First it was struggling against a decent Appalachian State team in the first game of the season. Then it was allowing Virginia Tech to jump to a 14-0 lead. Soon after, Tennessee went on a 45-10 run to put the Hokies away, and everyone thought the Volunteers were back.
But after another disappointing performance, this time in a 28-19 win over Ohio in Knoxville, it’s hard not to wonder — is Tennessee any good?
The Volunteers were 27.5-point favorites against the Bobcats, but were up just 21-19 heading into the fourth quarter. This is the same Ohio team that lost to Texas State two weeks ago and allowed 56 points (38 in regulation) in a triple-overtime affair. Tennessee — supposedly the No. 15 team in the nation — could muster just 28.
This was supposed to be Butch Jones’ best team, one with 17 returning starters. Pundits (including this one) picked Tennessee as the favorite to win the SEC East, while others called the Vols a dark horse for the College Football Playoff.
Through three games, that team has not emerged.
The issues start in the trenches. Tennessee’s offensive line, which returned four starters, failed to get any consistent push against a weak Bobcats front. Tennessee allowed 8 tackles for loss and 3 sacks against Josh Dobbs, an exceptionally shifty quarterback. Ohio also forced 5 fumbles — if any of those were recovered by the Bobcats, this game could have gone very differently.
Issues have plagued a talented front defensive seven, too. The Volunteers mustered just 4 tackles for loss and went without a sack. Because of that, Emmanuel Moseley and Rashaan Gaulden — a pair of defensive backs — were the leading tacklers.
There are some excuses to be sure. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton went out with injuries — those are two of the three best defenders on the field. However, the issues are coming on offense.
Even after posting 404 yards against the Bobcats, Tennessee still averages just 351 per game. That’s well below the Volunteers’ 422.3 yards per game average last season. Playing in the talented SEC against top defenses would be an excuse, but the Volunteers struggled to score against a Sun Belt Team, a MAC team and a low-end ACC team.
Jones has brought more talent to Tennessee than we’ve seen in years, but he’s not impressing with his leadership and coaching ability. As Tennessee continues to struggle, his seat could start to get warm.
To be fair, it isn’t all bad. The win over Ohio meant the Volunteers are 3-0 for the first time since 2004. Their nine-game winning streak is the longest since 1999 — and included a national championship in the middle.
Even though the performance has been wholly unimpressive, Tennessee will take a poor performance in a win every time. But with Florida on the schedule next week, performances like this are unacceptable and unsustainable.