THAT JUST HAPPENED: Vols empty stadium, but survive Umass

photo by Wil Wright

Whatever you’re feeling is OK.

You might be feeling that big schools sleepwalk between big games and get nearly upended by cupcakes every year. You’re right, they do.

You might be feeling like there’s no good excuse for this Tennessee team to have been within 5 touchdowns of lowly Umass. You’re also right.

Maybe you’re correctly feeling like Tennessee fans dumping out of the stadium at halftime of ~any game~ and still expecting passion and effort from the team is totally hypocritical garbage. You’re probably feeling a lot. This writer is feeling the Big Orange Abyss looking back at him while he decides whether to do a Can Opener or Cannonball into it. But remember, Tennessee survived the Umass scare, and when Tennessee got grazed by the tragedy train last year again Appalachia State, they went on to beat both Florida and Georgia.


The truth is, Tennessee could’ve lost this game and felt no real consequences besides overall record. If the prevailing goal is to win the SEC East, it’s as if this sloppy, uninspired, (at times) embarrassing game never happened. As it stands, Tennessee is just 0-1 in the SEC and their primary opponents (Georgia and Florida) both will face stout, in-conference games tonight. But, regardless of the consequences in the standings and SEC, there are bigger problems emerging now.


Tennessee had to play important players throughout this game, and the only benefit to playing 0-4 Umass was to rest, recover and develop depth. The Vols, instead, come away from this game with more injuries, most notably to TE Ethan Wolf. John Kelly, the scrappy running back currently carrying Tennessee every week, should’ve been in street clothes by the 2nd quarter. Instead, Kelly got 25 touches and was on the field through the end of the game. Not rotating more felt reckless against Indiana State. Today, it was, sadly, necessary.


On the Quarterback front, fans finally got to see Guarantano take some snaps that matter, but he missed on a couple of opportunities and generally looks like he’s still finding his legs. After the game, Jones says the team was “looking for a spark” after Dormady turned the ball over for the 5th time in 4 games. It’s frustrating to see Guarantano’s raw talent, even on bad possessions. At a point, just letting him figure it out and investing in him for the future might be better than watching Quinten Dormady lead the SEC in turnovers. All of these “quality snaps” aren’t tightening the offense up, and John Kelly can’t and shouldn’t have to keep carrying a sloppy, mediocre QB.


This is the part where I was gonna talk about the booing, and the empty stands, and Butch’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the timeout that canceled a big Umass penalty, and the dark clouds gathering around this coaching staff…but you know what? I just got back from my honeymoon and am still feeling pretty good, so whatever. The coaches are in some trouble. The fan culture is toxic. This isn’t the first time or the worst time.


Today is about as weird and uncomfortable as a winning game day gets. You might be feeling like a win is a win and that football is pass/fail. This Saturday feels more like a D on an open-note midterm and it’s too late to drop the class. You better start studying, blackmail/date your TA, start looking at community college, fake a family emergency… not sure where this metaphor was going, but Tennessee has to play Georgia now.


Feel free to feel worried.

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