You can have the South Carolina game in 2013. Ask me for Butch Jones’ first signature win at Tennessee, I’ll take the UGA game on Saturday.
Sure, the No. 11 Gamecocks were higher ranked at the time than UGA, who was No. 19 before the Vols beat them 38-31. However, numbers don’t mean everything.
Tennessee could have lost to South Carolina in 2013 and no one would have called for Butch Jones’ job the following week. That was already happening before the Vols broke a five-game losing streak to UGA with a 21-point comeback.
Some even wondered aloud if a reported physical confrontation with a player might get Tennessee’s brass out of a buyout. The altruistic attitude surely had little to do with a 2-3 record and three heartbreaking losses. It’s all about the kids. Yeah right.
Jones could slap quarterback Joshua Dobbs while standing on the 50-yard line if the Vols were undefeated. Fans would cheer their coach’s toughness. Athletic director Dave Hart would take a right hook for a national championship.
The chatter last week was brutal. Sure, there was what was reported but there was more. There was pervasive talk that Jones had lost his team, that even they had grown tired of his hearing about bricks and enjoying the process, which basically means losing until you get better.
The team that took the field on Saturday didn’t look like a team that had given up on its coach. Had Tennessee’s players given up on Jones, that 21-point lead would have doubled, not evaporated.
Tennessee’s players showed their coaches something on Saturday. Despite all the heartache they’ve endured, Tennessee’s players believe in Jones and his coaching staff. More importantly, Jones and his staff proved they believed in their players. The three-touchdown deficit made it a necessity but it happened nonetheless.
Tennessee’s receivers were finally a part of the game plan. The middle of the field was fertile ground for the passing game. Fourth down became just another down. Tennessee’s secondary was put on an island so the Vols could be sure to stop UGA’s running game. And as for the two freshmen offensive linemen that had to play after injuries forced them in the lineup, nothing changed offensively. Be ready.
However, Tennessee’s coaches showed most of its faith in quarterback Josh Dobbs. Throw. Run. Throw on the run. Just make plays and make this team your own.
What Dobbs did on Saturday was historic. He’s the only player in Tennessee history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards – and he’s done it twice. Only two other SEC players have done so in the past 20 years. Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel did it four times. Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow did it once.
Dobbs wasn’t perfect. He’s never going to have Manning-like accuracy but he’s obviously a great runner. On Saturday, he showed a tenacity that hadn’t been there before.
Sorry for a dose of reality in the afterglow of the UGA win, but here it goes. Tennessee isn’t going to the College Football Playoff. They’re probably not going to the SEC Championship Game. They’ll probably lose a couple of more games. Alabama could be a double-digit favorite.
However, Saturday’s UGA game could lead to many more victories. That’s the kind of win that bonds a team. That gives players and coaches faith in each other. Jones has made a respectable career in an underdog role. He’s coached at programs with less talent. Being conservative was the best way to stay alive. Tennessee is not – or at least should not – be that type of program. Traditionally, they can match talent with most any team in the nation. Jones’ recruiting should have the Vols close to that point again.
After watching Tennessee beat UGA on Saturday, it’s not hard to imagine the Vols being 6-0 and the darling of the college football world. Sure, the record is the record but had Tennessee’s coaches been more aggressive in the Vols’ three losses this season, it’s much more than feasible.
Tennessee’s players showed they believed in their coaches on Saturday. Because of the slow start, Tennessee’s coaches had no choice but to believe in their players. Moving forward, that should be the mantra, no matter the score.