Tennessee did not lose to Appalachian State last night. Though, their narrow, overtime win was a season complexion changer. It’s early. But, based on that initial performance it looks more like Butch Jones may be coaching for his job instead of an SEC title.
This App. State team was not comparable to the 2007 Michigan one. This was an FBS program that won 11 games last year. Still, Tennessee was a three touchdown favorite with far better paper talent. While the Vols did not lose last night, they could have and, perhaps, they should have. The Mountaineers’ lost the plot in the closing minutes.
Some of the performance can be cleaned up. Tennessee had two costly special teams errors. A punt return fumble set up the Mountaineers for their first touchdown. Tennessee also allowed a long punt return that set up what could have been the game-winning field goal.
More worrying is that Appalachian State outplayed Tennessee, bossing both lines. The Mountaineers gained consistent traction on the ground (despite not being able to pass). They held Hurd and Kamara to 131 yards combined on 34 carriers (3.85 per carry).
Josh Dobbs had a nightmare. He completed the one deep ball to Josh Malone. In his 28 other throws, he averaged fewer than 4.5 yards/attempt. Some Tennessee outlets were comparing him to college Vince Young before the season.
Tennessee did not rebound. They didn’t change tack. They didn’t present App. State with novel problems. The plodding Vols won on inertia, an opposing freshman kicker, and a very fortuitous fumble at the goal line.
The question is whether that was an egregious stinker from Tennessee or whether that was Tennessee. The truth is somewhere between. Maybe the Vols bounce back. Right now they look like a house built on bowl hype, returning starters, and recruiting rankings.
The problems with the Vols’ offense shoudl have been apparent. Tennessee ranked outside the Top 70 in yards/play offense in 2015. Josh Dobbs was a senior coming back, though he was a senior, who was probably the 8th to 10th best statistical passer in the SEC last year. The Vols struggled completing longer range passes in 2015. They were below average in the red zone.
Mike DeBord was a mentor for Jones. There’s trust and a comfort level there. But, second year in, that looks like as underwhelming of an offensive coordinator hire as it did on paper.
DeBord had not coached in college (or in a meaningful capacity) since leaving Michigan in 2007. He was known then for running a predictable, underwhelming, outdated offense that did not get the most out of its personnel. He had been out of football altogether for two years, working in Michigan’s athletics administration.
It may be piling on but the DeBord/Jones years at Central Michigan were the worst in the school’s modern era. CMU has seldom been a juggernaut. But, good coaches have done a presentable job there.
The Salesman/CEO head coach model Tennessee has with Jones can work. Dabo Swinney took Clemson to the title game last season. Though, it hasn’t worked as well for Dabo without Deshaun Watson. He also gets to play teams such as BC, Syracuse, and Wake in the ACC Tennessee does not.
Jones has two weeks, and games against Virginia Tech and Ohio, to tighten the screws. Tennessee opens the SEC slate with Florida, (at) Georgia, (at) Texas A&M, and Alabama. If this team does not improve quickly, things could get hairy down the stretch.
The stratospheric preseason expectations for this Tennessee team may not be fair. But, that won’t absolve Jones for not meeting them.