When Evan Berry returned the opening kickoff 96 yards to give the Vols a 7-0 lead, my grandfather turned to me and said, “I hope we don’t sit on this lead.” He wasn’t joking. The Vols eventually went up 14-0 over Arkansas, but, after blowing two big fourth quarter leads in 14 days, the Vols didn’t wait to blow this one. An Alex Collins touchdown run cut the lead to seven before Brandon Allen found Dominique Reed for a 33 yard touchdown early in the second quarter – just like that, Tennessee’s lead was toast.
The Vols fought back to claim a 17-14 advantage, but the Volunteer offense fell flat after that.
Their next six drives netted only three points. In the end, an opponent who once trailed by 14 points, ended the game with a victory. Conservative play calling, a lack of offensive identity, missed assignments and missed tackles – they all played a role in the loss.
In a span of four weeks, Butch Jones’ Tennessee Volunteers have lost games in which they led by 17 points (Oklahoma), 13 points (Florida) and 14 points (Arkansas). As my colleague Houston Kress put it, that is “hard to do.”
For perspective, in 17 years under Phillip Fulmer the Vols blew a two possession lead just six times – Butch Jones’ Vols have done that in their last three games against FBS teams, three times in four weeks and five times in the last 15 games. This isn’t some trend plaguing college football – all Power 5 teams are 157-5 when leading by 13+ points this season while Tennessee is just 2-3.
The stretch of football Vol fans have witnessed the last month is, frankly, unprecedented and inexcusable.
After 30 games under Jones, the shocking numbers for Tennessee don’t end there.
Butch Jones is 6-16 against Power 5 opponents at Tennessee, with wins over Kentucky (twice), Vanderbilt (once), South Carolina (twice) and Iowa. Those aren’t exactly noted college football powers. Jones’ best win to date came over then No. 11 South Carolina on October 19th, 2013. That was the seventh game of his tenure and, since then, he’s winless against ranked teams.
That win over No. 11 South Carolina sure seems distant. Though the Vols have been perilously close to multiple big victories since then, they haven’t closed the deal. Close losses and unprecedented blown leads are piling up.
To make matters worse, when the pressure is on, Jones’ teams have typically vanished – Jones is 3-8 in one possession games against Power 5 teams at Tennessee. His three wins came over South Carolina (2013 and 2014) and Vanderbilt (2014). Arkansas entered Saturday’s contest on a 10 game losing streak in one possession games and without an SEC road win under Bret Bielema. There’s no way to sugar coat it: The Vols had a chance to right the ship against the least clutch team in the conference and, instead, let the Razorbacks overcome an early 14 point hole and leave Neyland with the program’s second win in Knoxville in the series.
Tennessee’s offense was inept in the second half against Oklahoma and Florida and, somehow, managed to continue that trend on Saturday against the worst passing defense in the SEC.
The Vols tallied just 90 yards of offense in the second half against the Razorbacks. During the final 30 minutes, Arkansas out rushed the Vols 141-4 on the way to a 236 yard advantage in total yards. Trailing by only four points in the fourth quarter, the Vols ran 12 plays and gained 29 yards.
This performance comes three weeks after gaining eight yards in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma and one week after being out gained 145-84 at Florida.
Butch Jones has a 5-13 record against SEC teams, a 1-13 record against above average defenses, his teams have blown five fourth quarter leads and he has a 14-16 overall record. Unless the Vols can upset Georgia or Alabama, they’re staring a 2-5 start right in the face. And they’re looking at an 0-9 record against their biggest rivals under Jones.
Days after blowing a two possession fourth quarter lead to Florida last year, Jones stated: “Everyone wants the prize, but no one wants the process, and we’re going through that process right now.”
After three blown double-digit leads in four weeks, it’s abundantly clear that Butch Jones’ process is flawed.
Unless he changes course and learns from his mistakes, quality wins, the only prize Vol fans care about, will never arrive.