Not this again: Week 1 on Rocky Top.

In the comedy classic Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, there is an iconic scene in which the protagonist, Ricky Bobby, falsely believes that he has been paralyzed. Disregarding the begging assurances of his friends that he can in fact walk, Ricky hilariously jabs a steak knife into his leg, assuming that he will feel nothing. Hilarity ensues as he realizes he is not paralyzed, leaps out of his wheel chair and begs his friends to pull the knife from his leg.

I watched today’s Tennessee game with some friends who really aren’t Tennessee fans. They were laughing and poking fun, telling me we were going to choke and lose this game. I didn’t believe them. How could Tennessee lose to a 2-10 SoConn team that hasn’t even been an FBS team for 3 years? I was jarred from my denial as Tennessee slowly jabbed steak knives in my legs, awakening me to the harsh reality of our situation.

Ordinarily in one of these posts, I’d evaluate the pros and cons, who looked good and who looked bad, and try to give some perspective. I can’t do that today. This is probably the worst loss on paper in the modern history of our football program. Again we find ourselves humiliated on the national stage. Any constructive commentary would fall on deaf ears in Knoxville.

Midway through the third quarter, still expecting a win, I jotted down a rhetorical question to include in this post. Did we get worse this offseason? My intention was to use this rhetorical device to soothe concern, because ninety minutes ago it was really beyond contemplation that a team that returned nearly all of its starters, added talent, and upgraded its coaching staff could take a step back. After all, this is virtually the same team beat Auburn and Kentucky last season. Now I’m not so sure. Not rhetorically but literally, did we somehow get worse?

We lost all three starters on the defensive line. While no position group was impressive, our d-line looked absolutely third rate. It could not generate any semblance of a pass rush, and gave up runs and 5-6 yards a clip all afternoon. With that kind of play, we have now proven we can’t beat anybody.

Vol fans shouldn’t overreact. We won’t lose every game this year. We will probably still win one or two we shouldn’t, but this team has capital I issues.

Georgia State wanted it more. We were out coached and outplayed all day. That still is no excuse. A terrible football team walked into Neyland Stadium on opening day and railroaded the Tennessee Volunteers. This is worse that Wyoming in ’08. This team still had everything to play for and it laid down for ITT Tech.

Usually when a collapse like this happens at Tennessee, it’s at the end of a coaches tenure. It resembled games like Fulmer v. Wyoming, Butch Jones and the UGA home shut out, or Dooley and … well take your pick. This devastating humiliation came at the beginning of year two. How will Pruitt respond? Certainly some are already calling for his head. This offseason felt like a new beginning for him, this season a clean slate with millions invested in new coordinators. It could not have started on a worse note.

This loss is not a fatal one. The Vols could rebound and have a decent season. But the question remains, will they, or is this already the beginning of the end again?

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