Interception. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Fumble. Punt. Interception. Punt. Fumble. Punt.
That’s how Tennessee’s first 11 drives looked on Saturday in a disgraceful 41-0 home loss to Georgia at Neyland Stadium.
Yet, there Quinten Dormady still was, in there as Tennessee’s starting quarterback late in game the Vols were losing to Georgia in a contest that had turned into a stand-up comedy routine by Twitter and with CBS announcers Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson — God bless them — trying to find anything nice to say about the Vols.
A day that started with ESPN’s Gameday crew shredding Butch Jones for his criticism of the media and questionable story regarding Tennessee defensive tackle Shy Tuttle’s face injury ended with pretty much everybody around the nation shredding Jones after the latest Tennessee debacle.
Jarrett Guarantano came in then, with a minute to go in the third quarter, the game far out of reach, the boos already echoing through Neyland Stadium, fans in orange turning on each other and fighting in the stands and everybody pretty much defeatedly agreeing that this is about as bad as it gets.
It isn’t that Guarantano was definitely the answer. He certainly hasn’t proven he is. It’s that the Vols have no answers right now. For anything.
“It was as bad an offensive performance as I’ve ever been a part of in college football,” Jones told the media afterward, “and it’s inexcusable.”
Maybe for the first time in his entire tenure at UT, I didn’t hear any postgame excuses. But these are trying times.
There is talent all over this offense, but first-year [on ANY level] offensive coordinator Larry Scott can’t do anything against a quality defense. The scheme doesn’t match the players. The quarterback doesn’t match the offense. Though there were flashes by UT’s defense at times on Saturday, bad field position, turnovers and simply getting gassed late led to ugly results on the scoreboard.
There is no such thing as style points in a loss like this, but UGA made sure the Vols didn’t have any, regardless.
Even Trevor Daniel suffered through the worst punting game of his life, hitting a Bulldogs lineman with a line drive early in the fourth quarter. This was after, earlier in the game, the Vols gathered a UGA interception in Dawgs territory only to see center Jashon Robertson hike the ball into his own butt, watching the Vols turn the ball right back over to UGA.
Yep. Not only did the Vols embarrass themselves on the scoreboard, they gave the college football world two memes to personify the struggles of this team so far this season. Still, it’s no laughing matter for UT fans.
Fights broke out on the field out of frustration in the fourth quarter, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Darrell Taylor, who was ejected. It was a ridiculous call, but it only fueled the fire that is smoldering around Jones.
When everybody’s to blame, you have to blame Jones.
This is his program, for better or worse at this point. It’s Year 5. When it’s the fifth year and you’re getting demoralized by a divisional rival on your home field in front of a sold-out crowd checkerboarding Neyland Stadium two weeks after you coached your way into a loss against a Florida team you out-classed from a talent perspective, it does not bode well for your regime.
This is a team that turns the football over all the time, including in the most crucial moments of the game. It’s a team that doesn’t have answers, at quarterback or really at any other position, when it’s time to make a play. The goal-line, second-overtime stop of Georgia Tech by Taylor is long in the rear-view after what all we’ve seen in the past few weeks. This is a team that gets penalties, fights with other teams, possibly [depending on whether you believe the rumors] fights with each other, and, most importantly, loses football games in discouraging, disappointing ways. It’s a team whose coaching staff gets out-schemed every week.
What we saw on Saturday was Georgia — a team the Vols have beaten the past two years — not only go past Tennessee in the SEC East but boat-race the Vols along the way. The Vols were already in Florida’s tail lights, and now, they’re behind Georgia as the Bulldogs look like a team that could start a stellar, long-term run with Kirby Smart’s recruiting prowess on full display.
This is the way Alabama beats Tennessee. But when somebody else does it, it’s time to start asking hard questions, even with most of us already have the difficult answer. This is not the way Georgia beats Tennessee. Ever. When it happens, it’s the kind of setback that should make everybody look hard at the program.
This week, you read on this site two articles by two different writers [including yours truly] calling this game a crossroads for Jones. Saturday’s game approached that crossroads and had a head-on collision with reality: This is not getting it done.
Whatever this is, it isn’t the future of the program. If you want to blame that on Butch, that’s totally fair at this point. Make a change.
If it’s on the players, let others play.
It is assuredly not the fans, especially those of us who’ve hung on for a long time. Thinking — knowing — there needs to be a change at this point doesn’t make you a Negavol. It makes you somebody who misses your team playing good, disciplined, hard-nosed football, for drawing up actual plays that gains actual yards, for not beating itself, for not becoming a laughingstock of everybody around, media and opposing fans alike.
On Saturday, the Vols were made a laughingstock by the Bulldogs, who danced and pranced and celebrated on Shields-Watkins Field.
Look: It is not my job to fire Butch Jones, and I won’t do it in this column. That isn’t my place, and it isn’t our intent with what we write within the walls of this blog. But the walls of Tennessee’s program crumbled Saturday, and it’s shameful. Whatever needs to happen needs to happen quickly.
Butch Jones can stand up there in front of everybody and talk about these games being unacceptable and about things needing to turn around and about this team having pride and resiliency and everything else. But they’re just words, and, as we know by Jones’ first five years in Knoxville, he loves those words.
It’s time for action. By him, his players, or by Tennessee’s administration.