Tennessee football: Vols continue to disappoint in the most surprising ways
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt had a built-in excuse throughout much of the 2018 season when the Vols repeatedly came up short. Pruitt, in his first year as a head coach, was playing teams with more talent in his most crucial games.
But in two embarrassing losses to start this 2019 season, that has not been the case. Not even close.
Tennessee was far more talented than Georgia State in its season opener, but the 25-point favorites still lost 38-30. Tennessee was also more talented than BYU on Saturday, but that didn’t seem to matter, either, with the Cougars winning 29-26. The Vols are still 0-2, losing consecutive home games as a favorite.
Both losses came down to coaching in unique ways. Against Georgia State, the Vols were misaligned defensively much of the day and not ready to play. That’s totally on coaching. Against BYU, the Vols couldn’t hold onto the game they controlled late into the fourth quarter. That’s still on the coaches.
When it was most important to keep the ball out of BYU’s hands, the Vols decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. The play-call was an end around. Seriously?
No, the Vols aren’t a dominant run team but they looked like it at times against BYU. Tennessee’s coaches deserve credit for leaning on the stretch running play throughout the game. That play negated the advantage that BYU had against the Vols up front defensively. Instead of leaning on that play once again, the Vols called the end around.
It was such a bad play call that one has to wonder if UT’s coaches knew the down and distance. At the 30-yard line, the Vols were in field goal range. Trying a 47-yard field goal would have been a better option. Running the football off tackle would have been a better option. A quick pass would have been a better option. Even punting would have been a better option. All were better options than an end around.
The Vols had spent the entire game setting up the end around with stretch running plays. However, UT’s coaches failed to notice one important aspect of their “gotcha” play. BYU’s defenders stayed at home on the back end of those stretch plays — every time. The Cougars did so once again during the Vols’ surprise play call of the game. UT didn’t convert and let BYU back in the game. All momentum was lost. The game really didn’t need overtime. It should have been called right there.
It’s easy to say this is all revision journalism at its peak, but it’s really not. Anyone with any football knowledge had to be aghast as they saw the play unfold. The result wasn’t the issue. It was a horrible play call, whether or not the Vols had picked up the first down. The play was a cry for help.
UT’s offense has some key pieces in place. The Vols have a set of talented skill position players at running back and receiver. Quarterback? That’s another issue. Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t improved like he should have. That’s not all his fault. He’s had three offensive coordinators in the past three years.
Guarantano was 17-of-28 passing for 176 yards for two touchdowns and an interception against BYU. That doesn’t sound all that bad until you look deeper. Guarantano’s longest pass was a 51-yard completion to Jauan Jennings in the first quarter. Later, Guarantano’s first touchdown pass was deflected and could have been intercepted in the end zone, which would have kept the Vols from ever seizing momentum. Jennings caught the ball after the deflection. Had those two plays ended differently, Guarantano would have completed 15-of-28 passes for 125 yards with two interceptions and just one touchdown. It’s fair to wonder if Guarantano can win close games in clutch situations.
The entire course of events these past couple of weeks feels all too familiar. UT’s previous two coaches had massive changes to their coaching staffs. So did Pruitt after just one year. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was thought to be an upgrade, and perhaps he still is. However, it took him almost half of a season to figure out how to properly utilize former Vol Jonathan Crompton in 2009. If that’s the case with Chaney and Guarantano, then the Vols will be one of the biggest disappointments of the 2019 college football season.
Actually, that’s already happened.
Here’s some sobering news: Tennessee isn’t going to make a bowl game — and it’s not even going to be close. The Vols are actually worse than last year. And, lastly, UT’s coaches and quarterback have unfixable flaws. Other than that, things are going swimmingly in Knoxville. Bring on Chattanooga. What could go wrong?
The Mocs may be the last guaranteed win for UT this season. Even so, Chattanooga will be looking for the upset, but would it be that shocking considering the way the Vols have bumbled through their first two games? If Pruitt loses his team — and he may already have done so — it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Vols sitting at 0-3 heading into their SEC slate.
The Vols seem on their way to a historically bad season. It would be commendable if UT could squeeze out four wins this season. That would be an all-time low.
And is four even possible right now? It sure doesn’t look like it.