Butch Jones

Tennessee’s Locks & Keys Week 8: The Bloodbath

 

There’s really nothing that can be said by now that hasn’t already been said, and there’s not much we can do about this weekend, either.

More than likely, unless Tennessee pulls off one of the biggest upsets in school history, the Vols are going to be 3-4 with an embarrassing loss at the hands of the hated Alabama Crimson Tide. UT is a 37-point underdog, which pretty much tells you all you know about what this coaching regime has become.

Now, head coach Butch Jones will try to have his team pull off the improbable and take him from lame-duck status to an up-in-the-air, tenuous situation at best. With the way the fans have responded to UT’s fifth-year coach in the past few weeks, it’s difficult to see any scenario where he is the coach next year. The timing of when that happens is anybody’s guess.

But, for now, Jones is the head coach of our Vols. It would be great if we could all treat him as such and pull for this team this weekend against the top-ranked team in the country. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan through thick and thin. And it hasn’t been this thin in a while, dating back to Jones’ first year and the season-ending, losing year-clinching loss to Vanderbilt.

Last weekend, UT fell to .500 with a 15-9 loss at home to a bad South Carolina team that was missing its top receiver and was running its third-string running back. Yet, Brandon Johnson couldn’t catch a rifled fourth-down pass by Jarrett Guarantano as time expired, and the Vols expired. Again.

A big reason is because only one of my keys was met, and even that is debatable. Let’s look.

  • Put Guarantano in position to be successful: Again, the first two games of offensive coordinator Larry Scott’s tenure was extremely misleading. He’s been bad since. Really bad. In Jarrett Guarantano’s first career start, he had just 133 passing yards and -2 rushing yards. They didn’t roll him out of the pocket enough. They didn’t do quick-hitters enough. They didn’t use the middle of the field enough. A lot of that is UT’s receivers look uncoached. But the whole offense is discombobulated. FAIL.
  • Block out the noise: Tennessee seemed to respond very well to start the game, coming out of the gates playing with passion. The offense has deep-rooted problems unrelated to all the buzz off the field, but they’re a major reason why there’s buzz in the first place. Still, this team looked largely unaffected. SUCCESS!
  • Find some heroes: Johnson had the chance to be one. So did Johnson. So did a defensive line that got to face A.J. Turner as SCAR’s RB instead of Rico Dowdle. Exactly nobody stepped up. FAIL.
  • Play a full game: After an inspired start, the Vols made zero halftime adjustments. Before the final drive, they had -7 total yards. The defense couldn’t stop the cutback on the inside zone. It’s just a poorly coached team all the way around. FAIL
  • Get to Bentley: UT sacked him once. Ho-hum. FAIL

When it came to the locks, we’re back on track. We went 6-2 last week and after that atrocious 1-7 week where we were horrid, we’ve gone 11-5 in the last two weeks. That’s SKRONG, as Jameis Winston would say.

But before we get to this week’s hot picks, let’s look at the keys to beating Alabama.

KEYS

Now, we have to move onto Alabama. God help us all. It’s going to get ugly, and it’s probably going to get there quickly. If you’re a Tennessee fan, pretty much the only thing to root for is for the Vols to beat the spread, and then for what you want to happen — whatever that is — after the game.

Petition the SEC to play 14 players on both sides at once

This is the No. 9 scoring offense and the 15th-ranked overall offense in the country the Vols are facing this week, and Alabama would be even better if it kept its starters in the game longer than three quarters.

The Tide don’t have to.

Defensively, there’s more speed and talent all over the field than any team in the country.

This is going to be bad for the Vols. I really don’t see any way it isn’t. If Tennessee plays its best game and Alabama plays its worst, it’s still a double-digit loss without some game-changing plays. Obviously, you have to play 11-on-11. It’s just hard seeing the Vols have a chance to win if they have to play by the rules, which, unfortunately, they will.

Only Alabama gets away with breaking the rules in Tuscaloosa.

(See what I did there? Man, that’s a good setup…)

Hurts (Not) So Good

Everybody loves to talk about the ways Jalen Hurts struggles. There aren’t a lot of people who talk about just what kind of next-level dimension the sophomore signal-caller brings to an offense that was already very good.

First-year coordinator Brian Daboll has done a good job of putting Hurts in position to make plays, and a lot of times, when plays aren’t there, Hurts creates them with his feet. The Vols have to make him be a dropback passer, spy him and take away the run. Nobody else has been successful doing it, and UT has been anything but disciplined in its run lanes this year. But the Vols have to find something in this game.

Or Hurts will crush them. He did last year as a true freshman.

Four Turnovers

Tennessee is next-to-last in the league in turnover differential and tied for ninth in takeaways. That’s terrible. The Vols need to somehow turn into an opportunistic unit and get FOUR turnovers to have a chance to win this game.

Yes, that’s a tall order. It’s going to take some tall orders for the Vols to win this game. They’ve got to do some crazy things. Whatever it takes. They have to create extra possessions and take advantage of those possessions. They also have to play a clean, mistake-free game themselves. Then, maybe it can happen.

Maybe.

Berry Merry Return Game

He hasn’t played since the season opener, but Tennessee dynamic returner Evan Berry may play against the Crimson Tide. That’s a huge X-factor for the Vols.

It doesn’t matter who they play, Berry is capable of taking kicks to the house. Given how horrible the Vols offense has been, Tennessee needs to generate points in other ways. Berry taking one back for six would be a great manufactured touchdown. If there’s any way possible he can play, Butch Jones needs to get Berry on the field.

He’s a difference-maker in a game where the Vols simply don’t have many.

Game of their Life

Hey, stranger things have happened, right?

I mean, not much stranger. But there have been some strange things happen.

The team we’ve watched this year in orange were fortunate to beat UMass. They’re 3-4, and they’re about to fire their coach. That team may lose 70-0 to Alabama.

But this UT team is better than the UT team we’ve seen. There comes a point in time when it becomes more than a game. It’s about pride. Whether the Vols play for Jones, play for each other or play to prove everybody wrong, it’s time they played for something. They’ve got to play the best game imaginable to beat Alabama in this game.

Go make a memory.

LOCKS

Hey! Break up the me’s! I’m awesome! 11-5 in the past two weeks, and all of a sudden, I’m 26-23-1 on the year. That’s pretty good. We’ve rallied after that 1-7 week, and now, we’re back on track.

For the most part, we were really seeing things well last week. The bad loss was picking UCLA to beat Arizona, and the Bruins lost 47-30. So, yeah, that sucked. But the other loss was Michigan State, who were 4.5 favorites over Minnesota and won 30-27. The Spartans were dominating that game and allowed 17 unanswered points to close the game. Man, that one should have been a win.

Other than that — SKRONG. West Virginia covered against Texas Tech, North Carolina State handled Pitt to cover 11.5, TCU hammered Kansas State on the road, Navy and Memphis were waaaaaaay under 75.5, and we got lucky in the UCLA under as that covered by a half a point in a barn burner. There you have it. 6-2.

We’re winning money. You know, if it were legal and all. At the very least, we’re helping you make your picks in your fantasy college football leagues. Let’s keep it up, shall we?

  1. Purdue -9 over Rutgers. All Purdue does is win money. It’s like Vegas still doesn’t respect Jeff Brohm and the Boilermakers. I sure do, and I’m riding them to the bank every week. They covered easily against Wisconsin last week in a loss, and they will this week in a win.
  2. Syracuse +17 over Miami. I don’t get this at all. The Orange aren’t bad. They aren’t as good as they were when they upset Clemson last Friday night. But the Hurricanes are the worst undefeated team out there. Dino Babers will have his team ready. It will lose, but it’ll be close.
  3. UCF -7.5 over Navy. This is my favorite BY FAR of the week. Navy couldn’t stop Memphis last weekend, and UCF’s offense is a lot better than the Tigers. UCF’s defense is better, too. This will be a double-digit win.
  4. SMU -8.5 over Cincinnati. Luke Fickell is going to turn around the Bearcats, but it isn’t this year. Chad Morris is doing a good job in Dallas, and the Mustangs score too many points for the Bearcats to hang. It won’t be as bad as the UCF game, but SMU will win by double digits.
  5. South Florida -12.5 over Tulane. The Green Wave is having a nice return-to-respectability season. But Charlie Strong has the Bulls playing well. Tulane won’t have an answer for Quinton Flowers and Co.
  6. West Virginia -9 over Baylor. Much like Purdue, all the Mountaineers do is win money. Now, they’re playing winless Baylor and not even getting 10 points. I don’t get it.
  7. Georgia Tech -5.5 over Wake Forest. Wake isn’t offensively inept like it has been in the past, but I’m not sure the Demon Deacons will have an answer for the option. This GT team should have beaten Miami. It will take out its frustrations against the Deacs.
  8. Oklahoma -12.5 over Kansas State. The Wildcats get too much respect for a mediocre team. The Sooners are much better, and they’ll win by more than two touchdowns on the road. Book it.

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Joel Hollingsworth
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I’m going to play along this week with your Locks. Weird thing is, I agree with every one of them — except that I’m going to go with Kansas State to cover against Oklahoma.