So last weekend I did some freelance work for KUTV-TV, the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City. I shot the Tennessee/BYU game and got postgame reaction from the Cougars. It allowed me to be on the sidelines when this happened… I’d like to tell you that I was shocked by BYU converting a 64 yard pass with less than 16 seconds remaining, but I wasn’t at all. What is past is prologue. This was because of Tennessee’s history over the past 10+ years. From 13 players on the field at LSU in 2010 to the Grier/Callaway hookup on 4th and 14 at Florida in 2015 to…
Sorry, I can’t go through the full roster of devastating game endings for Tennessee since the firing of Phillip Fulmer in 2008. I just can’t.
The other reason I wasn’t surprised was because the clock was ticking and you could just feel that the Vols had no idea what they were supposed to do. They only rushed three guys. BYU receiver Micah Simon was wide open because cornerback Alontae Taylor played him too tight and Simon blew past him on the sideline. Vols safety Nigel Warrior could have tackled Simon on the Tennessee 45, but was out of control and could only get a hand on him. Heck, BYU tight end Matt Bushman was open on this play too.
For as much criticism as Tennessee’s players have gotten this week, responsibility also falls on head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Defensive backs are supposed to be his specialty, yet they weren’t prepared for this situation. And with everyone in disarray, Pruitt could have called timeout shortly before BYU snapped the football just to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Would this have given the Cougars a chance to regroup as well? Yes. Would he have been criticized for calling a timeout? Probably. But the chances of a bust occurring are greatly lessened if you make sure your players know that BYU has no choice but to throw deep.
Tennessee dominated BYU in front of what was (at times) a raucous home crowd of over 90,000 fans. But the Vols double overtime 29-26 loss drops them to 0-2. Their chances of getting to six wins and a bowl game are on life support.
This week the Vols host Chattanooga. The FCS Mocs are 1-1, with a win over Eastern Illinois and a loss to Jacksonville State on their resume.
Chattanooga receiver Bryce Nunnelly has picked up 187 yards and a touchdown while running back Ailym Ford has rushed for 177 yards and two scores this season. This has come against FCS competition, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to have the same productivity against the Vols.
Next week the Vols play at Florida. Then after a bye week Georgia comes to Knoxville. Then Mississippi State makes the trip to Tennessee, followed by a journey for the Vols to Alabama. Chattanooga might be the only game the Vols are favored in (depending on what we see from Mississippi State the next few weeks).
The Vols are staring at a 1-6, or (at best) 2-5 record unless things change drastically in a hurry.
On offense the Vols simply aren’t getting decent play at the quarterback position. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has no confidence that redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano can throw the football accurately. His mistakes against BYU were crippling. The interception he threw early in the third quarter (into triple coverage) with the Vols up 13-3 turned the entire game around. Open receivers weren’t seen, and others were seen too late. He chose to throw the football well behind the sticks on third down multiple times. That’s not going to win many games in the SEC.
Back in 2009, Chaney and Lane Kiffin helped fifth year quarterback Jonathan Crompton finally turn the corner and become a good SEC quarterback. I’m not sure the Chaney/Guarantano combo can make that kind of progression a decade later.
So what’s going to happen Saturday? Let’s have a history lesson. Back in 1958, Chattanooga upset Tennessee 14-6 at Shields-Watkins Field. Mocs fans stormed the field and tried to tear down the goalposts. Reportedly, police horses were needed and tear gas was used on the rioters. Arrests were made. IT WAS ANARCHY.
I don’t expect the same on Saturday for two reasons:
1) I don’t think Chatty will win so why would their fans riot? 99% of sports riots happen by fans of the winning team.
2) With morning rain possible in Knoxville and a Noon kickoff, temps will likely still be above 90 degrees. This game will feel like it is being played on the surface of the sun. Fans will be too drained to hop onto the sideline, much less jump on a goalpost.
Tennessee has proven that they can’t overlook anyone. But in this case they should have enough talent to overshadow their issues.
Fearless Prediction time…
Tennessee 3, Chattanooga 1 (Yes, the Mocs pick up the rare one-point safety.)
Mark’s 2019 Fearless Prediction Record: 0-2
Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction,” an in-depth look at all that led to the crazy coaching search of 2017 at Tennessee. The book is available on Amazon.