Tennessee entered this year with little margin for error.
Despite the lack of depth and experience, virtually across the board on both sides of the ball, the Volunteers were expected to be able to score a lot of points with a high-powered passing game and compete with and possibly upset a team or two they weren’t expected to.
How different the season has turned out.
Even for the most optimistic UT fans, any chance of winning a very down SEC East ended when Justin Hunter’s left knee came down awkwardly early in the first quarter at Florida on Sept. 17.
And if losing one of the most talented receivers in the country wasn’t bad enough, Tennessee fans had to see Tyler Bray break his thumb in his throwing hand against Georgia on Oct. 8.
The Vols’ two best offensive weapons — injured and out of the team’s most difficult stretch of games.
The result? UT is sitting at 3-5 and 0-5 in SEC play, and as coach Derek Dooley said after Saturday night’s 14-3 loss to No. 14 South Carolina, “We are just a mess on offense.”
The Vols have been outscored 109-28 in their last four SEC contests, including games against the two best teams in the country — LSU and Alabama. Currently, UT has gone 10 quarters without a touchdown.
Obviously with Hunter and Bray, those numbers would most likely be different.
Would Tennessee have beaten Georgia or South Carolina, or even Florida for that matter, if Hunter and Bray were healthy for four quarters in those games? Maybe not, but the fact that UT is without the two players who were expected to be a big part of the offense has taken its toll on the team and fan base.
“It is hard to expect 17 freshmen and sophomores to play like Hunter and Bray,” Dooley said. “Every good football team you need two or three dynamic playmakers on offense and defense. That’s what you have to have to be a good team. When you don’ t have them and nobody is filling that void, it becomes tough. Right now there is not a whole lot of dynamic playmaking going on. We have to find them.”
And finding playmakers this late in the season is a difficult task for UT coaches.
The hope that surrounded a team full of underclassmen at the beginning of the year is seemingly gone. All that’s left for the Vols is to find a way to beat MTSU, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and make a bowl game.