By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – September 7, 2019)
Another week, another loss, last week’s unthinkable, this week’s… well, considering prior to the bomb pass that found a home due to a bafflingly brutal coverage breakdown the Vols had a 99.6% chance to win the game…
…this week’s was also unthinkable.
Folks, we’re at the bottom of the barrel in Knoxville and even after 93,000 showed up on Saturday, you have to wonder how many still bother to come next week to watch Tennessee battle UT-Chattanooga in a game that’s interesting merely because the SEC team MIGHT LOSE IT.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from tonight’s disastrous come from ahead to tank against the Cougs
PRUITT EQUITY IS NEAR ZERO
Can he coach? All I saw last Saturday against Georgia State was a team unprepared and unmotivated to play and some mind numbingly poor coaching mistakes and organizational fractures from the sidelines. Tonight, the ESPN cameras picked up Jeremy Pruitt barking at player after player, so we know he can yell.
BUT CAN HE COACH?
I’m not so sure he can, not as a head coach anyway. These reports of him coaching up the defensive line during games as if he doesn’t recognize the position he currently holds is troubling to say the least. He’s not 5-9 at the helm of Tennessee, and this team should have been better than last year’s. It looks anything but, and worst of all, he doesn’t have them playing motivated football. Tonight, there was effort. Last week, inexcusably, there wasn’t.
Vols fans have watched three coaches come and go, including Butch Jones, who was a punch line, but might no longer be one following the Jeremy Pruitt era. There is still time to turn this around if you win next week and then go with zero expectations to Gainesville and beat a mediocre Florida team without a quarterback, but what on earth would give off the impression that was going to happen?
We’re not seeing adjustments, we’re not seeing anything remotely progressive, and as college football has evolved this century, it’s the Lincoln Rileys of the world that have changed the game, not the stubborn Vince McMahon types that refuse to accept that “good ole’ football” just ain’t getting it done anymore. He’s been outcoached in back-to-back weeks to open Year 2, which is generally the season where a coach makes his biggest steps forward.
Either that or he proves he’s in over his head.
Pat Forde said following the Georgia State loss last week that not one person associated with the UGA football program shed a single tear when Chaney left, because they knew what Tennessee fans were inheriting. Many national types have gone after UT relentlessly since the Greg Schiano ReVOLution, which definitely left a sour taste in their mouths because of the double hearsay issue attached to mentioning the Penn State argument. Many carried water for John Currie, and any chance they get, they’re going to mutilate Tennessee.
That said, it’s hard to deny Chaney’s start as Offensive Coordinator makes one long for Tyson Helton, who never had a chance and didn’t get along with Pruitt. Chaney likes to run it, but the way in which he chooses to do so is obscenely predictable at present, leaving Ty Chandler and anybody else wielding the rock dealing with defenders that have the proper angle to pop them and drop them.
Just because Chaney has the old-school mentality Pruitt craves doesn’t mean he’s right for this university in 2019. I’m not sure he’s wrong for UT quite yet either. It’s a little too soon to pour dirt on the coaching grave, but right now, it’s flat out not good enough. It’s vanilla and there does not appear to be much in the way of chemistry in the playcalling between Chaney and Jarrett Guarantano, which simply can’t continue.
I’m so tired of hearing about how tough Jauan Jennings is and how bad he wants it. I’m not sick of that being true, but I’m sick of him being singled out because so few of his teammates measure up in their “dog” mentality. We saw a little bit tonight from Ty Chandler, who played very well in the loss, but probably should have had more than 26 carries. That sounds insane, because it’s a lot, but 35 would be a better number. As effective as he was, keep going Zeke and letting the big dog eat.
There are a handful of guys that you can look at and say, “he wants it.” You need a team full of them. Or you need those that don’t have that mentality to grow into it as they realize what a privileged position they’re in to get to play football in front of such a loyal fanbase that continues to support this squad amidst heartbreak after heartbreak.
Jauan can be a leader and he is so much fun to watch, a true pleasure, but somehow he needs to become an airborne virus and attach himself to guys like Josh Palmer, whose talent is fantastic, but whose consistent realization of that talent is anything but.
IS GUARANTANO GOOD?
That interception was terrible. As soon as it left his hand, you knew it was going the other way, and there was absolutely no way to complete it to anybody not wearing a BYU Cougars uniform. Guarantano manages to see coverage most of the time, but on that throw, he was fooled to an astonishing degree. He’s staring down receivers, he’s making check downs with 0% chance of success on terminal downs, and again, he doesn’t have a hold of Chaney’s offense, if there’s anything to hold onto.
That first touchdown throw was all Jennings, as it honestly probably should have been intercepted as well, but ended up a deflected effort score for 15.
At this stage, it doesn’t matter how you pronounce his name, because he’s that nondescript as an SEC quarterback. The Vols do seem to be able to run it a little bit, the OL improved against BYU from a pretty gross performance against Georgia State, but the QB is still holding the ball too long, throwing off balance, and putting his team in a position to lose a few times per contest. You’d rather have a game manager than someone you’re afraid might cost you a football game. JG isn’t quite there, but he’s on the train… he’s closer to that destination than we might think.
I’m an idiot as I picked Tennessee to win eight games, then I talked myself into nine. I thought they would be better than this. It all hinged on some pivotal home games against good teams, but most of all it hinged on beating BYU and opening the season 3-0. Now, if you beat Chattanooga, you could still easily be looking at a Volunteers football team that sits 1-7. Look at the schedule… after UTC, it’s Florida on the road, Georgia and Mississippi State at home, Alabama on the road, South Carolina at home and then you get UAB. 1-2 and you head to Gainesville, which is a game I predicted UT would win, and technically they still can.
They could also get housed like they did last year, much of it self-inflicted.
How good do you feel about any of these games? Any of those SEC matchups sound appetizing today as you read this column? If you beat Muschamp or Moorhead, that’s still just two wins to go with six losses. If you’re 1-7, does this group seem like one that rallies to win out after the tough stretch? It’s more a “lay down” kind of squad based on the eye test. I hate saying that about young men that are practicing hard and have some degree of pride, but I’m simply not seeing the level of intensity on a consistent basis required to succeed on this level.
HOW MUCH CAN THE FANS TAKE
Taylor’s play notwithstanding, because players are going to have bad stretches, and this one was putrid, but the fans have continued to drop money on these ducats and filled Neyland Stadium. 93,000 showed up a week after arguably the worst and most embarrassing loss in Tennessee history, but what now? How much can these people sustain? This week was just disgusting if you were a Vols fan, even just listening to your fellow supporters rant and rave and exist in a state of confusion.
When does the vitriol and the “care too much” and “It’s still real to me ***mit” find themselves replaced with apathy? That’s the death knell, and while it hasn’t arrived and these #GBOers will still be rocking that orange and white next week, they’re having their hearts crushed, refrozen on Monday, smashed with an ice pick five days later, then brought back to life only to be murdered all over again.
It has to be utterly gutwrenching to be a Tennessee fan, because the misery doesn’t seem to have an end. This team doesn’t seem to have a rock bottom. There were good things about the BYU game, as both the OL and DL were vastly improved, which helped the run game. The Vols controlled over 33 minutes of the clock. But, they still found a way to lose. They couldn’t finish. And if you can’t finish, you’re not very good…because the number of L’s is going to rack up and there’s no balancing it.
Next week, another try, this time against an FCS team that the Vols had better take seriously. There are no dress rehearsals for UT. There are merely opportunities to get better. There are merely opportunities to recover some degree of dignity. The effort was there for the most part against BYU, but what does that mean?
…They’re not that talented?
Or maybe they’re about to finish the season 10-2. It’s 2019. Weird things are happening in our world.
(Tomorrow, Big 6 Titans Takeaways begins… hopefully with more positivity. We’ll see.)