I picked Tennessee to win the SEC East.
I picked Tennessee as a dark-horse contender to make the third edition of the College Football Playoff.
I picked Tennessee to take the logical next step after falling one play short of the SEC East title last year and reignite the glory days that have been absent on Rocky Top for a decade.
After 60 minutes (and an overtime) of football against Appalachian State on Thursday night in Neyland Stadium, that seems more like fiction than reality.
Sure, Tennessee dug itself out of a hole and found a way to post the 20-13 win over the Mountaineers—complete with a fumble from quarterback Joshua Dobbs recovered by Jalen Hurd in the end zone for the most appropriate game-winning touchdown for one of the sloppiest games you could imagine.
But it was downright ugly and gave head coach Butch Jones plenty of talking points to stress to his team next week as it prepares for Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.
Most notably, the Volunteers have to protect their quarterback better.
The Mountaineers finished 11th in the nation in total defense (314.5 ypg) and yards per play (4.69) a year ago, but that’s no excuse for letting Dobbs get pressured on virtually every dropback and causing him to run for his life before ever getting set.
Various analysts on Twitter took notice:
Can you imagine what a defensive front like Florida’s would have done to the Vol offensive line Thursday night?
Or Missouri? Or Texas A&M?
Dobbs would have been hit more than a batting practice pitcher in the Home Run Derby. And that was with an offensive line that combined for 41 starts just last year, according to the game notes. Time and continuity are supposed to help an offensive line get better, not morph it into a turnstile.
“With their scheme, they move [the line of scrimmage] a lot and rely on their quickness, and I thought that was evident,” Jones said in the postgame press conference. “We knew the ability to sustain blocks would be a challenge because of their quickness up front. They do a good job schematically.”
It was evident. And Tennessee had all month to prepare for it and couldn’t do anything to stop it.
That’s on Jones as much as it is on the players.
It wasn’t much better on the defensive side, where a defensive line led by supposed stud defensive end Derek Barnett, veteran end Corey Vereen and talented tackles Kendal Vickers, Danny O’Brien and Kahlil McKenzie got pushed around like it was the three-touchdown underdog simply hoping for the upset, rather than the division-title contender that upgraded to new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
As B/R national video analyst Michael Felder noted on Twitter, it looked like the Vols wanted nothing to do with the Mountaineers.
Yes, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin’s ejection due to a targeting foul early in the first quarter deflated Neyland Stadium for a while, but somebody has to man up. The holes running back Marcus Cox ran through en route to 115 yards were as wide as the Grand Canyon.
“I thought our tackling was very poor,” Jones said. “We didn’t wrap or run our feet and drive for five at the line of scrimmage.”
And then there’s Dobbs himself.
Oh goodness, Joshua Dobbs.
What are you even doing?
As if the pedestrian 16-of-29 performance against what should have been a lesser opponent wasn’t bad enough, you heaved up a prayer down 10 while in field-goal range late in the second quarter that resulted in a pick. Then you made the same mistake late in the fourth quarter while tied at 13 on a pass that should have been a go-ahead pick-six for the Mountaineers.
That’s not what a senior quarterback who has started games in all three previous seasons is supposed to do.
The Tennessee team that took the field Thursday against Appalachian State wasn’t close to the contender I thought it’d be, or the one that the vast majority of the media picked at media days to win the SEC East.
That wasn’t even the kind of team that deserves a middle-tier bowl.
Regardless of your style, scheme and personnel, you win consistently in the SEC when you win in the trenches and the quarterback takes care of the football.
The Vols did none of that and derailed their own hype train until they can prove otherwise.
“Do we have to get a lot better? We absolutely have to get a lot better,” Jones said. “It starts with me, it starts with our coaches, it starts with our players and it starts with everyone in our organization.”
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football