As deflating and gut-wrenching as the 31-24 double overtime loss was to Oklahoma, the Tennessee Volunteers are still in good shape to achieve all their goals for the 2015 season. Yes, confidence in Tennessee's ability to compete and win the SEC East was shaken after questionable play-calling and ineptitude on offense against the Sooners, but a glance around the rest of the East should provide some solace for Vol fans.
Let's start with the bad. And boy, is it bad.
Tennessee came out on fire in the first quarter on Saturday. Aside from the most questionable call of the night that resulted in a field goal rather than a touchdown, the Vols rolled over the Sooners for essentially the entire first half. The second half, however, was about as far opposite of the first half as it could've been for the Vols. The offense went conservative, and the defense was on the field far too often and began to wear down. Oklahoma didn't look particularly sharp on offense even late in the game, but Tennessee's defense bailed out the Sooners too often and missed too many tackles, and the Vols allowed what was the largest comeback (or choke) at home in program history.
The loss hurt. In fact, it's probably shaken the faith a lot of fans have in head coach Butch Jones and his staff. Fans showed up and made the second Checker Neyland an even bigger success than the first one. But they were let down once again despite all their passion and emotion.
But Vol fans already know about the bad. They witnessed it firsthand either in Neyland Stadium or through their television screens. What many fans may not have seen was how bad the rest of the SEC East looked on Saturday too.
Vanderbilt actually gave the Georgia Bulldogs issues for a lot of their game on Saturday. Yes, the Bulldogs won 31-14, but they didn't look pretty doing it. And Vanderbilt is easily the worst team in the SEC. Their defense may be serviceable, but the Bulldogs should still have been able to handle the Commodores more easily than they did. Georgia's quarterback situation is an absolute mess, as Grayson Lambert has looked less than solid in two games at the helm for the Bulldogs, and Bryce Ramsey didn't impress either. While Georgia's running back corps may be the best in the SEC, they can't rely solely on their talented backs to win games in this conference.
Missouri, the other perceived front-runner for the SEC East, was lucky to escape with a 27-20 victory over Arkansas State. Through two games, Missouri's quarterback Maty Mauk has completed just 48.3% of his passes and has 3 interceptions. Missouri's running game has been just as bad, as no Tiger running back has scored a rushing touchdown so far this season and have only accumulated 149 yards through two games. Mauk has 73 of the team's 222 total rushing yards. Luckily for Missouri, their defense has looked solid. But the Tigers have only played Southeast Missouri State and Arkansas State through two games, so the defense's performance is hard to gauge right now.
South Carolina probably should've lost to North Carolina to start the season. And they did lose to Kentucky. And now the Gamecocks are likely going to be without starting quarterback Connor Mitch for the season after he separated his shoulder on Saturday, which means they will have to turn to Perry Orth, who played the first significant minutes of his career on Saturday and threw an interception that cost the Gamecocks the game. South Carolina was already expected to be just an average SEC team this year, and the loss to Kentucky on Saturday affirmed those predictions.
Speaking of Kentucky, their first road win in 23 games was a great positive step for the program. But the win wasn't a pretty one, and it was the second straight week the Wildcats built up a sizable lead only to allow the other team to mount a comeback. Yes those two rallies fell just short, but Kentucky can't rely on that all season. And the Wildcats still haven't improved enough to be serious contenders in the East just yet.
That leaves the Florida Gators. The Gators have started two quarterbacks in two games to start the season, which means Florida doesn't actually have a quarterback. Florida dumped 61 points on New Mexico State to start the season, but that was against New Mexico State. The Gators took a big step back against East Carolina, scoring 31 points and struggling to pass the ball at times. Florida's run defense has looked elite so far, but their passing defense looked porous against the Pirates on Saturday. The defense should still be Florida's strength this season, but the offense hasn't proven anything against legitimate competition yet.
The Vols suffered heartbreak on Saturday. Again. And the loss to Oklahoma shook the foundation a bit. But Oklahoma is an non-conference opponent, and almost all of Tennessee's division rivals in the conference are experiencing a down year, which means the Vols are still in the hunt for the SEC East. Questions remain about whether or not this coaching staff can win the games needed to compete for the East crown, but right now the season isn't over.
Tennessee can still win the East. Now they just need to do it.