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Butch Jones, Close Games, and The Fourth Quarter Comeback

Finding encouragement from Central Michigan and Cincinnati...


So the main reason it's been more quiet than usual around these parts is all of us are hard at work on the Rocky Top Tennessee 2013 preseason magazine. One of the stories I'm contributing this year is a narrative history of Butch Jones' tenure at Central Michigan and Cincinnati: what's the how and the why behind his 50-27 overall record?

In doing research and studying every game he coached over the last six years, two trends became evident: his teams played a lot of close games, and they loved a good fourth quarter comeback. Which is good, because those two things have been in short supply in Knoxville.

Butch Jones is 16-11 (.592) in one possession games as a head coach. For reference, Phillip Fulmer was 49-23-1 (.671) in one possession games. But Fulmer remains the loftiest of goals - the better comparison is to see what the Vols have done in one possession games since 2008: 5-13 (.277). And the five wins? Northern Illinois in 2008, Kentucky in overtime in 2009, UAB in overtime in 2010, Vanderbilt in overtime in 2011, and Troy in 2012. Not exactly a confidence booster.

And how many of those losses could've made a difference for Derek Dooley? They include both extra time heartbreakers from 2010, the Georgia loss and the backbreaker at Kentucky from 2011, and the final drive nightmares against Georgia, South Carolina, and Missouri from 2012. This doesn't even count the winnable games against South Carolina in 2010 and 2011, or the Florida and Mississippi State games from 2012. Any one of those wins could've made a huge difference in the way things went down and the direction of the program.

However, most of us seem just fine with the direction of the program at the moment with Butch Jones. Still, it's encouraging to have a guy who has gotten it done with the game on the line more often than not at both of his previous stops.

And of those 16 one possession wins, 10 happened because a Butch Jones team came from behind in the fourth quarter:

  • 2007 at Western Michigan: down 31-27 with 1:34 to play, won 34-31
  • 2007 at Akron: down 32-20 with 8:08 to play, won 35-32
  • 2008 vs Buffalo: down 18-17 with 14:26 to play, won 27-25
  • 2008 at Toledo: down 23-17 at start of 4th, won 24-23
  • 2008 at Indiana: down 34-28 at start of 4th, won 37-34
  • 2009 at Michigan State: down 27-20 with 7:33 to play, won 29-27
  • 2009 vs Troy: down 31-19 with 8:01 to play, won 44-41 in 2OT
  • 2011 at South Florida: down 34-30 with 1:27 to play, won 37-34
  • 2011 vs Vanderbilt: down 21-17 with 14:03 to play, won 31-24
  • 2012 vs Virginia Tech: down 24-20 with 1:49 to play, won 27-24
  • 2012 vs Duke: down 31-27 with 12:45 to play, won 48-34
(EDIT: As I should've pointed out, the Duke win in the bowl game came with Jones already at UT, but it's still his team so to speak. It also isn't technically a one possession win thanks to a pick six in the final seconds, but you get the idea.)

Here's the best part of that list: only one of those comebacks came at home.

The wins over Troy, Vanderbilt, and Duke came in bowl games, and the Virginia Tech win came at a neutral site. Butch's teams - especially at Central Michigan - were masters of pulling out huge fourth quarter wins in the opponent's building. A big chunk of that credit goes to Dan LeFevour, to be sure...but do you know how many fourth quarter comebacks the Vols have in the same span?

Tennessee came from 15 down in the fourth quarter to beat Vanderbilt in 2007. After that? The Vols came from behind and beat Vanderbilt in overtime in 2011, and came from behind to beat Troy in 2012. That's it.

For a team with no proven winners wearing orange jerseys, it's very encouraging to me that the guys wearing headsets on the sideline have been there and done that, numerous times and often away from home. Confidence and experience are a Catch 22, but if Butch Jones and company can instill the confidence they've already earned into these Vols on Fall Saturdays, Tennessee can turn an important mental hurdle early. This team may not have the talent to compete for championships, but it can play close games. Derek Dooley not only failed to inspire confidence on the sideline, but probably openly took it from his players with some of his comments and his general attitude. This is where Butch Jones is already making his mark on the current roster; confidence and optimism can go a long, long way.

We'll need all the help we can get this fall. But the sooner these Vols learn that they don't always have to lose close games and can make the plays to win in the fourth quarter, the better it will be for 2013 and the future. And their coaching staff has been there before and come out on top more often than not. For whatever percentage of this game is played in the minds and hearts of the young men on the field, Butch Jones appears to be an excellent choice for getting the Vols to believe in themselves when the game is on the line, because both of his former teams built an identity around finishing strong.