Remember when there was such a thing as Tennessee Pride?
Now, it’s just sausage.
Our hopes have been ground up yet again. We were reduced to hoping for moral victories against Alabama, just wanting the Vols to cover the spread. Or, in some extreme cases, wanting a lopsided margin “for the betterment of the program” that results in head coach Butch Jones getting fired. It’s not the way you want to spend a season.
What we got Saturday was embarrassment yet again in a spread-covering, lopsided 45-7 win by Alabama that saw them rest starting quarterback Jalen Hurts for almost the entire second half.
They didn’t need him. Tennessee’s offense wasn’t scoring a single touchdown, much less overcoming what was then a 28-0 deficit.
Ho-hum. The only thing that happened was what was expected all along.
The only threat for a marquee opponent playing UT these days is a potential injury. The Vols have been reduced to back-page news.
There was once a time, seems like centuries ago, when Tennessee and Alabama played to epic duals. Legends were forged under the haze of cigar smoke on the Third Saturday in October. The nation tuned in. Polls were affected. Championships won.
That’s still happening these days. Unfortunately for the Vols, it’s only happening for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
What was once considered a rivalry is now just another speed bump on the highway to More Important Games for UA. There are plenty of those these days for Alabama, which is now on an 11-game winning streak over a Tennessee team that, again in Year 5 of Butch Jones’ tenure, looks like a helicopter dropped it right back in the wilderness where the Vols wandered for years in the final few of Phillip Fulmer, the eventful-but-unfruitful 2009 hiccup of Lane Kiffin and the entire Derek Dooley era.
When the Vols seemingly punched in the football for a John Kelly touchdown to make it look a tiny bit more respectable in the fourth quarter against the Tide on Saturday, there was at least a glimmer of something upon which to build. Instead, replays showed Kelly was short. Then Trey Smith jumped for a false start, Kelly ran for a short gain and Jarrett Guarantano threw an interception.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2017 Tennessee Volunteers!
They’ve still not scored an offensive touchdown now in 14 quarters dating back to the second 15 minutes of the UMass game. That was 28 days ago. The only blip on the scoreboard against the Tide was a 97-yard interception return by backup linebacker Daniel Bituli.
That made the score 28-7. And, guess what? You cheered. You maybe even stood up. It was exciting. I did.
That’s just sad.
I live in Alabama, and I care more about this game than any other game in any other sport, and I can’t get excited for it anymore. You can talk all you want to about Saban’s dominance and all the championships the Tide have won and the machine that has been built in Tuscaloosa. All of that is viable and true.
But it isn’t the reason why Tennessee is now a laughingstock.
The day started with Tim Tebow — TIM FREAKING TEBOW — giving the Vols a back-handed pep talk on a morning college football show. Listening to Gary Danielson and Brad Nessler attempt to pay UT compliments on national television sound like trying to judge Charlie Weis in a beauty contest.
It isn’t OK what this program now is in Jones’ fifth year. Something has to change. I’m not sure about how much money Tennessee saves depending on when the timing of the decision is, but every single weekend, we have to sit in our chairs, turn on college football shows and hear every single commentator talk about how bad Tennessee is, how Butch has lost the team and how the Vols have to make a change.
None of us WANTED this, but then we watch the Vols play actual football [or something vaguely resembling it] and you see that it really has to happen. You can’t worry about recruiting, because, now, the only things that truly matter are player development and game day coaching. Neither of which are happening the way they should within the program right now.
There are two elite teams in the SEC: Alabama and Georgia. Tennessee has lost to those teams a combined 86-7. That isn’t getting closer to being competitive. It’s simply called regression.
There are two other mid-level teams the Vols have played within their division, and they lost to Florida and South Carolina on the final plays of the game. As the rest of the season unfolds, there will be more losses. So, it’s a matter of when you make the ultimate decision and how much money the powers that be will spend to make this program great again.
For those who didn’t watch this game or are just seeing the scores run across the bottom of the screen, Saturday’s 45-7 loss to Alabama looks like the embarrassing blowout that it indeed was. But there are players at UT; there are puzzle pieces who just need to be molded, coached, developed, disciplined.
Shawn Shamburger hasn’t hardly played at all this year, and he looked aggressive on Saturday in his first career start, getting beat his share of times but flashing a lot, too. Bituli still can’t stay on the field all the time even though UT’s defense is so much better with him on it. We still have him three more years. Somebody just needs to help him realize the unlimited, NFL potential he has.
John Kelly is a warrior. Guarantano has so many exciting, raw skills even though he hasn’t come close to putting everything together yet. You can see it there, but it’s just under the surface, needing somebody to unlock it.
Nobody ever gave Tennessee a chance on Saturday. The No. 1 reason is because nobody had any confidence that Butch Jones and his coaching staff could put the Vols in a position to win. This offense is broken, and it cannot be fixed. It can’t be successful in the SEC.
Recruits are dropping. Players are fighting. Other players are leaving. And the losses are piling up. They’re coming in all shapes and sizes, with increasing levels of frustration and futility.
I’m proud to be a Tennessee Vol. I’m proud of my program, proud of my school, proud of the players, proud of the stadium and proud of the traditions. But you know what traditions are? They’re things that happened in the past.
I need to be proud of the product that’s put on the field week in and week out, and I’m not. This is a shadow of what Tennessee football is supposed to be.
Somebody fix it.