For a place sort of set in its ways, football things sure do change in a hurry around here.
Gone are progress and momentum and Jeremy Pruitt being hailed as prospective SEC coach of the year. No more wonderful, wonderful from one week ago.
What we now see as reality has returned. Missouri inflicted a 33-point beat-down, same as last November if you are into comparisons. Never before, in the history of Tennessee football, has an opponent scored 50 in consecutive games.
The Tigers, better than their record, dominated the line of scrimmage. The Vols failed in fundamentals, blocking and tackling. They rushed for 37 yards on 23 tries in the first three quarters, when it seemed to matter.
An unblocked blitzer sacked Jarrett Guarantano and knocked the rugged quarterback out of the game. That was a shock.
Replacement Keller Chryst launched bombs to Marquez Calloway, generated excitement and lost two interceptions. One, just before halftime, was devastating, the defining play of this defeat. The other, an ill-advised throw, led to incidental points – if any are.
Chryst’s two lost balls matched Guarantano’s interception total for the season.
The visitors’ Drew Lock preformed as advertised. The future first-round draft choice read alignments precisely and made excellent decisions on run-pass options. Larry Rountree III gained several more rushing yards than all the Vols combined.
Lock found soft spots when Tennessee played zone defense. The Vols tried but couldn’t dependably cover receivers man-to-man.
Defensive summation: Tennessee did not stop the run or pass. It did squeeze three penetrations down to field goals.
Missouri marched convincingly for what seemed like many scores. One came easy. Carlin Fils-aime fumbled and a Tiger scooped it up and sped 39 yards.
“They played harder than us,” said linebacker Daniel Bituli.
“They out-coached us, out-played us, out-hit us and out-toughed us,” said Pruitt.
The coach said some other things about miscommunications and not enough resistance.
“We got to put up more of a fight than that.”
UT center Ryan Johnson said, “We don’t have consistency right now, and that’s something we need to work on.”
Inconsistency is the trademark of this Tennessee season. After overwhelming losses to Florida and Georgia, the Vols stunned the football world with a victory at Auburn.
After the resounding loss to Alabama, the missed opportunity at South Carolina and an uninspiring victory over Charlotte, Tennessee clobbered Kentucky. One Saturday later, the Vols fell flat.
In this up-and-down-and-down campaign, what remains is high drama in mediocrity, a winner-take-all showdown with crusty Vanderbilt, a matter of pride, limited bragging rights and bowl eligibility. Both teams are 5-6.
In preparation for the big game, the Commodores gave up almost 600 yards but nipped Ole Miss in overtime. The Volunteers caused most of their fans to give up and go home early. Neyland Stadium just isn’t what it used to be.
Vandy is thinking in terms of three straight wins over the Volunteers. Vandy is favored. Vandy is considered more physical, a tad tougher. How humbling.
Wrong you are if you think the outcome no longer matters. In Tennessee’s case, any little bowl bid would be big. It could be a thank-you to seniors. It would provide 15 days of additional practice for younger Vols, a deposit on next season.
Be sure coaches are highly motivated. Assistants would receive a bonus of 8.33 percent of their annual salary for a bowl appearance. Pruitt gets some spare change, $100,000.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org