Tennessee football is lost in space

Marvin Westwestwords

Oh, for the wisdom to grasp what is going on in Tennessee football. Just a few days ago, it was mistakenly overrated as No. 12 in the country. It is now lost in space.

Jeremy Pruitt, armed with a comfortable contract, does not show panic. He must be feeling an occasional pinch. His Volunteers have been overwhelmed, 61-7, in the last six quarters. The team is even in turnovers and points during this segment.

Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is stuck in reverse. Fans want him reassigned to the parking lot. Alas, there is no obvious replacement.

The offense hasn’t sustained anything of significance and the defense is going downhill. And if that isn’t a bad enough combination, Alabama is next on the Neyland Stadium schedule. The Tide is coming off a knockout of Georgia in the heavyweight division.

Let us try for perspective.

Tennessee self-destructed in the second quarter against Kentucky. Two Guarantano passes were picked and cashed in for touchdowns. Vol tailback Ty Chandler knocked the ball out of the Guarantano’s hand. Reserve J.T. Shrout, dispatched to save Guarantano from himself, promptly delivered another interception.

The Volunteers regained some poise and Eric Gray led an encouraging 75-yard drive. Aggressive assistance from the offensive line produced a touchdown just before intermission.

The deficit was down to 10. From all appearances, momentum had switched sides. That was wishful thinking. It lasted throughout the rest stop but evaporated with the first three-and-out of the third quarter. The Wildcats dominated the second half. The finished product, 34-7, could easily have been worse.

This was a historic event. Tennessee last lost at home to the Big Blue in 1984, in John Majors’ eighth season as coach. The last time Kentucky romped by such a convincing margin was in 1935. As strange as it sounds, nothing like this happened during the stumbling, bumbling administrations of Derek Dooley and Butch Jones.

One nice Vol fan, properly masked, summed up what she saw: Kentucky was very rude. It showed no respect for Tennessee’s reputation, for what it has accomplished through the years.

Second summation: The UT offense, with the exception of Gray, didn’t get much done. Defensive linemen lost the fight up front. Tennessee has $5 million invested in secondary coaching expertise and can’t defend quick slant routes.

There were some strange developments.

Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson, feared more as a runner than passer, completed 12 of 15 for 101 yards and a touchdown. He ran for 32 yards.

Tennessee was flagged for a chop-block. This was a very serious sin when Georgia did it.

Kentucky middle linebacker Jamin Davis, interceptor No. 2, ran 85 yards untouched by Volunteer hands. Something John Ward once said came to mind: He could have run all the way to the state capitol.

Davis said nothing like that had ever happened to him.

“I thought I might pass out.”

Pruitt didn’t see anybody seriously challenge the return and was seriously annoyed.

The coach was also troubled by some officiating technicalities. In informing those responsible, Pruitt was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. That helped put UK in position for a field goal.

Tennessee’s loss to Kentucky counts as more than a simple setback. Of course, it was another loss for Guarantano. He was bad or worse in the first half.

This was a Pruitt third-year program loss. There is no longer reason to believe Guarantano will get it all together and become a miracle man. Not having a ready replacement is a reflection on all concerned – the boss, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and QB coach Chris Weinke.

Tennessee’s 2-2 record is one thing. How the Vols have looked is another. It is time to revise expectations for season success. Check out the remaining schedule and circle all the opponents the Vols are likely to defeat. Alright, there’s Vanderbilt.

It was alarming that Pruitt, post-game, reflected on peripherals, a missed block on a zone-read, a dropped pass on a check-down, the play where tailback and quarterback failed to communicate.

What happened at Georgia was about how much better the Bulldogs are than the Volunteers. What happened against Kentucky was far more troubling.

This is basic stuff – evaluation, recruiting and development of quarterbacks, team effort under all circumstances, fundamentals, discipline, practice habits, smarts, the never-ending fight for survival at the line of scrimmage.

Pruitt, later, refined his focus. He said he wasn’t particularly concerned about Alabama, that the challenge is Tennessee. He said there are so many things the Volunteers need to improve, starting with want-to.

“And that goes back to me.”

The coach said he understands the standard of Tennessee football.

“We didn’t play with the effort and toughness expected at Tennessee.”

That helps with perspective. Catching the big boys, contending for championships, is a pipe dream if you can’t beat Kentucky.

Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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