I’ll say this about Tennessee’s football team.
The past two weeks will be the worst of the worst. They played the defending national champions and top-ranked Alabama on the road, losing 45-10.
Last Saturday they traveled to Missouri and got boat-raced 31-3 by the Tigers.
They lost by a combined margin of 76-13. Their competition was the best team in the Western Division and the best team in the Eastern Division.
Alabama and Missouri are frontrunners to meet in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
What happens to Tennessee? The Vols have three games left. They have four wins and if they are to get a bowl bid, they must win two of three games against Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The first two teams will play in Knoxville.
Tennessee’s not the only team that would give up 76, or more, points against Alabama and Missouri on the road.
But Vols Coach Butch Jones must be deeply concerned about his team scoring only 13 points in the two games.
“It’s a line of scrimmage game. When you give up over 300 yards to the other team rushing the ball and your team has less than 100, I think that pretty much tells the story,’’ Jones said after his team’s loss to Missouri, a team coming off a last second overtime loss to South Carolina.
“I thought we had some opportunities in the early going. One of the biggest things was getting great field position early on and we weren’t able to capitalize on it. I take great pride in playing a field position game and then everything else kind of slipped off from there.’’
It was 24-3 at halftime and Missouri scored a touchdown in the third quarter to seal the deal.
The Vols offense was playing with a freshman quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. He was making his first collegiate start. Although he held his own considering his inexperience, Dobbs failed to get much help from those around him.
For the first time this season, I don’t think the Vols were well coached. They made too many mental errors that created costly penalties. The officials marked off 65 yards for nine penalties. Missouri had only 35 yards for five penalties.
Tennessee’s margin of error is not large enough to overcome mistakes.
“It was unacceptable with the pre-snap penalties and that’s on me with the penalties,’’ Jones said, shouldering the blame. “They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Penalties, pre-snap penalties, tackling and two blown assignments on the back end doesn’t give you a chance on the road.
“Missouri is a good football team, very well coached. … I said at the beginning of the season that we needed to be a blue-collar team. Our margin of error is very small. We need to overachieve in any and all areas to have a chance.’’
They aren’t going to beat many teams by failing to convert third down plays on only 2 of 13 chances. Add 0 for 2 on fourth down attempts and the scoreboard is not going to be kind.
The Vols treated the red zone as if it were a hostile foreign country. They didn’t want any part of trespassing near Mizzou’s goal line and it showed.
Defensively Missouri receivers were running free much of the game, mainly due to inexperience and confusion in Tennessee’s secondary.
It’s hard to believe, but there are brighter days ahead.
Jones is building it one brick at a time. I suggest he order more bricks.
Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.