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Vols Hit Rock Bottom, Find Trap Door

Is there a way out?

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

**Author’s Note: So, I wrote the following paragraphs after the loss against Georgia State. I didn’t post them then because I wanted to sit on them for a while. I wanted to let the feelings marinate, and I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t written them with more emotion than objective thought process. I waited too long, and then BYU happened. I’m going to go ahead and leave that work as-is, and then we’ll get to BYU.**

Post Georgia State

Saturday, a boat in the Volunteer Navy caught fire and sank into the depths of the Tennessee River.

Not long after, the Tennessee football team’s aspirations for the 2019 football season caught fire and sank, too.

The Vols lost the season opener to Georgia State 38-30 in a game that wasn’t as close as the eight-point differential might suggest. Obviously, the football team’s crash and burn wasn’t a literal crash and burn, but it’s hard to ignore the freak allegorical happenstance and how wonderfully it sums up the Vols’ performance. It’s one of those things that you just can’t make up – life truly imitating art, maybe?

Moving on, sorta -- I don’t want to spend too much time or too many words on the disgusting things that happened on the field Saturday. It was awful; it was embarrassing; and more than anything, it was sad. I’m posting this today because, no shit here, I grieved this week. I don’t want to be overly dramatic or a prisoner of the moment, but I grieved because it seems as if a thing I love has died.

And I don’t mean it died as in it no longer exists. The team is still there. Hell, if you poke it with a stick it might even flinch. But I mean died as it no longer exists in the form it existed in when I came to love it, and any hopes of it becoming what it once was, again, are gone.

Tennessee football is no longer trying to recapture the glory of its past because that glory is too far gone to recapture. This is no longer the football program we all fell in love with. This thing is different. And honestly, this thing has been a different thing for a long time now. But yesterday, we crossed the event horizon. For me, at least, all the orange-colored rays of sun-shiny optimism have been extinguished.

I no longer have a presumptuous cache of feelings that tell me Tennessee will reclaim its rightful spot among college football’s elite programs. That time has passed. College football doesn’t owe us anything, and it’s pretty damn clear the administration at Tennessee doesn’t feel like it owes us anything, either.

The Vols, once again, trotted out a team full of guys who didn’t know what to do, and who were being coached by guys who don’t know either A) what to tell the players to do or B) how to tell them to do it.

It was a grotesque smorgasbord of substitution infraction penalties, repeated and egregious misalignments, poor clock management and missed assignment after missed assignment after missed assignment. It wasn’t just bad football; it was a team who looked ill-prepared organizationally and disengaged mentally and emotionally. Yikes.

Really, the team looked if not the same then worse than it did last year when it went 5-7, which after an influx of talented freshmen, a full offseason in the strength and conditioning program and a full fall camp’s worth of practices might be the most damning indictment of all.

So, I mean, like whatever, I guess. I’d say a lot of you are there with me. I’ve gone so far past mad I’m into apathy, and in this case, apathy is far more dangerous than anger.

That’s enough about all that, and I apologize for spending that much time on the bad stuff from Saturday. The performance didn’t deserve the effort it took me to write it nor the effort it took you to read it. Maybe Tennessee becomes the Tennessee we remember so fondly again one day. But last Saturday assured me that won’t happen any time soon.

Alright, back to present-day.

I guess, maybe, I was waiting to see what would happen with BYU, and if Tennessee bounced back, I could just erase these post-GA State feelings of futility and perhaps pretend like it never happened. But, unfortunately, it did happen. And then Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee had the opportunity to buy back some of the equity lost in week No. 1.

And really, the Vols looked better against BYU. The defense didn’t look totally discombobulated (excluding the busted play that allowed BYU to get into position for a field goal late in regulation) as often and created penetration that was non-existent in the first game of the season. Freshmen Quavaris Crouch and Roman Harrison combined for three QB hurries, and Crouch had a crucial pass deflection late in the game. Darrell Taylor notched his first sack of the season and added eight tackles, while another freshman, Henry To’o To’o was also in on eight tackles and had a tackle-for-loss, too.

The running game showed signs of life, accumulating 242 yards and marking the team’s highest total since the Texas-El Paso game last year.

Ty Chandler looked determined after being benched for ball-security issues against GA State, and Eric Gray looked like Cordarrelle Patterson reincarnated on some runs where he made multiple defenders miss with nifty jukes.

Unfortunately, Tennessee got very little help from quarterback Jarrett Guaranta-nope. I defended Guarantano last season when critics harped on his propensity for holding the ball too long and his inability to go through his progressions fast enough to find an open receiver and get the ball there before the defense was bearing down on him.

I can’t defend him anymore. Tennessee absolutely must get more production from the quarterback position. Yes, it’s his fourth system in as many years. And no, he doesn’t get a whole lot of help from his offensive line. But the Vols have no shortage of play makers and yet there’s a shortage of big plays. Guys are open, and he isn’t seeing them. I don’t know how you fix that in a player’s fourth season on campus.

Pruitt was adamant this offseason that this is Guarantano’s team, repeating the notion that Guarantano was the only player on the team who was assured a starting position. Maybe Guarantano is one of those guys that can do it during practice, but when the light’s come on he can’t perform. Or maybe Pruitt was just publicly propping him up, hoping that public confidence would translate to improved performance. We don’t get to see practice, so I’m not sure we’ll ever know what’s really going on.

QB play aside – again, the team did look better. There was less disorganization, and there was more give-a-damn from the players. There are several members of the freshmen class that look really, really good, and the running game flashed some potential.

But I can’t explain the things that happen to this football program. The long pass play near the end of regulation defies all logic. How does a defense with two secondary coaches in charge (Pruitt, Ansley) allow an offensive player to get behind the defense when that is literally the only thing that can beat you in that stage of the game? It’s inexplicable.

One of my friends (@jaybaklava on twitter) is POSITIVE the Vols are cursed for firing Fulmer when they did. Maybe that’s the case. At this point, it’s the closest thing I have to an answer.