KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee has lost exactly one game this season it was supposed to win, but the social media feeds are ablaze with criticism.
The new College Football Playoff format is one reason why, with fans of teams like the Vols taking a playoff-or-bust mentality.
Tennessee can still win the SEC East Division, provided it wins out over Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt and Florida loses two of three at Arkansas, vs. South Carolina and at LSU.
But right now, it’s looking like a long shot, and some of the more extreme fans have run out of patience for Coach Butch Jones even as the program has enjoyed more success each of his four seasons.
Monday’s news that Jalen Hurd is leaving the program seemed to incite more criticism, even though Hurd has struggled this season and other backs have had more success.
Here are 5 questions answered about Tennessee football moving forward without Jalen Hurd:
1. How will the offense change?
It won’t. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said Monday that Tennessee will go about business as usual, hoping to refine the execution with John Kelly the featured back until Alvin Kamara returns from his knee injury.
2. Does Hurd leaving hurt the team?
Yes and no. It’s not a good look to lose the team’s leading rusher, and a home-state 5-star prospect, at that. Hurd, however, has had a disappointing junior campaign and been injured at times. The damage is more cosmetic than anything at this point. It will be interesting to hear what Hurd has to say about leaving, if anything.
3. Can John Kelly fill Hurd’s shoes?
Kelly has yet to show he has the durability Hurd displayed the first two seasons of his career, but he has proven himself a physical runner. Like Hurd, Kelly can catch passes and provide adequate pass protection. Kelly appears to have more quickness than Hurd showed his year and could be a better fit for the shotgun formation Tennessee utilizes.
4. Does Hurd’s departure signal chemistry issues?
Not necessarily. But Tennessee, by the very nature that its an ascending program with attrition, will have its challenges keeping everyone happy. Many of the Vols players chose UT because of the opportunity for immediate playing time. There are only so many starting positions to go around.
5. What’s in Hurd’s future?
Hard to tell, the timing of his departure is awkward and curious. If Hurd is healthy he might be better served preparing for the NFL draft than transferring to another FBS school and sitting out a year before playing another season. Hurd has the size and skills to play at the next level, but there is some question as to what position he would be best at.