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Thirteen Thoughts on Tennessee-Oklahoma

I'll be over here throwing out all the bathwater and babies I can find.

For once, some killer photos in the editor.
For once, some killer photos in the editor.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

1. So that sucked. We can agree on that much, right? Turning a 17-0 lead into a 31-24 loss isn't any fun. The good news: it's Week 2 and we don't know how good either Oklahoma or Tennessee actually is. The rankings tell us it was a matchup of top 25 teams, but those rankings aren't really educated guesses when the only data points you have are Oklahoma beating Akron and Tennessee nearly doubling up Bowling Green. (Bowling Green beat Maryland by 21, if you missed it.) Early season rankings are basically power rankings plus name recognition; if Oklahoma ends up in the top 10 after the regular season and Tennessee finishes 8-4, do you feel any better about this game? Don't answer yet.

2. It's also weird to pretty much nail the final score, by the way. Yesterday wasn't how I expected to get there—I was thinking something closer to a 2014 South Carolina where the comeback isn't completed, not 2014 Florida. This was the painful way to get to the final margin, and there was a lot of appropriate devastation in the postgame quotes. It needs to get better, and I'm not sure how right now. This isn't a mark against Butch Jones and company yet as much as it is a reflection I'm not a coach.

3. There's a general David-Goliath game plan question to start with. Jones definitely likes his Goliath game plans, which on the whole is fine—recruiting matters less if you're putting together David game plans since by definition that's high-variance—but he's also instilling a Goliath mindset. That's a trickier thing to do since a Goliath mindset in part looks like "we're good enough to win, we deserve to win, let's show everyone what it's like when we win". Derek Barnett had a great line in postgame about how the team didn't deserve to win. That's what a Goliath mindset is supposed to cultivate. Big, excellent programs have this mindset.

4. How can instilling a Goliath mindset go wrong? Each team is different, but in general I'd be surprised if freshman come in with a Goliath mindset on day 1 (talk is not the same as what's actually in their heads) and teams need to be able to point to "yeah, we beat this team so we can do it again versus this other team". 2014 South Carolina is the only point of evidence this team has in the Goliath mindset camp. Then again, the only way to build that set of evidence is to win those games, and I don't know how you build that up other than just by winning. That's on the coaches to set up the team to execute their Goliath mindset, and it's on the team to deliver Goliath results on the field.

5. Yes, I know it's Week 2 and play-calling should be evolving based on what Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, and co. see on the field (asking teams to do things they're incapable of is the Clawson Way). However: screen passes on third and long by and large don't work—I think Joshua Dobbs put a good three passes into the feet of Jalen Hurd or Alvin Kamara solely on sniffed-out screens. Screen passes are fine as a constraint concept if you want to punish a team for blitzing too much or too many people; Oklahoma wasn't falling into the trap precisely because screen passes on 3rd and long are the most common trap there is. I have no problem with attempting a couple screen passes a game, but Jones seems to have replaced the WR screen/swing passes on 1st and 2rd down (which don't do yards/attempt any justice but at least get a few free yards) with typical RB screen passes on 3rd down, and I don't think that'll be something that gets not figured out. It was a great strategy in the 90s; it's not a great strategy now. Linebackers have blitz-or-cover keys now, and that's how you kill a screen. Hopefully one successful screen out of seven killed this.

6. The other major coaching bone I have to pick: halftime counter-adjustments. The plus side of having a great plan going into the game is all the pressure gets put on the opposing staff to adjust, However, if they adjust, there need to be plans available that aren't "the same stuff, but try harder". That's a great recipe for everyone to get tight, and in front of 102,000+ fans having flashbacks to the better part of the last decade, relying on them for support probably isn't going to go how you'd like it to. This isn't "yeah, switch mindsets"; there are plenty of Goliath plays built in, and the base package sets should have some built-in flexibility available. Maybe trigger on a couple of those. Oklahoma dropped another defender in on zone plays and that was pretty much that.

7. So where do you get those Goliath wins? Maybe you beat Florida at Florida, since a large part of their fanbase is scarred and I'm not sure how I feel about this team being able to win close games at home until Tennessee fans see the team pull out a couple of close wins. Maybe the Georgia game is actually a win instead of an almost-win this time around. Maybe Lane Kiffin calls 65 passes against Cam Sutton because he wants to show he's the Best Coordinator Ever and gets fired at midfield after a 70-13 Tennessee win for the ages. I'm not going to be picky here.

8. Okay, I am. I really want that last one. Especially the firing at midfield. Can we get a loudspeaker for that?

9. I think Oklahoma threw at Sutton once. Pass breakup, of course. Oklahoma really should've gone back to that well a good 15-20 more times, but since they didn't, a lot of questions were asked of Emmanuel Moseley and Malik Foreman. Foreman in particular is going to come in for some questions after falling down on Sterling Shepard's game-winning TD. In general, I'd like both guys to get a little better, but on a night where Baker Mayfield averaged 4.8 yards/attempt, I can't ask that many more questions of the secondary.

10. Same deal for the run defense, since 3.4 yards per attempt is pretty much the definition of "barely good enough" in the abstract. However, Mayfield did a great job evading pressure from a pretty strong defensive front; if you want to see improvement, converting even two of those into sacks might change the outcome of the game. They got a lot of that pressure in the second half without Curt Maggitt in the game, and I feel pretty safe in saying he might've changed the outcome on his own.

11. Things to watch for: will Kamara get meaningful carries in meaningful games (24 for Hurd vs. 4 for Kamara), what happens when a team sells out to stop the short pass (which quite frankly shouldn't happen but if it does, who's going over the top?), can the front seven finish the drill, can Maggitt come back soon, and can the play-calling stuff from above actually get resolved. There's still work to be done; even if last night was a win, those questions would still need answers.

12. Those of you at the game might've missed the ref looking away from the TV camera on the first two penalty calls before someone had to correct him. Doesn't the fourth quarter make a little more sense now?

13. The sky isn't falling, and this isn't 2012 all over again. Everyone looked bad this week, more or less. Toledo won at Arkansas, Auburn escaped against Jacksonville State, Missouri escaped against Arkansas State (which was a road game at least), South Carolina is committed to getting Steve Spurrier to retire in a huff, Georgia did a great job of sleepwalking against a pretty bad Vanderbilt squad, Florida struggled to put away an East Carolina squad that may not be any good, and ....well, basically everyone kind of sucks right now except for Alabama, maybe Ole Miss, maybe LSU, and maybe Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Kentucky's 2-0 in one-possession games. Tennessee struggling out of the gate doesn't mean it's CLUB IN CRISIS time; it just means that it's Week 2. With Western Carolina coming up, there's time to get things straightened out.