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Butch Jones committed complete and total fourth quarter coaching malpractice on Saturday at Florida. Amazingly, he seems to be unaware of this coaching malpractice. His answers in press conferences suggest either a coach in denial or a man too dumb to see his own mistakes. Both are troubling.
Because here’s the deal with Butch Jones, he’s a preparer. He decides on a game plan and he rigorously adheres to it. Here’s what he can’t do, analyze changing game dynamics and make smart executive decisions as the CEO of a football team. That’s fine, everyone has flaws. But the most successful coaches recognize their flaws and adjust for them. They find others who are strong where they might be weak. Put simply, Butch Jones needs a common sense coach.
This year in college football there have been 191 games where one team has had a 13 point or more lead in the fourth quarter. The leading team has won 188 of these games, the losing team has won three times. Two of those times have happened to Tennessee, with Oklahoma coming back from a 17-3 fourth quarter deficit and Florida coming back from a 13 point fourth quarter deficit.
In the fourth quarter of the Florida game Butch Jones’s decision making was an absolute clusterfuck. And, honestly, that might be unkind to the word clusterfuck. He was awful, with time management skills that your average 6th grader playing Madden would ridicule, and mind-boggling strategic lapses that cost his team dearly. Honestly, Butch Jones should apologize to every player on his football team for costing them the game, they won it, he lost it. Because with a competent head coach exercising rudimentary game management skills, at the very least Tennessee would have been in overtime. The vast majority of the time the game would have never gotten to that point.
So let’s dissect Butch’s errors at Florida.
None of these, by the way, are hindsight decisions, go check my Twitter feed or the Twitter feeds of tens of thousands of additional Tennessee fans, these were decisions questioned in real time because they made no sense.
Here we go:
1. Everything really started to go awry for Tennessee with Josh Dobbs’s fumble late in the third quarter.
At this point the Vols led 20-7 midway through the third quarter and were in complete control of the game. On the second play of that drive Dobbs fumbled, which was really the only bad play Dobbs made all game. The Gators recovered. But the Vols subsequently held the Gators, and Florida was lined up for a 42 yard field goal with 6:12 remaining in the third quarter.
As soon as you see Florida lining up for the field goal, you send out your regular defense and have them in kick safe. Don’t even rush the kicker, just prevent the fake. This isn’t a difficult decision.
Let’s be generous and say that Florida has a 75% of making this field goal. That’s probably way too high given the average accuracy of college kickers, but let’s give him the credit here. Giving up a field goal here is a big win for the Tennessee defense. (Oh, and there’s this too, Florida’s playing it’s back-up kicker, a walk on who had never attempted a field goal in a game before. So, yeah, this is an insanely good outcome for Tennessee).
Worst case scenario, you’ve gotten off the field in three plays and are still up ten points with a little over twenty minutes left in the game. A Florida touchdown and a field goal are still required to tie you and you get the ball right back.
Your defense has saved you, there is absolutely, positively, no reason that a well coached team would take a timeout here.
But Butch Jones takes a timeout and the Gators cash in with a fourth down conversion that leads to a touchdown. Suddenly it’s 20-14 and you’re a play away from trailing. Every decision is now magnified.
2. Both teams trade three and outs and then Tennessee responds with what might possibly be the finest drive it will have all season.
On a 16 play drive that takes 7:26 off the clock, Tennessee scores a third and ten rushing touchdown to go up 26-14.
There are just over ten minutes left in the game at this point. You absolutely, positively have to go for two here. We were screaming it in my house. Lots of you were Tweeting me about the decision. This isn’t hindsight, this is being a reasonably intelligent human being who understands how football is played. Two touchdowns are equal to 14 points, that’s one more than the 13 you have if you kick the extra point.
If you go for two and don’t get it, you are still up 26-14. This would mean that Florida would need three possessions to beat you with two field goals and a touchdown. Only, here’s the deal — FLORIDA WON’T HAVE TIME FOR THREE POSSESSIONS. THERE IS NO WAY THEY ARE ATTEMPTING A FIELD GOAL DOWN 12 POINTS TO CUT THE LEAD TO NINE. THEY WILL TRY TO SCORE TWO TOUCHDOWNS TO WIN THE GAME.
Butch Jones is paid four million dollars a year to make reasonably smart executive decisions. Not going for two here is like running for United States President and opening your Presidential campaign by announcing you are a gay Muslim and believe America should be run by Shariah law.
Instead, Butch inexplicably kicks the extra point and goes up by 13. Meaning, you guessed it, two touchdowns beats you.
Asked about the decision after the game, Butch Jones proved he’s an idiot with this answer:
“(We didn’t go for two) for a number of reasons. We were discussing that, prior to the drive, if we did score, whether we go for one or two. We have a chart that’s pretty standard in football that maps it out. We just felt, at that stage in the game, we have great confidence in our defense of getting off the football field, allowing them to push the ball down the field. We felt very comfortable with that decision.”
First, his logic makes no sense and second, EVERY CHART SAYS GO FOR TWO AT THIS POINT.
EVERY SINGLE CHART.
So either Tennessee has the most fucked up probability chart in the history of mankind — does it also say to hit on 20 in blackjack? — or Butch is lying about this to try and make the story go away.
Here’s what I believe is the truth of the matter, Tennessee ran the ball on third down expecting to get stopped and kick a field goal to go up 23-14. When, miracle of all miracles, Jalen Hurd instead scored on a ten yard run on 3rd and ten, Tennessee hadn’t even considered what to do if they scored a TD and so they went ahead and kicked the extra point because they weren’t prepared to go for two and wouldn’t have been able to get a play called and run in time without calling a timeout first.
Again, that’s a failure of coaching. You should have a two point play prepared in exactly these situations.
And if you don’t — CALL A TIMEOUT AND GET ONE SET UP.
Alarmingly, Jones, faced with an unexpected and rapidly changing circumstance, wasn’t able to make a quick enough decision.
3. I’m not going to quibble with the defensive play calling because I’m not an X’s and O’s whiz.
Or even a half-whiz. I’m an X’s and O’s idiot. So I’ll leave that analysis for smarter tacticians.
After going up 27-14, the Vols forced Florida to execute a 17 play drive that took 6:10 off the clock. Sure, it features a 4th and 7 and a 4th and 8 conversion, but that’s the goal in this situation, force the Gators to take up as much time as possible and hope to stop them en route.
It’s now 27-21, a six point game, a touchdown beats you.
Who could have ever foreseen that happening?
Only the entire goddamn state of Tennessee.
4. Tennessee takes back possession of the ball needing one first down to end the game.
What do they do?
Run on first down.
Run on second down.
Disastrous and totally predictable Josh Dobbs quarterback sneak to the short side of the field on third down. Three straight called runs designed to make Florida take both of their timeouts.
Only, here’s the issue, Florida will have nearly three minutes to score. Timeouts aren’t that big of a deal in this situation. The time on the clock isn’t going to decide this game, it’s whether or not your team can stop Florida. In that situation you need to run a play that maximizes your chances to win, not one that drains the clock.
You have a chance to win the game with one well executed offensive play call. Instead, Tennessee elects not to do anything at all on offense, effectively taking a knee three times and punting. So after ten straight years of losing, Tennessee puts the onus on Florida to either win or lose the game on offense instead of winning or losing the game themselves on offense.
5. The Vol defense falls apart on 4th and 14, allowing Florida to complete a 63 yard touchdown pass and take a one point lead.
Again, I’m not quibbling with play calling.
Some might point out that it makes sense to bring pressure on a freshman quarterback on 4th and 14 since he’s unlikely to have the time to make a good throw under pressure, but whatever, the Vols dropped back into coverage and got burned.
But there is some measure of good fortune, the Gators scored so quickly that there is ample time remaining.
6. After a solid kick return Tennessee has the ball at its 32 with 1:26 on the clock and two timeouts.
The Vols might lose, but with those two timeouts, 1:26 on the clock, and the clock stopping on all first downs, there should be no way that Tennessee runs out of time on this drive.
There are effectively two options at this point:
1. Tennessee scores, either a field goal or a touchdown, and wins.
2. Tennessee is stopped on downs or misses a field goal.
Here’s what should never happen — you almost run out of time before you can even attempt a field goal.
So let’s analyze this drive.
Tennessee gains ten yards on first down. Somehow, despite the clock stopping on a first down, this play takes thirty seconds. The Vols also false start before running a second play — because for some reason, again, it takes thirty seconds — DESPITE THE CLOCK STOPPING FOR A FIRST DOWN — to get the play call in.
Go back and watch this, the false start happens because the lineman is in his crouch for too damn long. What happened that Tennessee didn’t have a play ready? That’s on Butch.
To avoid a ten second runoff for the penalty on a running clock, Tennessee takes its first timeout.
So after the penalty is enforced the Vols have burned 30 seconds to gain five yards and one of their timeouts is now gone. Despite these errors the Vols should still have plenty of time left.
On the next play the Vols gain 19 yards for a first down, the clock stops. The Vols are now at the Gator 44. A field goal is a very real option.
On the third play Dobbs drops back to pass, avoids the rush, and scrambles for eight yards before fumbling out of bounds. Tennessee’s coaches are totally unaware that the clock is running. At this point, remarkably, Tennessee has run three plays in its two minute offense and is in a time crunch. It’s as if they are trying to run the game clock out.
Dobbs completes a pass for a first down — again the clock stops — yet the Vols are unable to get another play off.
Astoundingly, with three seconds left and too many men on the field, Dobbs clocks it. With, you guessed it, a substitution infraction penalty taking place in the process.
This decision to clock the football makes no sense at all. The only explanation is that Butch wasn’t aware he had a timeout left. Otherwise why not just allow the clock to run all the way down, call your timeout, and go ahead and attempt a fifty yard field goal? Instead Tennessee gives up five yards of field position, turning a 50 yard field goal into a 55 yard field goal. After the five yard penalty is enforced the Vols burn their final timeout to avoid the game ending on a penalty.
Good fucking lord.
This means with 1:26 left on the clock and two timeouts, Tennessee was able to run a total of four plays in their two minute offense and was forced to take both timeouts to avoid two ten second run off penalties. (This rule, by the way, was put in place because of the way Derek Dooley lost to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. Meaning Tennessee narrowly avoiding becoming the first team to lose because the rule didn’t exist and then also becoming the first team to lose because the rule existed. This is why every Vol fan should drink an entire bottle of whiskey before any big game).
At this point even if Tennessee makes a 55 yard field goal, it’s impossible to have any faith in Butch Jones’s end of game decision making.
I mean, this is fucking criminal mismanagement of an end of game situation.
Keep in mind, Tennessee ran out of time despite only running four plays, two of which were first downs which REQUIRED THE CLOCK TO STOP TO RESET THE CHAINS. It’s almost impossible to mismanage an end of game situation this badly. It’s as if Tennessee was trying to use up the entire game clock by running as few of plays as possible.
Tennessee missed the 55 yard field goal — seriously, how many times out of 100 does he make this, twenty? Less? — and Butch proceeds to explain away the loss as a growing experience for a young team.
But Butch isn’t a young coach. How is he continuing to fail in these situations?
7. How can you trust Butch Jones in dynamic late game situations?
Put simply, you can’t.
He’s incapable of making smart decisions in a rapidly evolving and changing game environment. He’s very good at recruiting and he’s proven adept enough at devising game plans that work in the first half, but as a game manager in the second half Butch Jones is worse than your average elementary school kid playing Madden.
And the worst thing about it all is that Butch doesn’t seem able to recognize these flaws. His answers are flippant, condescending and untruthful. Witness his attempt to explain away the decision not to go for two. Or his answer about his curious decisions on accepting or refusing penalties by citing, “Analytics.”
If Butch talks about this team’s youth one more time, I’m going to hum Rocky Top while gargling liquid drano. Tennessee didn’t lose the Florida game because the players are young, they lost it because their coach snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, because, quite simply, Butch Jones coached like an idiot.
Jones should have begun his press conference by saying this, “The players won this game and I lost it. Put this one entirely on me. I wasn’t prepared to make the right decisions at the right times. My coaching cost us this game.”
It’s only when you own and acknowledge your failures that you can grow from them.
Right now Butch Jones is a very bad in-game coach when the dynamics of the game are fluid and evolving. If he can’t plan for it, he chokes. His team deserves better. They won the game at Florida, he lost it.
But while every fan sees it, Butch doesn’t.
Which is why I believe Butch is Tennessee’s own Ron Zook, a dynamic recruiter who will never be able to win the games that matter. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
If Butch Jones were a doctor, he’d lose his license over his coaching in the fourth quarter — he committed inexcusable coaching malpractice of the highest magnitude.
It’s time to stop saying a team Georgia’d a life situation. Butch Jones has Georgia beat. When his decisions mattered most and his team needed him more than ever, he wasn’t up to the task — he Butch’ed it.