At about 6:30 this morning a boat on the Tennessee River just outside Neyland Stadium caught fire, burned for a while, and eventually sank. Honestly, I can’t think of a better metaphor for the Tennessee football performance today than that.
I’m not going to get into whether or not this was the worst loss in the history of the program because that’s an impossible question to answer in the moment. What is unequivocally true is that if you’re Tennessee, losing to Georgia State for any reason is completely unacceptable. Particularly if you're Jeremy Pruitt and it's your second year on the job.
I’m not calling for Pruitt to be fired tomorrow morning, and I haven’t started carving his tombstone yet, but holy hell, what an abomination. This wasn’t a fluky win for Georgia State! They completely dominated Tennessee at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The much maligned Vol offensive line was about as awful as we all remembered them being. The Tennessee defensive front created no pass rush, plus everyone on the defense forgot how to tackle. It literally looked like no one in orange had ever played against a running quarterback or even seen an option play before.
They were so sloppy today also. Nigel Warrior was flagged for pass interference on a third and long. Tennessee didn't get lined up correctly and were running men on the field during Georgia State's go ahead touchdown. They got penalized for 12 men on the field when they picked up a third down stop in the fourth quarter. On and on and on.
Tennessee somehow outgained Georgia State 404-352, but they were outrushed 213-93 and had three awful turnovers, including Ty Chandler’s mishandle on the second play of the game that led to a short field for the Panthers and an early 7-0 deficit for the Vols.
I know everyone hates Jarrett Guarantano, and he was far from perfect today, but what the hell is he supposed to do when he has half a second on every drop back? What quarterback in the history of football could be successful in the face of that?
A coach’s first year is a wash, and it’s oftentimes not an indicator of how he is going to perform in the long term. But that changes with the second year, as it's been shown to be a pretty good indicator how the rest of his tenure will play out. Nick Saban went 12-2 in his second season at ‘Bama and won the SEC West. Kirby Smart, in his second year, won the SEC and went to overtime in the National Championship Game against the Tide. Bob Stoops went undefeated and won the national title in his second year at Oklahoma. Jimbo Fisher inherited a program that was in decline at Florida State and went 10-4 and 9-4 in years 1 and 2. Jim Tressel went 14-0 and won the National Championship in his second year at Ohio State. Urban Meyer won the National Title at Florida in his second year, and went 12-2 in his second year at Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh had his best season at Michigan in 2016, his second year, where the Wolverines were a bad spot against Ohio State away from playing for the Big Ten Championship and a playoff berth. I could go on and on and on here.
And sure, some of these coaches inherited great situations. Some of them didn’t. The point is, none of them lost to freaking Georgia State! Georgia State!
“BuT mAtT, nIcK sAbAn LoSt To LoUiSiAnA-mOnRoE!” Yeah, in his first year! That was inexcusable too, but you know what, by his second season, they beat everyone they were supposed to, and easily! You know why!? Because that’s what you do when you’ve settled in to a place and you’ve built the program up to the place where they know your expectations and they come ready to play every week. Tennessee looked lost today! They looked disinterested! It’s Georgia State!
This is a really big year for Pruitt, and so far, it’s the same old program it was under Butch Jones, only arguably worse, since even Butch Jones didn’t lose to teams like Georgia State. You know, teams that finished 2-10 the year before in the Sun Belt. Butch went 7-6 in his second year and the Vols beat South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt AND won a bowl game. Does anyone feel like that’s in the cards for this team right now with how today played out? I certainly don’t. BYU next Saturday felt like a probable win before the season. Now? Will they be able to block? Tackle? Execute offensively? Considering that BYU has better, stronger, faster athletes than Georgia State, a result similar to today seems likely.
Could Tennessee rally? Could they get better? Sure, but at this point I’ve been let down by this program so many times that I’m not going to hope for or expect anything other than for things to get worse.
I remember thinking after they got their teeth kicked in at the end of the season by Vanderbilt last year that while it sucked, at least this was rock bottom, and that the only place they could go from here was up. Obviously that was wrong, as evidenced by today. I forgot the number 1 rule of Tennessee fandom: if it can get worse, don’t worry, it will.
Pruitt’s got 11 games to salvage this. Otherwise he becomes 2012 Derek Dooley all over again, with blood in the water and the sharks circling him.
The fanbase has run out of patience. They hate losing to Florida and Alabama. They never thought they’d lose to Georgia State.