Well, Tennessee, that’s why you can’t have nice (playoff) things

Rest in peace hopes for the 2022 Tennessee Playoffs.

You’ve lived a longer life than I could have ever imagined. Imagine that you too died in a way I could never have imagined.

A 63-point defensive collapse, an injury to a quarterback hoping for the Heisman Trophy, and a field rush.

Just like that, it’s gone.

It doesn’t feel like ’98. It feels like Tennessee got a painful reminder of why it’s so hard to be among the elite in this sport.

On a day when every team in the top 5 was involved in a game by a single-digit margin against an unranked team in the second half, Tennessee was the only one who failed to emerge victorious. The Vols not only failed to recover from their single-digit deficit; They blew away the doors of South Carolina in a 63-38 reality check loss.

Losing to Georgia was one thing. That was the defending champion, after all. In Athens.

But losing to South Carolina, aka the team that didn’t have an offensive touchdown last week, was a different kind of gut punch. Making Spencer Rattler look like Peyton Manning shouldn’t be part of the 2022 Vols story. It should be a rematch with Georgia in the first round of the playoffs and drop the chips where they want.

nope They’ll be reminded why the Vols haven’t ended the regular season in defeat since 1998. You will be reminded that Tennessee is a team that has recorded exactly 1 win against an AP top 5 team in the last 17 seasons, and it has only 1 against an AP top 10 team in the last 15 seasons Team.

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Sports betting in Tennessee officially launched on November 1st, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.

Let’s call it what it is. Tennessee didn’t handle success well.

It emerged in one of the more hostile atmospheres in the SEC and laid an egg. When Hendon Hooker went down, the hay was already in the barn. He was a little off the road. Even 1 of Hooker’s touchdown passes came to a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage. Credit South Carolina for taking its top corner, Cam Smith, and holding back Jalin Hyatt at least somewhat. Those big passes we saw from Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and Bru McCoy were few and far between.

But yeah, it’s hard to give Hooker and Co. a 38-point offensive performance. It was Tennessee’s tried defense that put down the biggest leg of them all.

The boys ran free, the defenders missed tackles in space and most importantly, the Tennessee defense looked a step behind all night. Forget the fact that without Stallionstau the Gamecocks were MarShawn Lloyd. Notwithstanding the fact that Rattler had 5 touchdown passes against the SEC competition all year when he started Saturday night. Not to mention the fact that no unranked team had scored that many points against a top five team since…?

Yes, Tennessee missed Jeremy Banks, who Josh Heupel later said was “unavailable.” Brandon Turnage’s injury didn’t help either.

Despite it. Championship strong teams find a way to process these things. Tennessee is not at that level.

Maybe we were stupid to think the Vols would be willing. It was only year 2 of the Heupel era. Sure, there were more peaks than valleys. It was the No. 1 offense in America. How could we not get a little high from that? So what if the defense had been a bit inconsistent? This offense could overcome anything outside of this red and black team, right?

Not correct. Nothing was right on Saturday night.

There was no more catastrophic scenario than the one that played out. It’s hard to see the playoff and Heisman hopes collapse on the same night. If this is indeed Hooker’s last game in a Tennessee uniform, it wouldn’t sit right. After the joy he brought back to Knoxville, he deserved better.

If there’s one bright spot as Tennessee wakes up from Saturday’s nightmare, it’s that Heupel and this plan are going nowhere. With the Vols recruiting and their NIL efforts, there is a lot more talent going through that door.

And hey, the season isn’t over yet. The Vols could still play in a New Year’s 6 Bowl with a chance to end the season on a very different note with potentially 11 wins, 2 of which are against rivals. Any Tennessee fan would have signed up for it back in August.

But that’s still a hard pill to swallow when you know the opportunity is gone. There was no guarantee that an 11-1 Tennessee would make the playoffs. It would certainly have been a difficult group to eliminate had TCU suffered a loss. We’ll never know how that would have turned out.

All we know is that Tennessee peaked too soon. The team, whose LSU fans poured out of Death Valley early in the 4th quarter and took the goalpost into the Tennessee River, couldn’t handle the SEC’s grind. Two losses in November were devastating in their own way, but they will both be remembered in the same way.

These Vols weren’t at that level. Maybe they will be, although quarterbacks like Hooker shouldn’t be taken for granted, and neither should an offensive line that included Will Anderson. Shoot, we shouldn’t assume the Vols will always have a group of receivers who could have a secondary Nick Saban hot on their heels.

Tennessee’s 2022 roster shouldn’t be taken for granted. It may have brought the program back to national relevance, and for far better reasons than Champions of Life credentials or checkerboard trash cans.

I suppose reality seeped in for Heupel as he was being escorted off the rushed field at Williams Brice Stadium. Whether he admits it or not, he’ll be thinking about Saturday night for a long time. He should.

Somewhere in that sea of ​​people, a storybook season went up in smoke.