Wiedmer: UT coach Butch Jones needs a big win in a hurry

Wiedmer: UT coach Butch Jones needs a big win in a hurry

September 19th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones takes the field before the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Vols lose to Gators on last-second touchdown pass

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There's an old joke about a Georgia Tech football fan heading out to the mall one Saturday and realizing he has four tickets to that day's Yellow Jackets game that he isn't going to use. He leaves them on his car's front windshield under the wiper blades in the hope that someone will use them. However, when he comes back there are eight tickets under his wipers instead of four.

That's how unpopular Tech football had become in the early 1980s.

Now fast-forward to Sunday afternoon. A social media poster in our area — we'll call him Facebook Freddie — wrote that he was done with this Tennessee football team after Saturday's shocking last-second loss at Florida. He was offering his two season tickets for free to this Saturday's UMass game to anyone who wanted them. We repeat: for free. Yet Monday afternoon, easily more than 24 hours after his offer, Facebook Freddie still had zero interest in his tickets.

If first-year UT athletic director John Currie makes the exceedingly bold and questionable decision to part company with fifth-year Vols coach Butch Jones at the close of this season, the overriding reason may well be folks such as Facebook Freddie rather than possibly legitimate questions about Jones' coaching skills.

This isn't to say Currie should fire Jones. It is to say that five seasons along, Coach Cliche still often looks overmatched regarding X's and O's in the unforgiving Southeastern Conference. Merely consider the following words from a UT-produced transcript following the coach's weekly Monday news conference.

Asked about the Vols' final offensive series, which ultimately produced a tying field goal after reaching the Florida 9-yard-line for a first-and-goal with a little more than a minute to play and a pocketful of timeouts at their disposal, Jones replied:

"First of all, you are trying to spend a little bit of time, but we wanted to score a touchdown. We were going for the win and didn't want to kick a field goal. On the first-down call, we had practiced that play all week. We had it set up and knew we were going to get a blitz. We had practiced it all week, but the bottom line is that we didn't execute. On second down, we tried to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. We were going to be aggressive and go for the win. If it wasn't there, we were already in field-goal range, so worst-case scenario was we kicked a field goal and went to overtime."

Let's break that down. While no one should have an issue with the first-down pass over the middle to John Kelly — which would have been a touchdown if quarterback Quinten Dormady had properly executed the pass — there's no way to "spend a little time" if you throw on the next two downs.

Indeed, after that marvelous call failed because of execution, you should want to spend a lot of time unless you have another play up your sleeve that was as good as your first-down play. Obviously, the Vols didn't, or at least they chose to save it for Georgia or Alabama.

Instead, they threw incompletions and got the tie but left 50 seconds on the clock for Florida to attempt to get into field-goal range for a game-winner. The Gators had two timeouts, so such a strategy was automatically open to debate, but if the pass defense does its job, UT almost assuredly goes to overtime with a lot of momentum after trailing 20-10 with just 5:13 to play.

The pass defense didn't hold, though. It gave up a 63-yard bomb for the game-loser. A second odd quote from Jones on Monday regarding that play, which covered the same distance as Florida's game-winning touchdown in 2015: "It was very similar to the same play they ran in 2015."

Unfortunately for UT, so was the result.

Then there's this: When asked why backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano wasn't under center for a simple handoff when the Vols were first-and-goal inside the UF 1-yard line midway through the third quarter, Jones replied: "Quinten (Dormady) tweaks his knee, and we didn't think it was fair for Jarrett to have to go in the game and do an underneath-center snap when he didn't have time to practice the underneath-center snap."

Naturally, social media reportedly was filled with pictures of Guarantano previously under center.

Maybe Jones meant Guarantano hadn't been under center against the Gators. Maybe he just didn't remember the player's snaps in the Indiana State game. Maybe he was just carelessly winging it, which is always a dangerous option in today's video-obsessed culture, but particularly so when more and more of the fan base is unhappy with you.

And all of this negativity toward Jones, or at least most of it, certainly will go away if the Vols' only future loss is at Alabama and they do a Tennessee waltz into the SEC title game.

But in what appears to be an overall weak league, anything less than 9-3 could cause many in the Big Orange Nation not to renew their season tickets until a new coach runs the Vols.

"Make no mistake about it, the expectation is to win and the expectation here is to win every single week," Jones said Monday.

Because of that, failing to win every remaining game except Alabama — and certainly every other SEC game except Bama and one other — might well be the last mistake Jones is allowed to make as the Vols' head coach.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.