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Duck and Cover: The Tennessee-Florida Football Experience

Instead of grabbing the game against Florida by the horns, Butch Jones and co. once again decided to hope the clock ran out before their opponents completed a comeback. Now we're staring at an eleven-year losing streak and the second game in four that got away.

This is what happens when you wait and hope.
This is what happens when you wait and hope.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. This Tennessee team is good enough to get a two-touchdown lead on anyone. That much I feel confident in. Now, is this Tennessee team good enough to finish a game with a two-touchdown lead on anyone? They have the talent; what they don’t have is the mindset.

2. They in this case doesn’t refer to Joshua Dobbs, who threw the team on his back; his total passing yardage was still way below what we’d expect (we’ll come back to that), but 136 yards on the ground and a receiving TD isn’t bad. They doesn’t refer to Jalen Hurd, last seen getting asked to plow into the back of the Tennessee offensive line. 28 carries for 102 yards is some work. They doesn’t refer to Aaron Medley, whose last-second field goal attempt would’ve been good if college used the same hash marks as the NFL. They doesn’t refer to Trevor Daniel, Cameron Sutton, LaDarrell McNeil, or pretty much anyone who put on a white and orange helmet with the power T on it yesterday. Y’all did what was asked of you.

3. We need to talk about what was asked of you. Butch Jones, Mike DeBord, and John Jancek did a fantastic job of putting you in a position to lose painfully, and that’s not your fault. Cam, I have no idea why you played most of the second half in pure quarter-quarter-half (or Cover 3) deep zone. I have no idea why the only patterns the defense seemed committed to match were the historical patterns CBS is going to trot out next season.

4. I have no idea why there were three separate drives in the second half that consisted of basically dumping Hurd into the line twice before a called QB draw on 3rd and long. I have no idea why zone read plays have been deemed too difficult or too "not Tennessee’s offense" but designed QB draws and isolation plays are great and the staff can burn entire drives trying to ineffectually flail at a push that isn’t going to come this year.

5. I have no idea why anyone bothers to ice the kicker anymore. Medley’s first kick wasn’t nearly as close as the one that actually counted, and I’m convinced that the timeout Jones called with Florida facing a 4th and 6 was to try and ice Florida’s kicker. Jim McElwain decided to be aggressive, went for it, and got it.

6. Florida went 5 for 5 on fourth downs, and I think at least two of them—possibly three, just going off memory—came on something longer than 4th and 2. Tennessee’s response was, roughly, rush three or four guys, play passive shell zone, and hope that Will Grier makes a mistake. That strategy doesn’t work. The game-winning TD came on a prevent call on 4th and 14. That strategy also doesn’t work. Talented players can succeed when put in positions to be successful, and the front four did a pretty decent job on getting pressure on Grier on 3rd down; Florida’s 3-15 3rd down conversion rate was great. When Florida played aggressive, Tennessee’s staff took it.

7. Tennessee’s biggest plays of the game came on trick plays. Is the offensive playbook so barren that there aren’t core concept plays that can get more than 15 yards? In related news, I don’t know if we need to hold a meet and greet so Mike DeBord can meet the wide receivers group or if we need to stage an intervention.

8. Know what helps you be aggressive? A vertical passing game. Know what you need to have a vertical passing game? Wide receivers. Dobbs completed three passes to wide receivers in totality yesterday, which fit in nicely with the three completed passes to Alvin Kamara. Man, it’s going to be extra fun when opposing coaches realize that Jalen Hurd doesn’t catch passes out of the backfield but if Kamara’s in the game, he’s probably catching a pass.

9. At some point in the third quarter, Hurd gained about eight yards on a counter. DeBord, paragon of brilliant play-caller he is, went LET’S DO THAT AGAIN. No gain, QB draw, punt. I wasn’t sure when I started writing this point if the play sequence was in the second or third quarter until I remembered the QB draw, which was a second half specialty.

10. Look, we can cover other non-aggressive moves if you’d like, most notably not going for two after going up 26-14. That’s just symptomatic of the larger issues in play, and had the defense not gone passive and the offense went all run-stupid we’re probably not talking about kicking the extra point. The XP really doesn’t do anything there, but there’s a bunch of other things that needed to go wrong for it to matter. They all went wrong, and so we’re questioning that. If we’re hoping for something that changes going forward, this is a pretty easy thing that can change. The other issues are more systemic; this is a single yes/no decision. Don’t dwell on it, at least until it happens again. Then we can talk.

11. Other non-aggressive moves: whatever the heck that last drive was. Independent of burning two timeouts (which Will covered), Tennessee still took 80 seconds to run five plays. That’s the kind of efficiency I make fun of the NFL for. With twelve seconds left, the offense—which I guess never ran timing drills in practice this year?—had no idea what was going on and took a full nine seconds to make a decision which was conveniently made by them thanks to the power of the 12th man. Texas A&M is going to bill us for that, by the way.

12. Other non-aggressive moves:, vol. 2 calling seventeen passes with Dobbs compared to fifty-one rushes. That’s a nice 3:1 ratio which I could compute pretty easily because like Dobbs, I attended the engineering school in Knoxville. Unlike Dobbs, I didn’t have a 58-yard TD reception when I was on the football team. Fine, unlike Dobbs I wasn’t on the football team either.

13. Words are cheap; I’m lazy and didn’t bother looking up postgame quotes, but I’m sure Jones said a whole lot about how this loss hurts and how we need to get better at closing out games and how this team is getting better. You paid nothing to read these words on this website, and Jones paid nothing to say those words in front of whatever microphones happened to be around.

14. You use words and apologies and take ownership—whatever that entails, and fortunately it entails different things for different people which kind of takes you off the hook—when the actions you took at some point weren’t good or weren’t right or in the case of yesterday weren’t good enough. Apologies and ownership are those Business Things that managers do when they screw up, and they typically come with a promise that things will change. Sometimes things actually change.

15. We’re at a point when Things Need To Change, not in the huge LET’S FIRE EVERYBODY sense but from a "hey maybe being aggressive a little bit might actually help you win close games" sense. We’re staring at two losses where literally, what, changing five plays to be more aggressive across two games might mean Tennessee is 4-0? Something like that? That’s five plays out of roughly 400 (maybe 360 if you just count regulation), and yes, that includes defense. It’s not a big change.

16. So we're going to hear that Things Will Change and Tennessee Will Get Better and these losses will turn into wins. You paid nothing to read those words, you'll pay nothing to hear those words if and/or when Butch Jones says those words, and those words will cost him nothing.

17. This team is good enough to get a two-touchdown lead on anyone. So: how are you going to feel if and/or when Tennessee gets a 14-point lead on an also-reeling Arkansas team? Multiply that by 102,000 on Saturday, then add an Arkansas touchdown to the mix. Butch, if you want 102,000 people to not get flashbacks to Oklahoma and Florida and 2014 Missouri and pretty much every single close loss that’s happened in your tenure, be a little more aggressive. Duck and cover only works for nuclear explosions; it’s not how you coach the second half of a game