Another game, another ouch. The Vols’ 30-17 loss to the Auburn Tigers Saturday night was another gut punch to players, coaches, and fans, as mistakes erased forever some measure of real progress. Pro tip: Don’t season your Thanksgiving meal with poop flakes. Only a little will ruin the whole day.
History will record this one as the game where Tennessee lost when Jarrett Guarantano threw yet another pick six, this one a 100-yarder. It was essentially a mashup of the worst of this year’s Kentucky game — where Guarantano threw back-to-back pick-sixes — and the worse of last year’s Alabama game — where Guarantano’s goal-line fumble was returned for a touchdown.
A turnover is bad enough. A turnover that results in points for the other team is worse. And a turnover that results in points for the other team while also depriving you of yours, well, that’s almost as bad as it gets. I say almost, because when that single play is the difference in the scoreboard at the end of the game, that’s as bad as it gets.
There were other mistakes. A usually-reliable but currently-gimpy Brent Cimaglia missed two field goals. And the defense totally blew coverage on a play to gift Auburn one of its touchdowns.
But if the only thing you erase is the pick-six, you would add 3 or 7 points to the Vols’ ledger and subtract 7 from Auburn’s, and you’d end up with either a single-point Vols victory or a 3-point game that could go either way in the fourth-quarter.
Instead, the pick-six will be the headline and it’s the progress that will be erased. Because part of what made this result so painful is that it came in a game where the team actually played well. You know, except for the mistakes.
The Vols had 28 first downs to Auburn’s 23. They converted 60% of their third downs. They racked up 222 rushing yards to Auburn’s 165 and 242 passing yards to Auburn’s 220. They committed fewer penalties and were even on the number of turnovers.
Eric Gray ran 22 times for 173 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and added another 49 yards on three catches. Guarantano was 15-of-23 for 156 yards and Harrison Bailey was 7-of-10 for 86. Eight different players had double-digit receiving yards. And the offensive line was creating holes all night long like we’ve expected them to do all season long.
But all of it was erased by a 14-point swing in a 13-point game on a single play. Oof.
For much of the summer, we hoped for any football at all, and there are now only three Tennessee games remaining in the 2020 season. Sure, any or all of them could continue to disappoint. But it’s also possible that they could be enjoyable, if only this team can keep the progress and begin to erase the mistakes instead.