- And after the seventh game against a Top 20 opponent, they rested. Man, that sequence was awful. Can we say that? The best part about going 1-6 against teams in the top 20 at the time we played them (including then-healthy Florida and Georgia squads, independent of the low-velocity dumpster fire that is the Florida football team, because nothing Florida does is high-velocity) is that there were seven chances on scoring that Year One upset. It did nothing to make bowl eligibility likely, which - again - makes sense when 7 of the 10 games they've played so far were against teams in the Top 20. (There's a chance three teams Tennessee played - Alabama, Oregon, and maybe Missouri or Auburn - make BCS bowls. There is no rest in the football factory. You get no shifts off and will like it.) Let's not lose sight of it: this schedule sucked. Blame Missouri and Auburn for being way better than we expected if you'd like, but - splitting out South Alabama - Tennessee went seven games played against teams with a combined five losses at the time we played them. Tennessee is 4-6 on the season.
- When you're fatigued, you're more likely to make mistakes. Over the last few years, I've started to think about energy in three forms - physical, mental, and emotional. Physical exhaustion is not being able to do something you'd want to do because you don't have the raw strength or power; y'all probably know what this is like when it hits. Mental exhaustion is making mistakes a more-rested person would call stupid or - for me, at least - getting caught in thought processes that are completely not helpful. Emotional exhaustion is when you can't summon the power to care any more and simply want away from the Bad Thing Causing You Problems. (The Dooley regime, for the record, was the master of emotional exhaustion.) This game was what happens when all three show up at the same time and decide to have a party.
- Before we go down that path, a set of words on Josh Dobbs, who looked ...well, still like a true freshman. His touch is freshman-esque and I caught at least a couple of passes where he gave up on the easy route for a much harder completion and a much smaller window. There are flashes - he has legitimate arm strength and threaded a pass to (I think) Jonathan Johnson on 2nd down that was in an absurdly tight window. An offseason studying tape and the playbook will do him wonders. The tools appear to be there, but time to sort them out will help Dobbs more than anything at this point. (The same pretty much applies to the WRs, although I don't want to know what Josh Smith's target rate looks like on the season, but he was 0/2 today. Pig Howard got hit with a 4/7 completion/target ratio, which ain't great. Both should improve.)
- Auburn is really, really good at what they do. They opened the game with four pass attempts in a row (and 5 of 6), and then passed four more times the rest of the game. They had no need; they averaged 8.4 yards per carry. Why bother? Credit Cameron Sutton and the secondary for nailing their pass coverage keys; Auburn would've passed it more than the eight times they tried if they thought there was a point in it, and if you want to, you can penalize the run defense. They probably deserve it. They were wiped out coming in and then road-graded to a fine pulp.
- Gus Malzahn's offensive game involves creating the simplest possible plan for his team while making the hardest possible plan for his opponents. It works, by the way; check the box score when you have the heart for it. Of course Nick Marshall and Tre Mason went off; for one, they've done that against everyone. For another, reading mental keys and responding physically at the end of this run was always going to be hard for the Vols. Tennessee didn't walk into Neyland at full physical and mental peak, and facing Malzahn's offense was always going to be terrible. The best offenses and defenses are as much psychological warfare as they are schematically brilliant.
- Tennessee's kick and punt coverage units were gutted. Contain your shock. Going into Saturday, Auburn had a top-5 kickoff return unit and a top-25 punt return unit. Both of those are getting a boost after Saturday. Tennessee's coverage units were outside the top 95 as of Friday. That ...yeah, that's not getting any better. Auburn does a great job of setting up blocking schemes, and the Vols were too tired (physically, mentally, possibly emotionally) to work through them. Credit Auburn for that; on some level, watching them set up a crease was pretty. On another, it was TRE MASON IS RUNNING RIGHT THERE THREE FEET AWAY AND WHY CAN'T YOU WORK THROUGH THAT BLOCK oh yeah right you're out on your feet okay.
- I'm not too upset with the TDs, oddly enough. The punt return TD was a weird play that happens every year to someone where there's a punt muffed only badly enough to get the entire punt coverage unit 2-3 steps upfield, which in turns opens a crease a skilled PR can get to. In most cases, coverage units can make up the gap, but, well, Tennessee isn't as fast as we'd like and it was going to be tough breaking the convoy Auburn was able to set up. (Credit Michael Palardy for trying; who knew he was going to go full Colquitt on us?) That sucked, to use a technical term, but a less exhausted team recognizes what's happened. (On the KR: I have no clue why a block in the back wasn't called, but the team was mentally shot by that point anyway; it was annoying, but didn't really tell us anything we didn't already know.)
- Mental exhaustion, by the way, loos like false start penalties at home and missed edges on defense. (There is no excuse for a false start at home on the first third down of the game. Cut that out.) Tennessee did a solid job of getting inside the Auburn 25 and then utterly stalling, either from drops or getting stuck in passing downs, which - stop me if you've heard this before - they need to avoid. Those problems are purely mental and are solved by rest and mental recovery. Tennessee had three false start penalties and, as far as I'm concerned, was fine otherwise, which - honestly? - ain't bad after last week.
- And yes, I know there was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jacques Smith after his pick-six. Smith is 6'2", 243, and a defensive end. He can celebrate as much as he wants to if he's picking off passes. Penalties on fat guy TDs for excessive celebration are a mark against the system unless he invites the student body on to the field to perform a choreographed routine complete with ballet positions and lifts.
- Let's not dwell on the missed edges defending the run; that's a known defect. Fire Dooley. Let's not dwell on Malzahn slicing into the nice meaty underbelly of the Tennessee defense with edge run after edge run, because that's exactly what anyone else would do when they were trying to win the game. That's a known benefit for Auburn. We won't see an offense like this until next year; minimize the damage the rest of the year and fix it in the offseason.
- Anyway, this all ends up in the wanting-the-game-to-end body language we haven't seen since last year. I'm not as concerned about this than others, since, well, last year we'd have seen it seven times by now, including right after South Carolina's first score of the second half. (There's also a chance Dooley blows the South Alabama game, but I digress.) Does it suck to see that? Yeah. Does it completely make sense in this context? Sure. Would I expect Butch Jones to respond to this and help control it? Yup. I think, in truth, he has, and the last two weeks have been waiting on the tide to subside. It's frustrating to watch, but, well, I get it.
- The worst is over, though. This team - more than film, more than practice - needs a chance to reset. Although it's strange to do things like talk about bye weeks in November, I'm glad it's here. There are two games left in the season, three if the first two go well. Two weeks before the first game is plenty of time to recover physically, mentally, and emotionally. Tennessee isn't equipped to go into games at half-speed or less than full capacity. In two weeks, they won't have to.
Auburn, Tennessee, And Exhaustion: A Study In What Goes Wrong
Well, that sucked. At least that's the end of it.