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Tennessee-South Carolina Rapid Reaction: Well, That Sucked (Part Two)

Tennessee’s offense scored nine points in the first half on three field goals, then disappeared, resulting in a 15-9 Gamecocks’ win in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

Simply put, this was hard to watch.

The scene was all-too-familiar. Butch Jones’ squad had two weeks to prepare for South Carolina and fell flat on its face in a second straight loss to the Gamecocks. The Vols mustered just 75 yards offense in the second half, again and again trying to find running room between the tackles. The trio of John Kelly, Ty Chandler and Jarrett Guarantano running failed to move the chains in the second half, and the Vols’ defense was gassed by the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Things started out well. The Vols came out with a good game plan, attacking South Carolina inside with numbers to get John Kelly some running holes. That set up some outside throws from Guarantano, who was accurate for most of the day. Offensive coordinator Larry Scott even dialed up some trickery, having receiver Josh Smith catch a backwards pass and throw towards Kelly, who couldn’t make an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone.

However, those tricks ran out of style in a hurry. Muschamp and South Carolina adjusted like most teams have, putting more defenders close to the line of scrimmage to stop Kelly and the run. It worked.

Tennessee was without an offensive identity for the third straight game. If Kelly isn’t gaining yards, Tennessee isn’t gaining yards. To make matters worse, Guarantano and the offense rarely tried to go downfield and open things up. In those rare cases, the attempted deep passes were foiled by the poor play of the offensive line, which was dominated from the second quarter on.

For the only bright spots on the day: freshman Brent Cimaglia hit all three of his field goal attempts and the defense was phenomenal before it was tired. Through three quarters, the defensive front bottled up a struggling Gamecocks’ running game. With starting running back Rico Dowdle leaving the game early, Tennessee defended South Carolina’s biggest threats (Tight end Hayden Hurst and receiver Bryan Edwards) while blitzing Jake Bentley and making the sophomore as uncomfortable as possible.

Now, onto the bad stuff.

(Hint: It’s everything else)

For the second year in a row, the Vols had two weeks to prepare for South Carolina. And, for the second year in a row, Jones looked out-coached by Muschamp as the offense spun its wheels. Tennessee’s offense had five (5, five!) yards in the second half before the final driveWith the talent that the Vols have, no team in the country should hold the team to anywhere close to that for a half. Alabama shouldn’t hold Tennessee to five offensive yards. Getting a first down, a single first down, results in double the yardage. It’s simply inexcusable.

Even after all of that, though, the Vols drove to the Gamecocks’ 5-yard line in just over a minute. After the lack of downfield passing throughout the whole game, Tennessee went 70 yards on six plays (just four completions) to give itself a chance to win. The Vols elected not to spike the ball with 22 seconds left, losing about half of that before an incompletion (with a flag) left Tennessee with just nine seconds. Guarantano never got an open look, and three incomplete passes ended a dreadful loss.

Again, we saw the Vols fail to adapt to opponents’ in-game adjustments. As mentioned before, the Vols came out with an offensive game plant that led to some success in the first quarter. But, after the Gamecocks adjusted, Tennessee never did. Jones has arguably been out-coached during each game since the win over Indiana State.

After two weeks after practice and preparation, Tennessee failed to find the end zone once, extending its touchdown-less streak to 10 quarters. The last touchdown the Vols scored came on September 23 against UMass with 25 seconds to go in the first half. The orange and white had three really good chances on Saturday, but somehow the best play that Tennessee came up with inside the 20 was a double-pass to the 5-foot-9 Kelly.

After all of that, the Vols fall to 0-3 in the SEC this year. No. 1 Alabama awaits next week, and that certainly isn’t looking like a win. The Vols have lost 7 of their last 9 conference games, and it’ll probably be 8 of 10 in a week. The program’s trajectory is going the wrong way. It seems as though Jones’ offense can’t score points without Josh Dobbs, and isn’t going to with teams loading up to stop John Kelly. Jones elected for one big change with the quarterback switch this week, but it didn’t fix the issues.

Maybe they’re John Currie’s to fix.

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