This was the state of play for Tennessee coach Butch Jones entering Saturday:
Tennessee’s last game was a blowout loss to Alabama in a glorified scrimmage for the Crimson Tide. Tennessee was never going to fire Jones just to install an interim to take that beating, and the Vols also weren’t going to fire Jones right after failing to beat an unbeatable team.
But now, the heat’s very much on. SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey reported from Knoxville before the Bama game:
Sources indicated that if a move occurs, it would likelier be at the end of the regular season.
However, the trip to Kentucky right after Alabama now looms as a must-win. Essentially, Butch would have to win out after losing to Bama in order to have a chance.
Jones’ team was a four-point underdog at Kentucky, a team Tennessee always beats. The Vols played hard, but they gave up a game-losing touchdown with 33 seconds left. They caught a Hail Mary at the buzzer but got tackled just short of the goal line.
Final score: 29-26, Kentucky, and probably lights out on the Jones era in Knoxville.
This was an excruciating way to lose a game, too.
The game-ending successful-yet-failed Hail Mary:
Note the Kentucky DB standing over Tennessee receiver Jeff George, who caught the ball before getting tackled at the 3:
It’s as if he’s saying, “Nice try.”
Tennessee was better than Kentucky in this game. Substantially so.
Tennessee:— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 29, 2017
- Gained 445 yards (75 more than UK)
- Had 38:25 time of possession
-Won the turnover battle 4-0
-Still took an L#TENNvsUK
And caught a danged Hail Mary on the last play of the game.
This was Tennessee’s second loss to Kentucky since 1984. The teams play annually.
Jones might not get fired right away, but this is only ending one way.
The Kentucky loss dropped UT to 3-5 this season, even farther out of SEC East contention than it was entering the day. It dropped Jones’ cumulative record at UT to 33-26 over five seasons, which isn’t nearly good enough.
Maybe the Vols can take solace in East rival Florida going into the tank this year, too. The Gators might be firing their own coach. There’s only one strong team in the East right now, and Georgia looks like a potential Death Star for years to come.
But there’s still just one really good team in the division. The East won’t be this holistically bad forever, and Tennessee can’t wait much longer to fix itself.
Jon Gruden’s not coming, but someone else will soon.