For Vols, losing is a habit, too

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jim steele pressbox

Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is a habit; unfortunately, so is losing.”

Tennessee fans are finding that out in the most painful way after watching Brigham Young add another gut punch to the Vols with a 29-23 victory at Neyland Stadium Saturday night. Tennessee football now falls to 0-2 for the first time since 1988.

Let’s put this in perspective, shall we? Tennessee has lost six of its last eight games. It has had six losing seasons in its last 11. Prior to 2010 and 2011, Tennessee hadn’t suffered back-to-back losing seasons since 1958-59, when Bowden Wyatt was the coach.

And yes, Wyatt, a stubborn ol’ cuss, took a lot of heat from the fans for that 60 years ago.

Those two losing campaigns started a post-season absence for six straight seasons. From 1965 to 2005, Tennessee missed out on bowl games just eight times.

Think about that for a second.

Teams, like Tennessee in the 1990s, knew how to win close games. Now, it seems, the Vols know how to lose these kinds of games. How many times have they let teams like Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Oklahoma off the hook because they folded down the stretch during this span?

Remember Antonio Callaway or Tyrie Cleveland? It sort of reminds you of Micah Simon getting behind Alonte Taylor last night with :17 left in the game, a game that Tennessee had in the bag and BYU in the shadow of its own goalposts.

Even when Tennessee gets good fortune, like Juaun Jennings’ ricochet catch in the end zone to give the Vols a 7-3 lead in the first quarter, it couldn’t capitalize on the breaks. The Vols were stopped twice on fourth-and-one situations and went into the red zone twice only to come away with field goals.

Was the effort better? Yes. The defense, except for the last 17 seconds, was pretty good. Tennessee was able to pressure Cougar quarterback Zach Wilson. The defense gambled a bit last night, but with great effect. Tennessee’s energy was better, and the crowd reflected that. The running game was better, as Ty Chandler’s 154 yards would attest. This was an improved team.

But it still lost.

This team may not know how to win since it’s been losing and wearing the “loser” label for so long. More than that, though, we may have to come to an excruciating revelation.
Maybe Tennessee is just a very bad team.

Looking ahead, I’m not sure that the Vols can beat any SEC team on its schedule, except, perhaps, Vanderbilt, but they’ve lost to the ‘Dores three years in a row. That’s not even a sure thing, as it used to be prior to 2005.

Again, losing is a habit, too.

Yes, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt inherited a burned out autopsy, and, yes, it will take time to get this thing rolling again (see Johnny Majors in 1976). But Vol fans are growing weary. It’s true that former coach Butch Jones didn’t develop players. As a result, those players, those who chose to remain on The Hill, are lagging behind. The players Pruitt brought in, for the most part, aren’t completely ready.

For whatever reason, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has been inconsistent. I thought he wasn’t just terrible against Georgia State (26-40-311, 2 TDs, 2 picks). His numbers were okay. But it’s the little things. It’s throwing behind receivers. It’s missing reads. It’s throwing into double and triple coverage.

Because of these losses, there aren’t just seeds of doubt planted about the program, the players and the coaching staff.

It’s full-blown kudzu.

In this age of social media, fans and former players are sounding off. This team was supposed to be better. It was supposed to be 3-0 heading into Gainesville. It was supposed to be headed to a bowl game (especially since there are 41 of them this year).

Fans want a new coach, a new AD, some even want fired and disgraced AD John Currie back. Some are advocating the return of Lane Kiffin. All that is crazy talk.
The frenzy is real.

But that’s what happens when a team with high expectations starts with two straight embarrassing losses.

The Vols need to experience some success, but, sadly, for the VFLers, that’s not likely to happen anytime real soon.

Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and host of The Pressbox, which airs from 4-6 p.m. CT Monday-Thursday on WRJB 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.

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