, but the last time Tennessee played the so-called “worst team in Division I,” they racked up just 24 points against North Texas. Along the way, we’ve seen results like this unfold against South Alabama, Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Ohio. And it was the same thing Saturday that has plagued Tennessee in those games. They ran a very basic offense that didn’t give their next opponent much to look at. It also didn’t give the players or the fans much to be excited about.
Tennessee did give the Bulldogs something to think on with a couple of plays out of the pistol formation early on in the game, and they showed off a nifty Tyler Byrd reverse play that gave the offense a brief spark. Beyond that, they had plenty of trouble executing the most basic of offenses, largely because of the offensive line getting handled up front. Jashon Robertson didn’t play and the ripple effect on the line was far bigger than it should have been.
Ultimately, today doesn't matter. It's all about next week. Win, and it's forgotten. Don't win, it's a long two weeks until the Gamecocks.
— Brian Rice (@briancrice) September 23, 2017
As I argued on Twitter after the game, ultimately this game doesn’t mean anything. Tennessee is no more or less likely to beat Georgia next Saturday because of what happened against UMass. The fans don’t feel good about it, the players cannot have gained any confidence from it, but as we’ve seen following some of the games I mentioned above, one game rarely bleeds over into the next performance.
It did turn up the pressure on Jones and the team. Coaches aren’t hired or fired based on how many points they beat overmatched opponents by. They are judged on how games against conference opponents turn out, Tennessee has one of those Saturday afternoon, but the team and its head coach missed an opportunity to earn some badly needed equity with the fans.
Step Into The Throw or Step Off The Field
OK, here are the facts. Quinten Dormady throws off his back foot. He is a bad quarterback when he throws off his back foot. Basically every quarterback is a bad quarterback when they throw off of their back foot. Two offensive coordinators and three quarterbacks coaches have been trying to get him to stop doing this very thing for the last three years. None of them, apparently, have had any success with it.
In the last two home games, the fans of clamored for the back up quarterback. In each of those games, they’ve gotten Jarret Guarantano.
JG can show us something here. Hope he can prove to be a gamer, practice has been uneven at best.
— Brian Rice (@briancrice) September 23, 2017
In those two appearances, fans have been seen why despite the coachspeak about this being a close battle, one quarterback is significantly further ahead than the other. So Q is the guy going forward. He has to be better, or Tennessee’s season will have a much lower ceiling than anyone could have anticipated.
UMass gave Tennessee a great look defensively at what they will face the rest of the year. Somehow, they were the first team Tennessee has played that figured out you need to put eight or nine men in the box to stop John Kelly. Teams are going to do that the rest of the year.
So teams are going to make Tennessee throw the ball to beat them. The good news is, the slant route is going to be there all season when the box is stacked. Play action is going to be there all season. Dormady has to hit receivers downfield to open things back up for his running back.
In Defense of the Defense
Tennessee’s defense came to play. The Vols held UMass to 281 total yards and limited an opponent to less than 60 offensive plays for the second straight week.
UT also recorded seven sacks, the most in a single game since 2007. It’s an impressive stat, though one aided by an opponent that gave up eight sacks in each of its two games prior.
All of that said, Tennessee needed every moment of focus it got from the defense. After the Minutemen scored a touchdown to cut the lead to three with 2:51 left in the third quarter, the Volunteer defense clamped down on its opponent. From that point, the Tennessee D allowed UMass to gain just 49 yards. In an unnecessarily tight game, the defense forced four punts and a turnover on downs on the last five possessions.
The only failing on defense? That awful noise they’re trying to make a thing on third down:
IT’S THIRD DOWN HANDS UP LET GO.
Take me now, Lord.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) September 23, 2017
Tennessee’s Marketing dep…er…Fan Experience department needs to cut bait with trying to create something to recapture the “Third Down For Wat” magic. Either bring back TDFW or just let the Pride of the Southland come up with something. It can’t possibly be worse.
With all due respect to my guy Sterl the Pearl, Third Down LET’S GO needs to go.
And remember, fans. It can always be worse. Hell, the Detroit Lions’ postgame meal CAUGHT ON FIRE:
— Evan Jankens (@KINGoftheKC) September 24, 2017
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