My apologies for not being around sooner to comment on this 'game.' I was out of the town over the weekend and didn't always have access to a computer, so I'm just now catching up.
Before sharing some of my thoughts on the game, I should say that I wasn't able to watch the entire game closely because I was occupied with other activities for most of the game. Therefore, take my thoughts with a grain of salt, and please excuse me if some of my points are fairly obvious. I may have more insightful things to say after I watch a replay.
Needless to say, turnovers killed us. Outside of the fumbles, we didn't play terribly in this game; while we might not have won, it would have been a lot closer without the fumbles. You can blame the weather, and I think it's worth recognizing that this performance isn't indicative of how we play in normal conditions. Still, though, three fumbles is inexcusable; the players knew going in that they'd have to take care of the ball, and while the Vols did so, we didn't.
Our offense isn't good enough to win games when we don't win the turnover battle. Although we continue to put up good numbers, we continue to have trouble scoring. Moreover, our defense, while good, can't manage to create turnovers of its own, keeping us from putting up more points. That all means we're going to have to win close, low-scoring games, and that's not going to happen with four to none in the turnover margins.
We need a new special teams coach. I don't think we should fire Shane Beamer. He seems to be a good recruiter, so we should find a place for him. However, he hasn't shown the ability to be a good special teams coach. Kickoff return coverage has been awful all year and wasn't good last night. The clip on the punt returned for a touchdown was a momentum killer. These things were problems for us in 2007, and they're problems again now, and Beamer is the common denominator. It's time to try someone else at his position.
Spencer Lanning deserves a shoutout. If the offense had done its part by holding onto the ball and scoring more points, we would have noticed that Spencer did all the things you want a punter / kicker to do to win a close game. In particular, Spencer made a career-high 47 yarder and had some great punts. I'm becoming more confident that we can rely on him to make some big kicks if needed.
It's not the end of the world. This loss was infuriating, and in that it looked like a slightly closer version of the Florida and Clemson games from a year ago, it's obviously filling us with foreboding. However, it's just one game, and all of our goals are still within reach for the year. I do think this loss makes the Arkansas game this weekend something of a must-win game. If we don't win against the Hogs, I doubt we reach our eight-win goal, and anything less would have to be considered equivocal in my mind. We match up better with the Hogs than Tennessee, though, so this should be a winnable game. The question in my mind is how we respond. If we can refocus and fix a few things, I think we'll take care of Arkansas. If we take this loss too hard--and I'm sure this was an emotional loss for the boys due to the buzz surrounding the gas-pumper comments--we stand a good chance of losing the rest of our games. If we can do the former, that'll be a good indication that this team is different than the last two.
Finally, my kudos to the Volunteers. You have to give Lane Kiffin and his staff credit; they had their guys ready to go in this game.