The loss against Kentucky still stings for Tennessee fans. The holdover from that loss hurt the Vols on Saturday, as Alabama beat the Vols 48-17 on an overcast day inside Neyland Stadium. The other tough pill to swallow is the fact Missouri beat up on Kentucky this past weekend as well. This has put Tennessee against the ropes, going into the 6th round of a 10 round fight.
Last week had the firing of defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh along with the fact that Jeremy Pruitt was hell bent on making it known how well the group practiced. It was a subtle shot at the former assistant, lets just call it like we see it. Jeremy Pruitt met with the media last Wednesday to discuss the preparations for Alabama and threw in this line about the group.
“Well, we’ve probably had our best three practices of the year from the defensive front up there.”
Things sure didn’t look any better on Saturday against Alabama, except for maybe Matthew Butler, who had 6 tackles and one sack. It just looked like the same Tennessee. When you don’t have a monster on the line, who can takeover a series, the small things stand out even more.
The problem that Tennessee faces right now is that fans are tired of the postgame excuses. They don’t want to hear it anymore from the coaches and they’re tired of seeing the same on social platforms. They’re sick and tired of being embarrassed and having to deal with the quotes that come afterwards. Just win, that’s all they care about.
When you look at the product that was out on the field Saturday afternoon, you have to wonder what the real plan is. Tennessee played offensively like they were up 30 points, conservative, with a splash of deep. These two ingredients aren’t going to win you many football games, especially with this offense.
Here are three observations from the Alabama game.
Where can we find the offense?
Taking a look at the boxscore of the previous three games, it’s not hard to see the glaring problem. Tennessee has been outscored by their opponents 106-24 in the last ten quarters of football since halftime in Athens. There’s no way to sugarcoat this, they’ve disappeared.
It was going to be Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback for the Vols against Alabama. Both Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey had taken some reps with the first team earlier in the week, but it was always JG. Here’s where the problem lies, though. How in the world has Tennessee gotten to the point of not being comfortable calling plays for the other QB’s without the last name Bailey?
JT Shrout most likely has thrown his last pass for Tennessee, I blame this on development. Brian Maurer went into the game with just over four minutes remaining in the game, I blame this on coaching. There is no reason that Guarantano should’ve been in the ballgame starting the fourth quarter. What message is Jeremy Pruitt trying to send to the younger players? There is no answer.
Jim Chaney called that football game on Saturday like he was up three touchdowns. It was conservative and ugly to watch. He tried the fast-paced type of play that you see out of Lane Kiffin or Mike Leach, but Tennessee doesn’t have the players or QB for that style. That’s why it was so confusing because they gained nothing while trying to run it. Jim calls the offense like he doesn’t trust his QB. Well, five games into the season, he better start trusting somebody. This vanilla approach might be enough to secure one more win this season.
Last week Jeremy Pruitt said he didn’t like a few of the play calls that his offense ran, I wonder what he’s thinking right now. Oh, never mind, he gave his opinion postgame.
“Looking at the game, I thought offensively it was one of the better games we played.”
If you keep that mentality up, Tennessee will be lucky to beat Arkansas.
Where Has The Defense Gone?
I know there are a few players banged up on this Tennessee defense, but that’s still no excuse for what we’ve seen the past few weeks. Jeremy Banks was trying to play with an ankle injury, Elijah Simmons is still working his way back and other players have been dinged up over the last five weeks.
I know some will say look at how Alabama has beaten their previous opponents. Nope, I am not really interested. The Vols have been going down this track of bad tackling and leaving the middle of the field open like the Atlantic Ocean for weeks now. It’s become a tradition at Tennessee, turn a 10-yard slant into a 30 yard gain.
Alabama put up 587 yards against the Vols defense. Mac Jones was 25-31 for 387 yards and a rushing touchdown. The tide rushed for 170 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a trench beatdown. How many times can Tennessee defenders shoot through the wrong opening or miss a tackle in the backfield to make you think about who’s in the game? There’s no self awareness from this group, besides four or five players.
It’s about protecting your area and the Vols have failed at that. There’s been way too many times where a wide receiver will run straight behind the linebacker and have a wide open look for the QB. Lets also not forget the how many times Alabama receivers were coming down with the ball with 2 defenders draped on their shoulders. If the Tennessee secondary would swat the ball away and not try to make some athletic catch, the Vols would’ve probably kept two touchdowns off the board.
This group has to be better, it can’t be said enough. If that means playing some younger guys to get a more athletic approach on the field, so be it. Tennessee can’t afford to make the same mistakes in the secondary again, it will continue to bite them. The Vols need to make a few changes to the lineup, which might spark better play out of the guys you’re supposed to see it from.
This Team Lacks An Identity
The feel of these games have been anxious, compared to confident. Coming into this season, it was the defense that Tennessee fans and media members thought could help guide this team along as the offense figured a few things out. Now its become apparent that this group is struggling to make it through four quarters of football. I put a good amount of this on the staff. How can they have these groups so unprepared for the small things?
Missing tackles, blowing coverages, getting beat on a jump ball, those I put on the players. But, this group, on both sides of the ball, just look unprepared. The first team has the talent to be in every game they play, the second group just has to hang on. But getting beat by 20 plus points in three consecutive games is not showing progress. It’s not closing the gap.
I’ve come to learn that Tennessee fans will stick beside you if the effort is being shown and the excuses are minimal. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a decent amount of effort, but a lot of excuses. That’s not going to cut it in this conference, because looking around the conference, I don’t see many coaches making It a weekly habit.
Jeremy Pruitt knows the Tennessee fan base needs him to succeed, they can’t start over and they shouldn’t. But some of these excuses and philosophies are being tucked away, as they wait for the perfect time to bring them out, should this continue over the next year.
Pruitt can get this team back, but it’s time to rely on some younger guys to help get them there.