As the nighttime mist receded, revealing a dazzling full moon over neyland stadium, so too did any shroud of questions around the future of our football season. Tennessee is horrible at football. I would venture to declare this team the worst to ever put on the orange and white, with Butch Jones 2017 squad finishing a close second.
Any seasoned poker player will tell you, some nights you just have to walk away. The cards just aren’t coming your way, and you keep digging and digging until you’ve lost your Rolex to some hairy guy named Andreas. Saturday night was a such a night for the the football Vols. Neyland Stadium became a house of horrors for Vol fans, watching balls slip and tip into their opponent’s hands to the tune of six turnovers and a safety. It was, bar none, the ugliest football game this amateur writer has ever seen the Tennessee Volunteers participate in.
1. Pruitt’s guts – If one is trying to find something meritorious from Saturday’s loss, he will have to look hard. One thing that could be considered praiseworthy was the early gutsy play calling from Pruitt. After kicking a field goal from the 17 yard line on fourth and three, it appeared Pruitt was going to make the game about field position. Then he came right back and tried for a sneak onside kick. The kick was excellent, and would have been recovered if the blockers had done their jobs. Pruitt also opted to throw to the fullback with a play action pass on a fourth down, an incredibly gusty call. Of course the pass was completed for 51 yards and eventually fumbled out of the back of the end-zone.
1. Execution – Tennessee actually lead Florida in total yards gained for the majority of the matchup. The offense moved the ball well, and Tennessee’s defense was putting up a good fight. Six turnovers in costly positions, mental mistakes, safeties and an overall lack of discipline blew the game wide open. The Vols’ offense and special teams virtually handed Florida’s offense three touchdowns with turnovers inside its own twenty yard line. Guarantano, with a big assist from the worst offensive line in the league, coughed the ball up over and over again. It was brutal.
2. The memories – Tennessee went into halftime down 26-3 in Neyland Stadium. For a moment, I reminisced on how just two years ago in that same stadium I watched Joshua Dobbs, Derek Barnett and Juaun Jennings score 28 unanswered points to storm back and erase a similar halftime deficit to defeat these same Gators. Then it hit me. Dobbs is in Pittsburg. Barnett is in Philly. Juaun Jennings is in Pruitt’s doghouse, and Butch Jones is an intern at Alabama. This team barely resembles that team. In just two years, somehow we have fallen farther than anyone would have ever though possible on that night in 2016.
1. Snap judgements – Here is what we can infer from Saturday’s game; the Vols won’t win many games in 2018. They may only win three. Beyond that, we know nothing. Pruitt seems to be struggling to control this group and instill discipline. From Circle Park to Ft Sanders, drunk Vol fans were vomiting up big orange KoolAid, but it’s way too early for that. He deserves multiple seasons to try and clean this mess up, no matter how ugly this season gets. And believe me, it’s gonna get ugly.
I’ve watched a lot of bad Tennessee teams get blown out. I’ve suffered through many disappointing seasons. I was there when Tim Tebow hung fifty on us. But this team doesn’t have a Tim Tebow. It doesn’t even have a Chris Leake. There is something different about this one. This time it doesn’t feel like growing pains, or a hiccup along the way. It feels like we’ve got a serious, deep set culture problem in our football program. For the first time, I don’t care as much. Maybe that’s a byproduct of getting older, maturing. More likely it’s a byproduct of a decade of incandescent passion wasted on losing teams. Vol Nation is teetering on the edge of the abyss. We can not afford to fail this time. Just ask Nebraska.