You Big Orange fans don’t have to tell me how disappointed you are after watching the Music City Bowl last week.
I saw the game too.
What I don’t get is how defeatist some of the VFL fold has become over a disappointing loss. Again, after perusing social media, there are many in the VFL crowd ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I hope they reconsider that notion. It’s too cold out for that, today.
Certainly, the 48-45 loss to Purdue was deflating. Almost everything that could have gone wrong for Tennessee did, yet it led for most of the fourth quarter and, really, should have won the game.
Folks, let’s backtrack a second. Way back, almost a year ago, when almost everyone, me included, wrinkled our nose at the hiring of Josh Heupel as head coach of this program like a small child might to broccoli, people consigned this team to three-to-five wins. There didn’t seem to be any bowl in the foreseeable future for this team.
Flash forward 11months. Tennessee entered the bowl game with seven victories, finished third in the SEC East and proved it could play with anybody in the nation.
Let’s be honest folks, Tennessee wasn’t even supposed to be in a bowl game and yet, it took a team with two Top-Five victories to overtime.
Could the play calling have been better? Yes, even Heupel conceded that in his post-game presser. Could the officiating have been better? No question about it. Let’s not even bring up the play at the goal line in overtime.
Tennessee didn’t play a very good game, yet had 666 total offensive yards. Hooker had an off day, but threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns … with no interceptions.
The Vols played well enough to win this game, but people will remember that main statistic: points scored.
What this game did is disclose to UT its needs moving forward. Tennessee needs to hit the transfer portal to find help in the secondary, linebacker corps and offensive line. Depth has been an issue all year long.
Next, Tennessee needs to tweak its offense. Like good hitters in baseball catching up to the fast ball, defenses are going to figure out ways to stop this offense. Heupel also needs to look in the mirror as it pertains to his play calling. This offense must be more efficient in the red zone.
This coaching staff has a good idea about its personnel, unlike last year. Next year, it can plan ahead. The schedule is favorable. Do we now have to rethink the expectations for this team? It’s still a work in progress, that’s for sure, but the SEC is in a state of flux, as we saw from the bowl results. If these guys continue to buy in, work to improve, this team can realistically win 10 games next year.
Then, Tennessee wouldn’t have to worry about playing in the Music City Bowl again.
Editor’s note: Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs from 4-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM, Camden.