Monday, October 7, 2019

The Week In Football: Tennessee Gets Blasted But Inspires Their Desperate Fan Base

I was at a wedding on Saturday night for one of my good friends. It was an awesome ceremony, and fun times were had by all. In fact, the only problem was that the Tennessee game was going on at the same time. Fortunately, there was a crappy SD TV in the hallway just outside the venue. I had already scoped out that TV as my savior for the night because the WiFi at the venue was spotty, and I couldn’t get any service in the building, meaning watching on my phone was pretty much out of the question. I’d already popped out there a couple of times to catch a few minutes of Auburn-Florida, shamelessly abandoning my wife. In my defense, I wasn’t the only one doing that. As the Tennessee game continued to be competitive in the first half, more and more men (and some ladies) started poking there heads out in the hallway to see what was going on. Eventually they started standing out there. One of my buddies told his wife he was going to the bathroom real quick… 20 minutes earlier. I went back in the venue to listen to some of the toasts, and when I went back into the hallway, there was a group of at least 25 people out there, screaming at the TV in bewilderment and doing all the typical things that alcohol makes you do during a sporting event. I don’t know how many fights that game caused on the car ride home between husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends, but that’s the power of college football I suppose. This was a fun wedding that we were at, an excuse for adults with children (or hell, anyone) to have a few too many, and yet, everyone was outside, hoping that they would be there for the day that Jeremy Pruitt saved Tennessee football.
Even through the grainy SD TV with no sound, I could see the energy in that stadium. Everyone wanted it so bad. The wedding hallway was as euphoric as Neyland was when Brian Maurer threw that 73 yard TD pass to Marquez Callaway. They were even more insane when the Vols took a 14-10 lead. I texted my dad “What the hell is going on?” at one point when it seemed like Maurer was on his way to becoming Dobbs 2.0, because he had came in and so vastly changed the team’s performance that everyone in the fan base was going to be wondering aloud openly over the next few days about how dumb the coaching staff was for not seeing that during practice.
Then the wheels came off. After taking that 14-10 lead in the second quarter, the Vols wouldn’t have another drive of more than 45 yards until their last one of the game, when they turned it over on downs after getting stopped on a fourth and goal. Meanwhile, Georgia rolled off 30 straight points to put the game out of reach and cover (back to back weeks we’ve hit on the ‘Bet the Mortgage’ picks by the way).
The narrative after the game was funny to me. Lots of “Pruitt restores confidence” and “Vols show signs” and all that. What? Guys, they lost by four touchdowns. They weren’t competitive in the second half. They were down 12 at halftime. Is this really how far this program has fallen where the stadium being loud and the program having a four point lead on a top 3 team makes us celebrate like it's '98?
“But Matt But Matt But Matt, they found a quarterback!” Are we sure they have? Maurer completed only 50% of his passes, threw an interception, and got rocked by a guy he never saw coming which led to a fumble return for a touchdown. He came out playing well and then faded badly as the game went along. Was he better than Guarantano? Sure, so that’s now the standard for quarterback play all the sudden?
Listen, I get it, Tennessee was supposed to lose by four touchdowns. And they ultimately did. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually, I don’t know, overachieve for once? They lost by 31 at Florida, and then by only 29 at home to Georgia? That’s the kind of incremental improvements we can expect from this team? Two points every two weeks?
Everyone is acting like Jeremy Pruitt inherited North Texas’s program and then was forced to play an SEC schedule. I know the talent level on Georgia is better than what it is at Tennessee, but is it 29 points better? Is the talent at Florida 31 points better? Last year’s team was an awful performance against Vanderbilt away from making a bowl game. This year’s team, with sixteen returning starters, is on their way to 2-10 or 3-9 and still can't figure out how to line up properly on defense, with "defensive whiz" Jeremy Pruitt. How is that possible?
Every single coach you can think of recently popped at least by their second year at whatever school they were at, regardless of the circumstances they inherited. Even James Franklin at Penn State made a bowl game in his first two seasons, and he took over a program that had basically been gutted due to the Sandusky scandal. Tennessee may have been crappy for a decade-plus, but even they didn’t face anything remotely close to what happened to Penn State. And now the Nittany Lions are back to being elite. Maybe it’s because they actually hired a competent football coach?
We all want moral victories in this fan base, but its laughable that we’d be claiming one after a 29 point thrashing. You know what a “moral victory” would be? Losing to Georgia by three points in overtime. You know, what Butch Jones did the first time he played them in Neyland.
They’re 1-4 through five games with four truly awful losses. Georgia State was an embarrassment, losing to BYU was incomprehensible the way it happened, and they weren’t even close to either of their biggest Eastern Division rivals. And yet, this stupid program has us by the balls so much that they can sell out Neyland, get the crowd that rowdy, and have men abandoning their ladies at a wedding so they can poke their heads out in the hallway to check the score on a grainy SD TV.
Saturday sucked, not because they lost, but because I was shocked that they were ever in the game, and then completely not surprised when the game turned into a blowout. This program is so incompetent that four touchdown thrashing is something a large portion of the fanbase is celebrating. General Neyland must be rolling in his grave.
Onto the rest of the week….
Michigan Won Ugly To Keep The Heat Off Harbaugh For Another Week
The Michigan offense was a complete embarrassment again, scoring only ten points, but fortunately for Harbaugh, his defense stepped up and stifled a crappy Iowa offense that could only manage three points.
The Hawkeyes finished the game with 1 rushing yard thanks to the -65 their quarterback Nate Stanley put up due to the 8 sacks he took. Michigan forced four Iowa turnovers, and they needed every one of them because virtually the entirety of the last three quarters were played at 10-3.
I don’t know how Harbaugh or Michigan fans can realistically feel good about this program going forward, particularly not the offense, which utterly lacks explosion and identity. Shea Patterson has been arguably the biggest disappointment in college football the last two years, and he has somehow become even worse in 2019. He had 147 passing yards, no TDs, and an awful interception on 14-26 passing on Saturday. Abysmal.
Michigan is going to lose at least three more times this season and we’ll once again have another year of Harbaugh not winning his division and losing to Ohio State. Just what the Wolverine fans thought they were signing up for.
Florida Manhandled Auburn
The victory gave second year coach Dan Mullen his third win over a top ten team as the Gator coach, and made Florida seem like an actual SEC Title Contender for the first time in years.
Auburn squandered multiple chances on Saturday; Derrick Brown fell down running back a fumble when he had nothing but open grass in front of him, and Bo Nix killed that Tiger possession when he threw an interception only two plays later. In the third quarter, after leading a 9 play, 80 yard drive, Nix was picked off in the endzone with Auburn trailing 17-13. Lamical Perine’s 88 yard scamper in the fourth quarter all but put the game away, but not before Nix was intercepted again with 2:30 to go as the Tigers were attempting to mount a miracle comeback.
Nix finished 11-27 for 145 yards and was the worst he’d been all season. All of the poise he had displayed in the prior weeks basically vanished as the best defense he’d faced the entire year wore him out like a high school bully.
The Tigers are on their way to at least a three or four loss season, which will be the sixth consecutive year they’ve done that under Malzahn, who has now dropped to 23-20 in conference play over that time span. It’s a good thing he got a contract extension after the 2017 season that guaranteed him north of $20 million.
As for Mullen, he wasn’t the sexiest name the Gators could’ve gotten, but he’s been far and away the best hire of all the coaches who got jobs during that 2017 coaching carousel. Let’s compare records:
Dan Mullen, Florida: 16-3
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee: 6-11
Chip Kelly, UCLA: 4-14
Scott Frost, Nebraska: 8-10
Willie Taggart, Florida State: 8-9
That’s right, of the five biggest jobs to change hands after 2017, Mullen is the only one with a winning record. Hell, he’s got 8 more wins than Taggart, his in-state rival at FSU, and 10 more than Jeremy Pruitt, who is supposed to be one of the biggest rivals in his division.
Here’s the difference between Florida and Tennessee; when the Gators fired Jim McElwain during the 2017 season, they did it despite the fact that he was coming off back to back SEC East division titles. They made a change because they knew they were never going to be serious title contenders with him. What did Florida do after that? They hired a better coach in Mullen. What did Tennessee do? They built brick by brick for five years, and gave Butch that fifth year even though he blew the 2015 and 2016 seasons by not winning his division either year despite having the most talent. Then they allowed him to murder the 2017 season, and after firing him, turned around and hired a guy in Jeremy Pruitt who is, based on the results on the field, worse than Butch, but only after they botched their coaching search so bad the first time around that it led to their athletic director getting fired. That’s why Florida wins and Tennessee is in the dumpster.
I don’t know if the Gators can beat Georgia in Jacksonville in a few weeks, but I wouldn’t have even considered that a possibility a month ago. Or hell, even on Friday. Now? Why not?
Ohio State Rolled Through Michigan State
The Buckeyes never trailed on their way to a 34-10 win thanks to 24 second quarter points and three total touchdowns from quarterback Justin Fields. Ohio State won’t play again until next Friday when they travel to Northwestern, and they’ll follow that up on October 26th at home against Wisconsin in what could be a Top Ten matchup.
Ohio State’s toughest remaining games (Wisconsin, Penn State) are both at home, and that Michigan game on the road at the end of the year looks less and less scary every day (not that it was ever actually that scary, since the Buckeyes have beaten them 16 of the last 18 times).
Teams Still Alive For The Playoff
As always, you’re still technically alive as long as you have no more than one loss and are in a Power 5 league, except this year in the ACC, a conference that is so bad that one loss eliminates you (* by the undefeated teams).
ACC: Clemson*, Wake Forest*
So Wake isn’t running the table, and they’ll probably lose at Clemson on November 16, if they haven’t lost by that point already. The Tigers haven’t shown themselves to be one of the best five or six teams in the country yet, but the good news for them is that they’re the defending champs and the committee isn’t going to leave out a team that goes undefeated. So as long as they can do that, it doesn’t matter if they slog their way through the rest of the season or not.
Big Ten: Ohio State*, Penn State*, Wisconsin*, Minnesota*, Iowa, Michigan
This league technically has six teams alive under the set criteria, but realistically its going to come down to first three I listed. Did you guys watch the Iowa-Michigan game? Did either of these teams look playoff-worthy? Minnesota is a nice story, but they aren’t running the table or winning the Big Ten or even coming close. The winner of the Ohio State-Penn State game on November 23 is probably going to be the winner of the Big Ten East, unless something wonky happens, while Wisconsin is the odds on favorite to win the Big Ten West even if they lose to Ohio State on October 26. Whoever ends up being the conference winner will probably be the Big Ten’s representative in the playoff, something the league hasn’t had since 2016.
Big 12: Oklahoma*, Baylor*, Texas
OU-Texas play this weekend in what is a playoff elimination game for the Longhorns. Even if the Sooners lose, they could still do what they did last season and avenge their only defeat in the Big 12 Championship Game. I don’t think that Baylor is a realistic playoff contender, but they will have a chance to prove themselves in November when they host Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks.
Pac 12: Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon
This conference is in real danger of getting shut out of the playoff for the third straight year unless one of these teams can run the table AND they get some chaos in front of them in the other conferences. Their best bet would be for one of the South teams (most likely Utah) and Oregon to run the table and play each other in the Pac 12 Championship Game, with the winner finishing at 12-1 and adding another impressive victory to their resume. We’ll see if they’re up to the task, or if that’s even enough.
SEC: Alabama*, Georgia*, LSU*, Florida*, Auburn, Missouri
Missouri lost to Wyoming and they aren’t going to beat both Florida AND Georgia, so they’re realistically out. Auburn is going to have three or four losses by the end of November, so they’re done. It’s going to be one (or maybe two) of the four remaining undefeated teams that makes it. The winner of the Alabama-LSU game and the winner of the Georgia-Florida game would be the odds on favorites to meet in the SEC Title Game, and whoever wins that is assuredly getting in the playoff. Any other SEC representation would be up to how things shake out in the rest of the country.
I suppose Notre Dame is also still technically alive, though I don’t think they have a path to the playoff at this point unless there’s a lot of chaos in front of them. If they finish 11-1 and Georgia finishes 12-1 or 11-1 and doesn’t win the SEC, what’s the argument for putting Notre Dame in over the ‘Dawgs? There isn’t one.

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