As has been the case for the rest of the decade so far, heartbreak continues to be a Tennessee way of life. Vols fans could be forgiven for having flashbacks to the last time they checkered Neyland. The old problems from 2014 all came back. The offensive line couldn't stop the Sooners blitz, and the Tennessee quarterback strugged to handle the pressure. The Vols got scoring opportunities, but they didn't cash in on them. On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma was bottled up all game, but when they needed a big drive to put themselves back in the game--after doing nothing on offense all game--they got it, with help from untimely missed tackles and holding penalties from the Tennessee defense. And then when they needed another big drive to send the game to overtime, yet more missed tackles and defensive penalties put them in range, and Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard made the plays they needed to make. A 17-3 Vols lead with under ten minutes to play was gone. Like in so many big home games this decade, Tennessee was playing scared.
The Tennessee offense showed hints of life in the overtime period, opening the first overtime with a touchdown. But a defense that had looked so strong for three quarters couldn't stop the Sooners from scoring a touchdown on their third consecutive drive. And a fourth. A missed tackle. A defensive back falling down in coverage. And then an interception by Josh Dobbs finished it.
31-24 Oklahoma is your final. 17-0 is the biggest lead Tennessee has blown at home in school history. Butch Jones continues to recruit lights out, but for the third year in a row, when the Vols had a big game at home, they choked hard. Vanderbilt in 2013. Florida in 2014. And Oklahoma in 2015. Three 50/50 matchups in Neyland. Three fourth quarter leads. Three losses.
The Vols didn't need to win this for Jones' tenure to be successful. They still have a chance to exorcise demons in Gainesville in two weeks, and Arkansas and Georgia will come to Neyland in October. But right now, the offense is not there. The killer instinct is not there. The mental toughness is not there. The monkey is still on Tennessee's back. The promised breakthrough is still nothing more than a promise.