KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s loss to Florida, and the unprecedented social media fallout that ensued, meant an extended hangover in the Vol Nation.
Is everyone over it yet? Ready to take a breath and move on?
I didn’t think so, so here are seven more parting thoughts from the Vols’ excruciating 26-20 loss at The Swamp last Saturday:
Tennessee’s ability to come back from down 10 points
• The Vols rally in the fourth quarter should not be overlooked or forgotten. The players’ efforts were impressive, and the coaches adjustments were worthy. Coach Butch Jones’ teams have developed a reputation for playing until the final whistle and showing resilience, hence the come-from-behind wins last season and at Georgia Tech. The three missed field-goal attempts and red zone execution at Florida were abysmal, however, even if it was a result of several inexperienced players not handling their first road test.
Injuries key factor in Tennessee’s losses past two seasons
• There have been plenty of reasons for the Vols’ losses the second half of last season and again Saturday at The Swamp, but the biggest one is injuries. It’s not an excuse when a team leads the nation in missed starts one year, then loses its go-to receiver and best player on defense the next. Those aren’t excuses, just reality.
John Currie seems to enjoy being in the spotlight
• Currie, Tennessee’s athletic director, not only started the clock on his head coach by commenting about Jones’ job security, but also himself. Currie should know better than to think he’s going to convince anyone Jones’ job is not in jeopardy. Truth is, more SEC coaches are on year-to-year evaluation/security watches than not. When an AD makes a football coaching change, that AD’s job security is immediately tied to the success of his hire.
Tennessee football program is healthy on most all fronts
• The Vols, regardless of the record this transition season, have a healthy program, as Currie has stated. The insides of the program are healthy, from the standpoint of the quality of players being recruited, the classroom performance, the compliance and the current coaching staff. The team appears close to getting over the hump, even with new quarterbacks, receivers and running backs, and a second-string linebacking corps.
New coaches and players must prove their worth
• Tennessee’s coaching and player development need to overcome the loss of six players who were projected to start in August: wide receiver Jauan Jennings, offensive tackle Chance Hall, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., strongside linebacker Austin Smith, weakside linebacker Cortez McDowell and strong safety Todd Kelly Jr. The Vols were picked to finish in third place in the SEC East Division with an over/under of 7.5 wins before those injuries occurred.
OC Larry Scott must quickly figure out how to utilize all weapons
• Tailback John Kelly will carry Tennessee’s offense as much as humanly possible, but offensive coordinator Larry Scott must also keep explosive Ty Chandler on the field in some capacity while also developing young perimeter targets Brandon Johnson, Josh Palmer and Tyler Byrd. Sophomore Marquez Callaway is already, without question, the No. 1 receiver moving forward. Quarterback Quinten Dormady’s arm and decision-making will need to prove worth the mobility the Vols are sacrificing by keeping talented but raw redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano on the bench.
DC Bob Shoop might have to simplify, postpone ‘Magic Show’
• Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop might have to simplify his defense a second consecutive year if senior middle linebacker Colton Jumper doesn’t prove athletic enough to stay on the field. Sophomores Daniel Bituli and Quart’e Sapp are playmakers, but they might not be ready to handle the sort of quarterbacking on defense that Shoop’s defenses require when they are at their best (Magic Show). Safety Nigel Warrior is a rising star, but he’ll need to rely on fellow safety Micah Abernathy to step up his game significantly. The Vols defensive line needs to be more than just adequate moving forward.