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Rapid Reaction: See You L-eight-er, 2017 Season

Kyle Zedaker/Tennessee Athletics

After a week of blasting the stat all over print, radio and the Interwebs, it came to fruition: Tennessee lost eight games for the first time in school history after falling 42-24 to Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7 SEC) Saturday in Knoxville.

The loss was an appropriate representation of the season, really. The Vols entered with a slew of injuries, most notably on the offensive line, and it showed. John Kelly showed flashes of the greatness we saw from him early in the year, but had no room to run.

True to season form, the Vols started out hot, scoring two touchdowns in two possessions. But, true to season form, the defense gave up two touchdowns to follow the Vols’ respective scores en route to a 14-14 tie after the first quarter.

Then the offense went cold. Vandy added a touchdown in the second frame to take a seven-point lead into halftime. Commodores’ coach Derek Mason put it best in his halftime interview — when asked about the second quarter, Mason said he and Vanderbilt adjusted to Tennessee’s game plan.

It was evident that Tennessee didn’t. The Vols put up 148 yards of offense in the opening quarter, then managed only 90 yards and 10 points the rest of the way. The Vols were out-gained by 288 yards (526-238) to a Vanderbilt team that was winless in SEC play,

Tennessee’s two touchdown drives went 85 and 75 yards, respectively. The Vols’ longest drive after those two was 30 yards until a garbage time touchdown drive of 75 yards made the score 42-24.

Kyle Shurmur, who was struggling coming into tonight’s final game, found his mojo and faced rare pressure in the pocket en route to 283 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Tennessee’s defense struggled to slow down the Vandy offense as the second half went on, with no help from an offense that couldn’t sustain drives. In the end, it looked like a user’s manual for “Guide to a 2017 Tennessee Football Game.”

And so ends the first 4-8 season in Tennessee season. If you really want to feel down, it could easily been a 3-9 season, possibly even 2-8. Remember Darrell Taylor’s stop against Georgia Tech on the 2-point play in double overtime?

How about UMass losing its starting quarterback at the end of the third quarter down just four points?

That’s saddening. The season was saddening. We’re reportedly only a few days or less away from a head-coaching hire, which is about all that can improve the mood around this program.

It’s hard to say this year is forgetful. I certainly don’t think it will be. There was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the potential of the 2017 Tennessee team, but not many expected the worst season in program history.

Looking back on 2017 will provide plenty of memories, almost none of them good.

Think about the Hail Mary loss to a Florida team that eventually fired its head coach and finished 4-7.

What about being shut out for the first time since 1994? Or failing to score an offensive touchdown in 15 quarters? Fifteen quarters!

Or how about losing to Kentucky and Vanderbilt for the first time in the same season since 1964? 0-8 in the SEC for the first time ever?

The historic lists and gutting memories go on. They’ll go on for a while. You could argue that Derek Dooley made Tennessee a bottom-dweller in the SEC East, but it’s hard to argue that Dooley made Tennessee more of a national laughing stock than the Vols are now, two games removed from the Butch Jones era and fresh off the worst season in program history.

For good measure: Tennessee’s 42-24 loss to Vanderbilt marks the official end of the Butch Jones era in a low, low point for the Vols’ program. Remember the Vols’ loss to Vanderbilt in 2012, which ended the Dooley era and now feels all too familiar?

41-18.

At this point, it’s obvious that all Vol fans are asking for is a memorable hire.

Just make it memorable for the right reasons.

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