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Tennessee Vols Trending Report: Florida

Another week, another heartbreaking loss. A lot of things are trending down for the Vols after a 28-27 loss in Gainesville.

This action shot of Jauan Jennings gaining one yard is the only one you'll see of a Vols receiver doing something other than throwing.
This action shot of Jauan Jennings gaining one yard is the only one you'll see of a Vols receiver doing something other than throwing.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another blown fourth quarter lead. Tennessee did some things well, especially early, on the way to a two-score lead against Florida in a hostile environment. And then, just like they did two weeks ago against Oklahoma, they blew it, losing 28-27. General consensus is that this one is on the coaching staff. The Trending Report is just as upset as you are and is not interested in extended preamble. On to the trends!


  • Playing to win (first half edition). After the Trending Report (and plenty of fans) complained about Butch Jones kicking on three makable first half fourth downs in the last two weeks, Jones decided to go for it on 4th and 2 near midfield in the second quarter. One Alvin Kamara jump pass later, the Vols had a first down inside the 30. They would go on to score their second touchdown of the game and take a 14-7 lead. Add in a throwback pass from Jauan Jennings to Josh Dobbs that went for a 58-yard score, and aggressiveness on offense accounted for two of Tennessee's three touchdowns and helped the Vols to a two-score lead. Playing to win makes it more likely that you win. Who knew?
  • Josh Dobbs' legs. After just 18 yards on 18 carries (sacks included--and I'll let you do your own math on the yards per carry) in the last two games, Dobbs broke out in a big way Saturday, running for 136 yards on 18 carries and dashing for 58 more on one reception. Take out the three sacks, and Dobbs had 216 yards on 16 non-throwing touches against the Gators. That's more than half Tennessee's offense in the game. Dobbs' legs made direct, positive contributions on every scoring drive, and they also did a lot to take the pressure off of Jalen Hurd, who was able to churn out 102 yards of his own on the ground.
  • Google searches for "Butch Jones buyout." We'll talk a little bit more about Jones and fan confidence when we get to the downward trends, but there's no denying that fans are starting to ask some questions, whether premature or not. And when you start asking questions, one of the first is "how expensive is a coaching change?" (See: Rule #1). And because I know you're wondering, the answer is that Butch Jones' buyout is currently $10.8 million (mitigated by future earnings). At the end of next season, it will be $8.5 million, and it will continue to drop by roughly $5500 per day ($2 million per year) until his contract expires in February of 2021. While the details were largely overlooked in the excitement of finally making it back to a bowl game, people are starting to notice that this was quite a hefty buyout to give to a coach who was two years into his contract and still hadn't proven himself. Between that and the ill-fated hire of Donnie Tyndall, the Trending Report is asking more questions of Dave Hart than of Butch Jones right now.
  • Confidence in the man in charge. While there were plenty of on-field downward trends, the biggest trend coming out of Saturday's game regards confidence in Butch Jones, which took a serious hit after the second blown lead in three weeks. There are those who are of the opinion that as soon as your confidence in a coach's ability to win championships drops below 50%, you should fire that coach. Those people are currently wondering whether you can raise $10.8 million on GoFundMe. The Trending Report is not of that opinion and thinks the talk of firing Jones is premature (unless Jon "Dream Job" Gruden or Chip Kelly are interested, in which case the Trending Report might start making GoFundMe contributions), and that Jones' recruiting success has earned him at least one more season to put it all together, barring total collapse this year. But with that said, it's hard to watch the moment consistently get too big for the coaching staff and have confidence that they can win SEC championships. Next year, they should have the talent to try. But if the Vols want to actually finish on top, the players aren't the only ones who will need to take a significant step forward.
  • In-game Adjustments. If confidence is falling, there must be a reason. And the reason sure isn't recruiting, where Jones and his staff have excelled since being hired in 2012. But it also isn't game preparation. Jones has actually done pretty well at preparing the team since being hired at Tennessee. Think back to the games in his tenure where Tennessee's offense has gotten meaningful production against a solid defense. In 2013 against a top five South Carolina team, the Vols bossed the game in the second quarter and collapsed after halftime, needing a pair of 35+ yard catches from Marquez North to get a pair of field goals that were their only second half points. In 2014 against Georgia, the Vols jumped out to a 10-0 lead and got nothing outside of the hurry-up for the rest of the game. Two weeks ago against Oklahoma, the Vols put up a quick 17 points and didn't score again in regulation. And then there's Florida. In all four games, Tennessee scored exactly 17 first half points. In the second half, they scored an average of 7.8. The initial game plan seems to be working. But when the other team adjusts, Tennessee's staff has had no counterpunch.

    The one exception to this trend is the 2013 Georgia game, in which the Vols scored 21 of their 24 offensive points in the second half. The second half of that game remains the at or near the top of the best coaching performances in Jones' tenure at Tennessee. It is no coincidence that the Vols made it happen by going for it on fourth down three times in their final two drives, leading to 14 of their 24 points. See also: "playing to win." Beyond that, it's hard to find an example of Tennessee going against a quality defense and getting better as the game progresses. If the Vols have aspirations beyond 8-4/9-3 in 2016, that has to change.

  • The two-minute drill. I've seen Justin Worley lead Jones' offense in a couple quality two-minute drills against Georgia. I've seen Josh Dobbs do an exemplary job against South Carolina. So I know they can do it. But Saturday's performance made it look like the Vols hadn't practiced late-game scenarios at all since last November. When you have a minute-and-a-half and two timeouts, only being able to run five plays is downright embarrassing. The Vols consistently ran significant clock before snapping the ball, and the confusion from the sideline in the last ten seconds has been well-documented. It was a performance Tennessee would like to forget, and it must get better.
  • Fourth down defense. Florida was 3/15 on third downs and 5/5 on fourth downs. The Gators converted at least one fourth down on three of their four scoring drives. A defense that has been so good on third down (23rd in third down S&P+) has now allowed their opponents to go 9/10 on fourth downs this season. That number is inexcusable, and it doesn't get any worse than the last of the five on Saturday, where the Vols rushed three on 4th and 14 and were rewarded with a 63-yard Florida touchdown pass.
  • The passing game. After his admirable performance on the ground, it's hard to single out Josh Dobbs, but his performance throwing the ball was not good. He competed just three passes to wide receivers all game, and one was called back for a penalty. In total, Tennessee receivers had two catches for seven yards. That's beyond terrible. In total, Vols receivers were targeted six times: a six-yard completion to Josh Smith in the first quarter, a dropped pass by Von Pearson in the first, a one-yard completion to Jauan Jennings in the first, an incompletion to Marquez North (I don't have video of that play and don't remember exactly what happened) in the second, a badly overthrown pass to a wide open Josh Smith in the third, and an end zone throw in the direction of Preston Williams, who had been knocked down, in the fourth. That's it. Six passes thrown in the direction of receivers. One thrown more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. It's hard to see why a defensive coordinator would worry about anything except the ground game, short passes, and Ethan Wolf. And it's really hard to see why a talented high school receiver would choose the Vols at this point.
  • Finishing. The offense (and the coaching staff) deserves some responsibility for a three-and-out that gave the Gators the ball with a chance to win, but this is mostly on the defense. Florida crossed the Tennessee 40 four times. Florida scored touchdowns four times. For those of you who struggle with numbers, that's 7.00 points per scoring opportunity. Tennessee's defense has now allowed 4.95 points per scoring opportunity this season, good for 90th in the country. If you focus on just Florida and Oklahoma, that number jumps to 5.90 points per trip. That's worse than UTEP, North Texas, Wyoming, Idaho, Eastern Michigan, and. . . well, you get the idea. And if we zoom out from drives to games, we find the Vols in the top 25 of the defensive S&P+ rankings in the first (20th), second (14th), and third (22nd) quarters but outside the top 100 in the fourth (111th). Finishing--both drives and games--was a big problem for the defense last season, but the struggles were (reasonably) blamed on depth. Well the depth has gotten better this year, and the defense's ability to finish has gotten worse. Finishing has officially moved out of the "expected flaw that will get better in time" category and into the "seriously, John Jancek, how is your defense so good for three quarters/in opposing territory and so amazingly terrible in the fourth quarter and inside the UT 40?" category.
  • Winning the press conference. Like many coaches, Butch Jones loves him some coach speak. And when you couple it with a few well-timed on-field victories and an astounding ability to win the hearts of athletic high-schoolers, it works. Jones has been extremely popular with the Tennessee fan base despite never saying much of substance. But when you're not producing on the field and your response is to defend all of your bad decisions while spouting cliches about responsibility, improvement, and process, it doesn't go over quite as well. A coach's popularity is ultimately going to come down to on-field results, but you can help yourself out significantly if you own your mistakes and give the fans a reason to believe you see your flaws and are working to fix them. So far, Jones hasn't, and that makes it all the harder to believe.