Tennessee Plays With Fire Again, Finally Gets Burned

Posted at 10:35 PM, Oct 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-30 15:56:42-04

Butch Jones doesn't like negativity around his football program, so he's not going to like what he hears this week.

Tennessee once again looked out of sorts in the first half at South Carolina, falling behind 17-7 early in the third quarter en route to a 24-21 upset loss that all but ends its SEC East championship hopes.

The start was nothing new for the Vols, who have now trailed by double digits in seven of their eight games this season. But this time they were unable to pull themselves out of trouble.

If you keep playing with fire, at some point you are going to get burned.

For Tennessee, that point came Saturday night in Columbia. Josh Dobbs, who had been brilliant in four previous second half comebacks, turned the ball over three times and a depleted defense failed to come up with the big play.

But make no mistake, the blame for this loss falls squarely on Jones and his coaching staff.

Yes, the Vols have been ravaged by injuries and hardly resemble the roster that was picked as a preseason top 10 team anymore. But they still appeared to be the cream of the crop in a mediocre SEC East, capable of winning the school's first division title since 2007.

And this wasn't Texas A&M or Alabama.

This was an inexcusable defeat against a South Carolina team that had won just once in five SEC contests under first-year coach Will Muschamp, who now owns an equally alarming 5-0 record against Tennessee.

Football is a 60 minute game and Jones' team routinely doesn't show up until the second half. I don't know if he needs to set his players' alarm clocks earlier, change the pregame meal from chicken to steak or find some new pep talk material. Whatever he's doing isn't working.

Year four was supposed to be the break through season for Jones, when he finally fielded a veteran team capable of winning the SEC East and putting Tennessee back on the map. But despite all the talent and hope, something hasn't clicked with this group.

The slow starts have made the entire season a white-knuckled struggle, and Saturday it finally did them in.

This was the slowly dripping faucet that flooded the entire house.

Jones said that Tennessee will have to "own this loss", and that it can't allow one game to define the season.

The problem is that this wasn't a one game blip on the radar.

These slow starts do define what Tennessee is; a very talented team that hasn't figured out how to put together an entire game.

And the blame for that falls directly on Jones.