Butch Jones is definitely not the first head coach to use the phrase “football is a game of inches,” but it does sound a bit cliche’ doesn’t it? Along with phrases like “defense wins championships” and “football is won and lost in the trenches,” you hear that kind of coach-speak stuff all the time.
But the truth is, inches, 36 of them to be exact, can make all the difference in the outcome of a football game, and Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma proved it.
On at least two occasions during the Vols’ 31-24 double overtime loss to the Sooners, Tennessee felt the impact a single yard can have on a game. The first instance came on Tennessee’s opening drive following a Todd Kelly Jr. interception. After starting the drive at midfield, the Vols’ offense pushed all the way to the goal line only to opt for a field goal on a fourth and goal from the 1-yard line.
Now, I’m not saying Butch should have gone for it, although I do believe Jalen Hurd could have powered his way forward into the end zone given the chance. I’m simply pointing out the difference a single yard made in this situation.
Think about it.
If Tennessee goes for it on fourth down and scores, the Vols potentially start the game 21-0, which couldn’t have been tied with Sterling Shepard’s late fourth-quarter touchdown. Likewise if they go for it and don’t get it, who knows how the rest of the game goes from there.
The second time the Vols felt the significance a yard can make came in overtime when the defense had forced a fourth and goal at the one-yard line. Tennessee’s defense had been solid nearly the entire game, holding Oklahoma’s high-powered offense to under 350 total yards and a stop would win the game.
But it didn’t go that way.
Baker Mayfield tumbled into the end zone and sent the game into double overtime where the Sooners would eventually finish the comeback and win the game.
Now, we can hypothesize all day about each scenario and the “what ifs,” but the fact that one yard – just 36 inches – had that much of an effect on the game gives merit to the phrase “football is a game of inches.” And that will especially be true this year for Tennessee, a team that is projected to be in several one-possession and even one-play/one-yard type of situations.
“When this journey ventured, we spoke as a football team, and as a part of the competitive nature of this football team, we will be in a lot of close games,” Butch Jones said on Monday. “There are going to be a lot of games that take on this personality.”
The Vols will need to find a way to get those yards to go in their favor to reach their goals in 2015.