I said in the middle of last week that no outcome in today's game would be the first or last word on Butch Jones. But what we will have now, with no escaping it, is the current word on Butch Jones. Whatever confidence we had in his ability to close and/or win games like this went into the shredder in the last ten minutes of this game. He's a long way from coaching anywhere other than Knoxville right now, and rightfully so. But he's a long way from earning that confidence back, and rightfully so.
There is an avalanche of horrendous in this. After the Vols showed the maturity and grit and moxie and all the words we want to use about this team to convert third down after third down, including the potential dagger when Jalen Hurd ran in on 3rd and goal at the 9, the Vols looked like they had Florida dead to rights. The Gators' 14 points had come on one long run and one short field. The defense should be able to lock it up.
But just in case, the Vols had the opportunity to go for two. To make sure two improbable Florida touchdowns didn't beat them, but merely tied them. To not leave any opportunity for Florida to win. To stay in the head cutting off business.
But Jones, as anyone who has ever watched football or held a video game controller will tell you, made the wrong choice.
Even less probable than Florida going down the field for two scores was Florida going down the field for three. That's what beats you if you go for two and don't get it: a touchdown and two field goals. There was a next-to-zero percent chance the Gators were getting three shots in the final ten minutes. And either way: play to win. Go for two.
We didn't. Florida did go down the field, with our defense making them earn it on a number of fourth downs. They did score. The Vols still led 27-21. Tennessee couldn't move the chains, including an incredibly conservative third down call. Still, the defense had the chance to win. It forced Florida into 4th and 14.
And then it gave up a 63 yard touchdown.
That play could and should earn all kinds of breakdown on its own. But the avalanche is all-consuming, and it will all land at the feet of Butch Jones.
Still, the Vols got down the field. The Vols had two timeouts left. Three wins it.
And instead, Tennessee burned two timeouts to prevent two ten second runoffs for penalties.
The first, okay, maybe. The Vols, penalty free all day to that point, were victimized by a false start from Kyler Kerbyson. A false start hurt them in overtime two weeks ago. So, maybe you do take a timeout there to save ten seconds. Okay. Maybe.
But what happened next showed how the moment was too big for a young team, and too big for its coaching staff. When the referees elected to rule Ethan Wolf down inbounds at the Florida 33 - a 50 yard field goal attempt - there were 12 seconds and one timeout left. You either spike the ball or call timeout. You run one more play to get closer, and then you let Aaron Medley have his shot.
Instead, the Vols got confused at best and overwhelmed at worst. Moments like this are when you need your coaches the most. And in this moment, the clock started ticking and the Vols had no plan. Dobbs went to spike it, but a 12th man ran onto the field, which is a substitution infraction. And instead of getting one play to get closer or settling for 50, the Vols went backwards and had to burn their last timeout, leaving Aaron Medley with 55 yards.
So right now, Butch Jones is getting ready to stand in front of a microphone and a world of questions. Here's my advice, whatever it's worth: apologize and own it. Tennessee and Butch Jones have a lot of football left together. This is the very best way forward from the very worst loss two weeks after the very worst loss at the end of eight years of very worst losses.
We have a trend here now, of that there is no doubt. Blown leads, a failure to go for the throat, and end of game moments getting too big for the coaches and the players. That's what it is. We'll have a lot of football left to see if he can change it, but it's going to be uncomfortable until then. That's what it means to be the coach at Tennessee and lose a game like this. That's what it means to be the caretaker when you don't take care. He needs to own it.
Congrats to Florida.