Photo by Danny Parker

Vols' season an anomaly for Butch Jones, Bob Shoop

The 2016 season was certainly not the season Tennessee fans and Butch Jones were hoping for but there is plenty of reason to believe the factors that led to the struggles for team 120 will pass as quickly as fast moving summer storm.

Football games aren't played on paper. The Tennessee Volunteers found that out the hard way this fall.

"It was just a bad combination of defensive injuries, which was on the wrong side of the ball with a lack of depth on the defensive line. Once the game was lost at Indiana in such a shocking way it was as if the team lost its mojo for winning. We just had no way to compete on the defensive line and with how we play our corners and safties couldn't hold up."

Readers might want to read that quote closely as it isn't regarding the failures surrounding Butch Jones and Team 120 but it is a quote about the team ranked just one spot behind Tennessee in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, Michigan State. Mark Dantonio quickly found that the momentum from a trip to the College Football Playoff a year ago meant nothing as the Spartans just completed a miserably 3-9 campaign.

Les Miles, David Shaw, Gary Patterson, Hugh Freeze, Bret Bielema all join Jones and Dantonio in the club made up of coaches that underperformed in 2016. Vol fans have hit the panic button about their once-celebrated fourth-year head coach joining that list.   

Some believe the writing is on the wall and Jones should be bought out after the Vols have won 17 of their last 25. So, what's the move?

The answer is simple. The reasons for falling short of meeting expectations can be found in three areas: Injuries, discipline and a miserable year on defense. All of which can easily be described as an anomaly when looking closely at the résumés of Jones and first-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

The Vols were decimated by injuries. Those have been well documented and there is no doubt they played a major role in some of the disappointments. Many fans are tired of this excuse and rightfully so, especially when considering losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The Vols still held a talent advantage over both even after the injuries. However, the team just was not disciplined enough to overcome such injuries. A sure sign of an undisciplined football team is one that racks up penalties and turns the ball over frequently. There were also suspensions and defections, which is more evidence to that fact that this team was not paying attention to detail. The 25 turnovers this team committed are the second most of any Butch Jones coached team. The Vols had as many turnovers in the four losses (12) as they did the entire 13-game 2015 season. The 28 fumbles were the most in his tenure as a head coach while the penalty totals were the second most. In Jones' first three years at Tennessee, his teams played with a high degree of discipline and there is no reason why he can't regain that with a fresh start with Team 121.

Jones has a history of rebounding from a disappointing year. Coming off a poor 2010 season where Cincinnati went 4-8 in Jones' first year as head man, he rallied the troops for a 10-win season the following year. The 2010 season was a year where turnovers and penalties plagued the Bearcats — just like this season for the Vols. In the 2011 campaign, Jones saw his team cut the turnovers down by nearly one-third and the penalty yardage dropped dramatically from 63.4 to 46.7 yards per game. Jones found a way to overcome the issues that had haunted his team the year prior.

Over the course of his 10-year head-coaching career, Jones has put a product on the field that has prided themselves on playing with discipline. Only twice has his teams averaged over two turnovers a game with this year being one of them. Only three times has his teams finished averaging over six penalties per game with this year also being one. This year ranks at the bottom of any stat used to measure the discipline of a football team when looking at Jones career.

The Bob Shoop led defense clearly was hit the hardest by the injury bug but even still vastly underachieved late in the season. Just as was mentioned by our athletic department member at Michigan State, the Vols similarly lost their "mojo for winning" on defense. Shoop did not simply forget how to coach over night. His unit lost its confidence, much of their elite talent to injury and their play was clearly a huge disappointment.

There's no reason to believe that Shoop can't also rediscover what had made him one of the best defensive coordinators in college football heading. Let's not forget that Shoop led five straight defenses at two different schools to top 25 national finishes in total defense. That success is no accident and Tennessee fans should see the failures of the defense as an irregularity.

As message boards, social media and sports talk shows fire away with the belief that the Butch Jones era has proven he can't win big in Knoxville, those screaming the loudest need to look closely at the reasons why 2016 did not meet expectations. They need to understand that Jones and Shoop have a solid history that proves those reasons for falling short this season can be described in one word — anomaly. 


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