Tonight, Saturday, Tennessee added another loss to what has become a very disappointing season on Rocky Top, this time falling to Auburn by a score of 30-17. The Vols had so much promise in August and started off 2-0. However, it all seemed to fall apart and Tennessee has now rattled off five straight losses with low prospects for the remainder of the season. So, the question is where do the Vols go from here?
Looking at the two wins, the teams they beat include one team that has already fired its coach in a pandemic-year where all schools are cash-strapped, making the buyout that comes with firing a coach all the more costly. The other has similarly stumbled to a 2-3 record in its first-time head coach’s first five games.
The first loss in the streak saw Tennessee appearing in good shape in the first half against Georgia, but a disastrous second half plagued with turnovers gave the Vols their first loss of the campaign. They then returned to Knoxville, where they lost their first home game to Kentucky since the Reagan Administration. Tennessee looked out of sync across the board against the Wildcats. Few expected the Vols to beat Alabama, but the way they loss left many fans at a loss for words. Despite Jeremy Pruitt saying “the gap to (Georgia, Alabama and Florida) is closing”, the scoreboard has not shown that to be true.
Then two weeks ago, the Vols had a bye week to prepare to for Arkansas but lost yet another game due to an atrocious third quarter. Then tonight, Tennessee coming off another bye and yet has dropped another game to a middling Auburn that could have easily lost two additional games if not for poor officiating going in their favor.
So how do they go forward from here? The defense is Pruitt’s ‘strong suit’ and he is supposedly one of the top coaches when it comes to defensive backs. However, even considering the instability of availability at that position for the Big Orange, that has not shown itself to be the case this fall. Defensive line is not going to be the place to make a difference, considering Pruitt has already fired its position coach.
The linebacking corps could theoretically been the focal point to a turnaround, but the game has shifted away from that. I wish this was not the case; I love old-fashioned smashmouth football. The 2011 Alabama-LSU ‘9-6’ game was one of the best matchups in recent history, but even Nick Saban has acknowledged that defense no longer wins in college football.
"It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn't beat good offense anymore," Saban told ESPN in October. "Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them [in a 41-24 Alabama win]. That's not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren't going to score. You were always going to be in the game.”
Tennessee has got to fix its offense for a chance at serious success. It’s not going to be the receivers that carry this team. Last year Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway helped drive the offense, but those two are not walking through the door any time soon and all of their replacements are either young or inexperienced. The offensive line is not going to lead this team to victory either. Despite the preseason hype, I was not sold on the unit and it has disappointed those who were so bullish on the group.
What this all filters down to is something that has highlighted before but needs pointing out again, the quarterback position needs to get sorted out. Jarrett Guarantano has been so inconsistent that he produces some good but so much bad, but that is known. What makes it so frustrating to people who pay attention to the team is that he his is a redshirt-senior making freshman mistakes. So, I have a question to the offensive staff. Why not put in one of the younger guys if you know you are going to get inconsistent play regardless?
At least, with one of the younger guys, mistakes can be a part of a learning curve to build for the future. Also, giving the youngers guys a chance can show the rest of the team and the fans, that you are trying something to get out of this slump in which the Vols find themselves. Look to Middle Tennessee for an example of what could be. Winless Vanderbilt gave their freshman quarterback Ken Seals a shot and he finished the game 22/34 with two touchdowns. The Commodores came short of the upsetting #6 Florida, but they at least took a shot and they look reenergized going into their matchup with the Vols.
After the game Pruitt was asked what he would to say to those who were starting to question the direction and progression of the program but was not interested in discussing the matter.
“It ain’t my job, man.” Pruitt said. “My job is to coach. If you want to ask me a football question, ask me a football question.”
I realize things in college football are crazy this year and not everything is going poorly for the Tennessee. However, not much is going right since the two early wins against lower competition and all five of the Vols’ consecutive losses have been embarrassing losses for a variety of reasons. Throughout the losing streak, Pruitt and staff seem to be portraying a level of stubbornness in addressing what ails them and the final three games are not going to be much easier.
Tennessee ends the season with Florida and Texas A&M, neither of which seem probable wins for the Vols. However, next week Tennessee travels to Nashville face off against Vanderbilt. The matchup against the Commodores is likely the Vols’ last chance at avoiding a 2-8 record this fall.
So, in summation, something has to give. So, what is it going to be?
Ryan Crews is a senior majoring in marketing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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