Saturday night was something Tennessee fans haven’t felt in a while: a demoralizing blow out loss to a big time rival. But, it’s something Tennessee fans have seen often in the last decade.
This 49-10 loss to Alabama hurts, no pun intended. It’s good that it hurts. It means Vol fans are no longer used to the beat downs of the Dooley days. And, Saturday felt a lot like the Dooley days. The good thing is… Derek Dooley is still getting yelled at by Dez Bryant on Sundays.
Everything is going to be okay.
Tennessee walked into the perfect storm for disaster against Alabama, and it’s over. Now, the bye week is finally here, and holy smokes does this team need an off week. Here’s advice for all of Vol Nation… Throw this game away. Forget about it. Move on.
Remember how you felt about this team the day after it took a Top 10 Texas A&M team to double-overtime on the road, with seven turnovers and eleven injuries. Remember how you felt about this team when it scored 38 straight points on the Florida Gators, and you thought Neyland was going to shake to the ground. Remember how you felt about this team when they didn’t give up after letting up a go-ahead TD with 10-seconds left at Georgia. That team still exists.
Here’s the thing: this #Vols team is so battered they would struggle with anyone this week. Bye week. Get healthy, finish 10-2. Go to ATL.
— Austin Stanley (@AustinStanley81) October 15, 2016
Tennessee has so many injuries it was playing a freshman walk-on defensive lineman named Joey Cave. No disrespect to the Cave family, but that won’t get it done. The Vols were missing 12 starters against the Tide. Countless back-ups went down and out.
Starters will return from injury
I would expect a number of Tennessee’s starters to be back after the bye week for the South Carolina game. Darrin Kirkland Jr. was close to playing against Bama, so another two weeks of practice should have the sophomore linebacker ready to finish out the season. Senior defensive back Malik Foreman should also be back. The offensive line will look much better in two weeks with potential returns of Dylan Weisman, Jashon Robertson, Chance Hall and Brett Kendrick.
Cornerback Cam Sutton is approaching his window of returning from his broken ankle against Ohio. I wouldn’t expect him back until the middle of November. Khalil McKenzie’s status remains unknown as the extent of the injury hasn’t been released.
The only players known not to return this season are LB Jalen Reeves-maybin (shoulder), LB Quarte Sapp (ACL), DT Danny O’Brien (dismissed) and WR Preston Williams (transferring).
Tennessee fans are relieved to see this second half of the schedule approaching. The Vols remaining opponents have a combined record of 12-20 this season. That is a vast contrast to the 34-11 combined record of its first seven opponents.
First up is South Carolina (2-4), after the bye week. The Gamecocks’s offense is so bad this season they’ve scored less touchdowns (9) than Alabama has scored on defense and special teams (11). South Carolina has a whopping two passing touchdowns and three interceptions the entire year. The Gamecock defense has been somewhat respectable this year and has not allowed more than 28 points in a game, thus far.
After Carolina, is Tennessee Tech. The Vols final non-conference foe has a 2-5 record and sits at sixth on the Ohio Valley Conference. Nuff said.
Tennessee closes the season with three straight SEC games, with Kentucky and Missouri at home and a regular season finale in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Kentucky (3-3) does have some talent on offense and will be pushing for a bowl bid. The Wildcats could be motivated against the Vols, but I don’t see any type of legitimate upset threat. Missouri doesn’t have much of anything to hang its hat on and might have mailed in the season at that point.
Vanderbilt beat Georgia on Saturday, in Athens. The Commodores pose the biggest threat in the second half, according to ESPN’s “Matchup Predictor” that gives the Vols a 76-percent chance of victory. Vandy has a stout defense but absolutely zero offense.
Vols should have no problem getting to 10-2.
A 10-2 Tennessee team that swept the SEC East should be a shoo-in to an appearance in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. The last piece of the puzzle is another SEC loss for the Gators. Florida’s only blemish on its schedule is the loss at Tennessee. However, the second half of the Gator’s schedule is opposite of the Vols cakewalk.
If Florida loses once to either Georgia (4-3), at Arkansas (5-2) or at LSU (4-2), Tennessee is in Atlanta. Florida WILL lose at either Arkansas or LSU. The two SEC West teams are way more impressive than Florida. QB Luke Del Rio did return from injury in the Gator’s 40-14 blow out win against Missouri on Saturday. But, Florida didn’t get an offensive touchdown until late in the third quarter when the game was already put away.
Arkansas is coming off an impressive win over Ole Miss, and LSU will be running on full throttle in November against the Gators. Leonard Fournette will be healthy, and LSU will have something to prove against Florida.
Everything will be okay
The Vols will be 10-2, healthy(-ier) and set up for a rematch against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, ready to show the country that October 15 was the perfect storm for disaster.