Oct. 03, 2016
Ducks Pulling Trucks: How The Vols Saved Butch Jones' Job.
Eleven years. Eleven years of torturous losses, taunts, ass kickings, epic choke jobs, countless bulletin board material, and agony against one singular opponent all came to an end on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium. Every year Florida is the first team the Vols face on their conference schedule and for over a decade they fell flat on their faces and start off SEC play 0-1. This has been quintessential Tennessee football post Phillip Fulmer era, hell, even during the great Knoxville pumpkin's coaching tenure the Vols still had a hard time beating Florida. But after Tennessee fired Fulmer, they brought in numerous coaches whose biggest objective is to win the SEC East and the road to Atlanta in the East has historically started and ended with Florida (and occasionally Georgia). Lane Kiffin realized the importance of the game and ran his mouth all his first and only offseason as UT head coach trying to hype up the annual September showdown, only to lose by double digits. After the Kiffen era, the Vols suffered through Derek Dooley. Those years weren't even competitive and found Tennessee losing multiple meetings with Vanderbilt during the years of the Doolander (I'm more than embarrassed to type this as a fan).
But after all the mediocre and unloyal coaching, Butch Jones was hired. He started off his first season at 5-7 but was bringing in big name recruits, recruits that the program couldn't keep post Kiffin and throughout the entirety of Dooley's short tenure. This not only inspired hope in Knoxville but also brought some results. Tennessee went from 5-7 in Butch's first year to 7-6 in his second (including a blowout bowl victory against a solid Iowa team) and 9-4 the year after (including an even more impressive bowl blowout against an even better opponent in Northwestern). All of this progress witnessed Tennessee knocking off conference foes it has not been able to overcome in the years after Fulmer like Georgia and South Carolina. But what was not included in that was Florida. Butch even had the Gators on the ropes with a 27-14 lead late in the swamp last year until poor play calling, time management, and coaching led to one of the finest choke jobs in Tennessee football history. An inability to finish games and produce results with the best talent the program has had in over a decade as well as not beating Florida in eleven years has given fans, including myself, reason to doubt his coaching abilities. It has just seemed that no matter how well the Vols stack their team with talent, they will never get over the mental hurdle of getting past the Florida Gators....until Saturday in epic fashion.
After falling down 21-0 in their home stadium in front of an electric crowd, the boo birds came out of thin air and made their presence well known. At halftime the Vols where only able to muster a field goal despite being in the red zone on three different occasions. It was the same old story we have seen from this coaching staff and this team during games against big time teams in the last two years. Plagued by games of poor game management, lack of production from its stars and offensive lineman, sleep inducing offensive play calling, and soft secondary defense and tackling have carried over into the first half of the Florida game. But just when we thought the mob mentality after another Gator ass kicking was for sure to send Butch Jones packing his bags and getting the hell out of Knoxville, coach Jones did a very un coach Jones thing to do. Make halftime adjustments. The Vols came out swinging and totally flipped the script on the Gators from last years game. Tennessee came out aggressive and loose as well as determined. Hobbs threw the ball with accuracy and confidence and the receivers FINALLY held on to passes after the first half fell witness to five horrendous and inexcusable drops. Mike Debord FINALLY opens the play book and actually mixed up the dominant ground game with passes across the middle and down the field. The offensive line uncharacteristically kept Josh Dobbs alive and actually gave him time to make throws to athletic receivers in space.All of this along with the defense holding Florida to seven second half points led to Tennessee breaking the streak and getting Butch Jones his biggest win to date and puts the Vols on track to contend for an SEC title...and for him to keep his job.
This game showed me more than the mental strength and toughness it takes to overcome a 21 point deficit against someone you have not beat in 11 years as well as the nations number one defense. This win proves Tennessee to be the contender that their roster suggests and that maybe, just maybe, Butch Jones has the coaching ability to make adjustments and game manage against teams with the equivalent talent level. This is more than getting the monkey off the programs back, this is momentum. This momentum is much needed in the three game stretch the Vols are about to face going to Athens to take on Georgia, traveling to a top ten team in Texas A&M, as well as playing the best team in the country (and the seemingly most unbeatable team Saban has ever coached), Alabama. What will happen in those games is yet to be seen but if there is anything we can take from this weekend it is that Tennessee is capable of crashing the college football landscape and most importantly, against the beliefs of Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson's beliefs, ducks can indeed pull trucks.