Well, that escalated quickly. Tennessee looked bad, there's no getting around it. But Tennessee was playing against a team that is genuinely elite, so it's also not necessarily time to tear down everything that didn't work Saturday. So what is a function of the opponent, and what is genuinely bad? This is where we try to find out.
- Appropriate responses. "This is unacceptable, playing football like this at the University of Tennessee." Butch Jones could've talked about the quality of opponent and the quality of his team and how this result was expected. Which it was. But he didn't. He said that the performance was unacceptable and that the team has to get better. Which it does. Not getting blown out by 40+ points doesn't seem like too lofty a goal, but it's easy to take a defeatist attitude when you have a shallow team facing a string of top twenty teams. Jones is not doing that. And if the team goes to Gainesville next week believing--for the first time since probably 2005--that they can win, this will be a big reason why.
- Ability to beat the next team on the schedule. Will Tennessee beat Florida? Probably not. It would certainly be an upset. But it's possible. Beating Oregon was probably not going to happen if that game was played 100 times. Tennessee won't face another game that difficult until the last week of October.
- Starting fast. Sure, there was an early fumble by Rajion Neal, but after three possessions by each team, Tennessee led 7-3. The Vols even forced Oregon into an early three-and-out. Better than the first drive against Western Kentucky, that's for sure.
- Garbage time running backs. Tom Smith and Alden Hill did nothing in the second half against Austin Peay. They actually ran pretty well against Oregon's eighth string. Does that mean anything? Probably not. But it's an improvement nonetheless.
- The power game. Either Tennessee doesn't have a power game, or the coaches aren't aware of it. The offensive line has admittedly spent most of their time in the last three years pass-blocking, so maybe they're not elite in the run game. But the only chance to move the ball on perhaps the fastest defense the Vols will face all year was the power game. And the coaches gave up on it far too early. We talked briefly last week about passing premiums and how your passing game needs to be averaging a good bit more than your running game in order to justify using it as much as you are. Tennessee averaged 4.8 yards per pass and 4.7 yards per run. That's too much passing. And it's extremely ineffective passing being chosen in favor of semi-effective running. If this is the offensive plan, the offense is not going to score points against any quality defense. And for all Butch Jones' talk a couple weeks ago about running north and south, Tennessee sure called a lot of wide runs against a defense well-equipped to deal with them. (They weren't very effective. Surprise, surprise). This is the first time under Jones that the gameplan just looked flawed, so we'll see how the coaches adjust going forward.
- Aggressive coaching. We haven't really seen enough to peg Jones' coaching style, but he was very conservative Saturday, consistently electing to give Oregon a long field even after it was proven that Oregon scored just as quickly with a long field as they did with a short one. In the first half, the Vols punted five times. Four times were on fourth and between one and five yards. The other one was a 4th and 10 in Ducks territory. In all five cases, Tennessee's punt landed inside the Oregon 25. In all five cases, Oregon was in the end zone in less than two minutes. I understand trying to play field position and rely on your defense, but after a while, it was obvious to everyone that it wasn't working. Eventually taking risks with the offense becomes a better choice than hanging the defense out to dry, and Saturday's coaching was risk-averse. We have seen something like this before (Lane Kiffin's 2009 coaching job against Florida is an even more obvious example) and it doesn't necessarily indicate a bad coach, but it probably didn't help the Vols' chances.
- Justin Worley. Worley was trending down last week, and he's trending down more now. He may still be the best option simply because he doesn't take sacks or throw interceptions, but he needs to be deadly accurate on the short passes in order to be even moderately effective, and he simply wasn't on Saturday. When a receiver was covered, he threw into the dirt. When the receiver was open, he missed him entirely. Worley did throw a great pass on the touchdown to Jason Croom, but his day as a whole was a bad one. A bad one that saw him average just five yards per attempt despite a long of 51.
- Effort. This is a good thing. Consistent energy has been a hallmark of the nascent Butch Jones era, and it continued this Saturday. Even when the Vols were down 59-7, they were battling. The blowout loss was not a sign of the team quitting, it was a sign of the team not being very good.
- Speed on the outside of the defense. This is not a good thing. Tennessee doesn't have any of it and didn't have any last year either. If an Oregon player got a step on the corner, an Oregon player was in the end zone. And it didn't help that Tennessee's defensive backs had a nasty habit of biting on Marcus Mariota's run fakes. The defensive coaches probably did their best to mitigate the problems, but Oregon is uniquely equipped to exploit them. And anybody else with speed will be able to exploit them (although with not quite the same deadly effectiveness), because this is a problem that doesn't go away without recruiting.