Exactly two months passed between the night Tennessee ran onto the field at UCLA and Saturday night, when the Vols trudged off the field at South Carolina.
Aside from the continuing Eric Berry highlight reel there has been little to celebrate in that interim.
A program ranked in the top 25 on opening night has descended into a murky level of college football hell. I’m not saying it’s the last level because there could be worse to come.
A year ago, the South Carolina game marked a turning point for a troubled UT program. It was the first tentative step in a 5-0 finishing run to the SEC Championship Game.
There will be no turning point this time. Not for the Vols, and likely not for their coach, Phillip Fulmer.
Rather, a 27-6 loss to the Gamecocks was merely another reminder how miserable Tennessee’s season has become.
How bad is it?
So bad that in mid-game the public-address announcer in the press box reported that South Carolina held its first double-digit lead against Tennessee in an SEC game. Ever.
So bad that on the night UT was falling to 3-6, historical rival Alabama was going to bed knowing it was about to ascend to the No. 1 ranking.
Proof what the right coaching change can render.
So bad that with three games to play, the worst record in UT history is within reach.
The 1977 team went 4-7.
So bad Tennessee has never held a lead in any of its five SEC losses. Not for one snap.
The only time the Vols have been on the top end of the score in an SEC game was the lone win over Mississippi State.
So bad the Vols rank 114th in the nation in total offense — 272.4 yards a game.
If you’re wondering, UT is still more productive than Temple, Florida International, Vanderbilt, Washington State and Central Florida.
So bad Tennessee allowed more sacks Saturday (6) than in all of 2007 (4).
So bad that on the day the Vols fell to 1-5 in the SEC, arch-rival Florida repositioned itself into the national championship picture by demolishing Georgia 49-10.
Proof how a team can improve during the course of a season.
So bad that when Nick Stephens opened the second half Saturday with a 49-yard pass to Austin Rogers, the Vols couldn’t convert third-and-3 or fourth-and-3.
Maybe a touchdown would have changed the complexion of the game, maybe not.
So bad that after Berry’s 45-yard interception return into South Carolina territory, the Vols could not convert third-and-2 or fourth-and-1.
So bad that Berry has as many interceptions this year (6) as Tennessee’s quarterbacks do touchdown passes (6).
So bad that on the night Tennessee was digging itself into such a hole that it will have to win out to get bowl eligible, neighbor Kentucky was getting bowl eligible for the third consecutive year — for the first time since 1951.
So bad Tennessee hasn’t gained 300 yards in a game since UAB on Sept. 13.
So bad many UT fans didn’t bother making the trip on a gorgeous fall weekend.
Tickets were returned to South Carolina and there was plenty of room for the orange-clad fans who did show to spread out and get comfy in UT’s allotted sections at Williams-Brice Stadium.
So bad the Vols have rushed for only 70 yards — the past two games combined.
That’s 36 against Alabama and 34 against South Carolina. Hey, there’s something to be said for consistency.
So bad that Wyoming, UT’s homecoming opponent, had a breakout game, ripping San Diego State 35-10.
If the Cowboys can score half that many points Saturday, the Vols will be in trouble.
So bad something called the Papajohn’s.com Bowl has become an objective.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or email@example.com.