Butch Jones can’t lose, even to No. 2 Oregon
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
With the first loss of his Tennessee coaching career looming, Butch Jones can’t lose today.
After wearing out Austin Peay and Western Kentucky the past two weeks inside the confines of Neyland Stadium, Butch’s Vols enter vaunted Autzen Stadium in Eguene today as four-touchdown underdogs against lightning-fast Oregon, the second-ranked team in the country.
In all the lead up to this game, how much of the talk has been about Tennessee pulling off the upset? Zero. How much of the talk has been about the Vols doing enough to keep it respectable? All of it.
That makes it a win-win for Jones. He’ll eventually take a step in the wrong direction, but it won’t be today.
Say Tennessee does enough to keep it relatively close, maybe 42-28. That happens and the Vols could put the nation, and the Southeastern Conference, on notice: Under Jones, this sleeping giant of a football program is waking up.
Say Tennessee gets blown out, maybe 55-10. That happens and Vol fans shrug their shoulders. That was supposed to happen, right? It would bring the least blowback of any 45-point loss in the history of the program.
Oregon is everything Tennessee isn’t. And vice versa. The Vols are thin. Oregon is deep. Tennessee is slow. The Ducks are fast. The Vols offense is still trying to find playmakers. The Ducks are hard pressed to locate a skill player that can’t make plays. Tennessee’s defense is developing freshmen on the fly by default. Oregon rotates a deep, physical defense — a virtually ignored undercard in the shadows of the hyper-speed offense — like a turnstile clicks.
Oregon hasn’t missed a BCS-level bowl game in four years. Tennessee hasn’t won a bowl game in five years, or even went bowling at all the last two.
None of that is Butch Jones’ fault. He inherited a roster depleted by coaching turnover dating back five years. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, in his first year after spending the last four as the mad scientist Ducks offensive coordinator, inherited a cupboard stacked to the brim with speedy talent from former coach Chip Kelly.
It all adds up to a win-win for Butch in what will most certainly be, by the end of the day, his first loss leading the Vols.
But what does that win-win situation mean? It means empty the bag of tricks. Throw everything but the kitchen sink at Oregon and see what sticks.
Use the ‘Beast Package’ — where AJ Johnson checks in at tailback — in short-yardage situations. Try a disguised on-side kick. Fake a punt. Run a reverse until fans’ eyes start to cross, then run a reverse pass. Give a wildcat package a trial run.
If it works, and Saturday turns competitive, Butch becomes a bigger cult hero in Knoxville than he already is. If it doesn’t, he’s blown out in a game that was already clearly designated for blowout status.
It’ll be a different story next week in Gainesville, Fla., when the SEC schedule starts with hated-rival Florida and the Gators’ eight-game win streak over the Vols. But that’s next week.
Oregon will win today. But Butch Jones can’t lose.
Grant Ramey is an award-winning sports writer at The Daily Times. He can be reached at grantr@thedailytimes. You can follow him on Twitter @GrantRamey. He wrote from Eugene, Ore.