Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd picks up first-down yardage during Saturday night's game against Arkansas at Neyland Stadium. Hurd and fellow Volunteers running back Alvin Kamara were factors early but faded in the second half of the Vols' second straight SEC loss.

KNOXVILLE -- For the fourth time in seven football seasons, Tennessee is 2-3.

The Volunteers had the same record through five games in 2009, 2010 and last season, and while they rallied on the easier back halves of those schedules, there's a different feeling around this one.

Letting two-score leads slip away in the losses by a combined 12 points probably has something to do with that.

If the Vols and third-year coach Butch Jones are going to turn this season around, it very well may have to start against Georgia on Saturday.

"We know what it feels like to be in this position," linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said Monday. "It's Team 119. Team 119 hasn't done anything yet. We just keep everyone focused, stay grinding. No one's going to give up; no one's going to quit.

"It's going to be fun to see how this season ends out, how the season turns out, because there's a lot of people doubting us right now. All we've got is the guys in our room, depending on each other, and we'll finish strong."

Jones is not one of those doubters.

That's the message he relayed to his team at their meeting Sunday, roughly 24 hours after the 24-20 loss to Arkansas.

"The message was very, very simple," he said. "I speak the truth, and the truth of the matter is we're a good football team. And we've lost to three very, very good opponents.

"I want our players to understand," he added, "that we're a good football team."

Is that the case, though?

Tennessee ranks last in the SEC in total defense (414 yards per game) and 12th in the league in scoring defense (24.6 points allowed per game). Big plays are a reason why. The Vols have allowed 23 plays of 20-plus yards, the second-most in the SEC, and 14 plays of 30-plus yards and nine plays for 40-plus yards, both SEC-worst totals.

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Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd is tripped up by the Arkansas Razorbacks' Henre' Toliver during the fourth quarter of Saturday night's Southeastern Conference matchup at Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers lost 24-20 after being tied at 17 at halftime.

Offensively, Tennessee is one-dimensional. If opponents can slow running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara and contain quarterback Josh Dobbs and force Tennessee to throw, the Vols struggle to move the ball through the air. Dobbs is 10th in the SEC in passing efficiency, and the receivers have been injured, underwhelming or both.

Coaching was a bigger issue against Oklahoma and Florida than it was against Arkansas. The game plans have been good enough to build leads of 17, 13 and 14 points against those teams. Mistakes on the sideline and on the field are why the Vols couldn't hold any of them.

Jones remains firm in his belief that his team is improved and his program is taking steps in the right direction.

"We (as coaches) just have to make sure that we continue to stress those (small details) like we have and continue to work to put our players in situations to be successful," he said.

"For me, (it's) keeping this football team and football program on the right track, which we will do it. I see us making progress. Unfortunately it's not showing on the scoreboard. But eventually it will."

It better soon, or the negativity around the program will only increase.

Among the rumors that circulated Sunday was one that Jones had an altercation with an offensive lineman during a preseason practice, which he called "absolutely ridiculous" when asked about it Monday.

"Tough times challenge you, but I really, really truly believe they form who you are," Jones said. "You find out a lot about yourself. Our players have been resilient. They've done a very good job. They understand what needs to happen in moving forward. So do our coaches.

"I know everybody hurts," he added. "I hurt along with everyone. You really, in these times, find out who's with you, who's against you, and you just write it down and put it in your back pocket and you file it away for future reference. We're going to be fine. We've got a great group of kids. We're going to continue to make progress and move forward."

Asked if the doubters he had just mentioned motivated or disappointed the team, Reeves-Maybin's response was blunt.


"Don't care really," Dobbs chimed in.

"We've got our guys in the room, and that's who really matters," Reeves-Maybin continued. "We know what we can do. We know the work we put in. We know what type of program we've built. We've got a great set-up going. We've lost a couple games, but we'll bounce back and we'll have a great season."

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