With all of the injuries Tennessee’s football team has sustained, the bye week could not have come any faster for the Vols. While it allows many of the players a week of rest to get charged up for the second half of the season, it’s also a time to look back and judge the performances of the players and coaches.
Coming into the season, fans had a big question to ask of Butch Jones: could his team finish the game strong and close out close games? So far this season, the answer to that question has been yes. The never-quit mentality that Butch Jones has instilled in his team this year has brought big wins over Florida and Georgia that easily could have been losses. That resiliency helped bag the biggest win of Jones’ career with the 38-28 win over the Gators.
While some fans were dreaming of a national championship season, many just wanted to end the decade-plus long streak against Florida. That win was more than just a regular win for Butch Jones, whether he wants to admit it or not. The Georgia win was huge for the Vols, too. The last time that Tennessee had defeated both in the same season was all the way back in 2004. This team has a confidence that past Tennessee teams have not had, and Butch Jones has a role in that confidence.
While this has mostly been a seasons of positives for Butch Jones, there have been some negatives as well. The Vols have figured out how to finish strong, but that’s had to counter the team’s slow starts in every single game. Tennessee is 5-2 on the season, but this team could easily be 2-5. The Vols’ have fallen behind in all but the Ohio game this season.
It’s a concerning trend for Tennessee because most of the Vols’ first halves this season have been conservatively coached. The Vols have put themselves behind too often, and they have been forced to open up the playbook to avoid losing. This conservative coaching has been the only dark spot for Butch Jones so far this season. While the competition level drops for the Vols after the bye week, Jones will need to try and put a stop to the slow and conservative starts so the Vols’ don’t drop a game that they aren’t supposed to lose.
Overall, it’s been a solid season for Buch Jones. He got arguably the two biggest wins of his career against eastern division rivals Florida and Georgia, and the Vols’ have a shot at the SEC Championship if Florida drops a game. However, can Butch Jones lead Tennessee to the beat elite company of teams like Alabama and Ohio State? If the Vols make it to Atlanta, a potential rematch with the Crimson Tide will tell a lot about how good Butch Jones is. Despite how good the season has been for the Vols so far, the jury is still out on Butch Jones being an elite coach.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam