The Tennessee Vols‘ playoff hopes are officially dead after losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday night.

For most of the week, the talk around Tennessee centered on whether or not the Vols deserve to be in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings over TCU.

It turns out that worrying about beating South Carolina should’ve been the bigger concern.

Tennessee’s inexplicable loss to the Gamecocks essentially eliminated the Vols from the playoff.

There’s one reason why Tennessee lost on Saturday night — the defense was absolutely atrocious.

And that wasn’t a talent problem, it was a scheme problem.

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Nov 19, 2022; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Jaheim Bell (0) drops a pass against Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Brandon Turnage (8) in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

For almost the entire night, Tennessee played soft coverages and tried to keep everything in front of them.

That led to numerous situations where the Vols had South Carolina in third and medium or third and long only to see the Gamecocks convert and get the first down.

Despite seeing this repeatedly, Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks never adjusted his approach. South Carolina kept doing the same thing, and the Vols kept letting them.

If this was a game against Georgia or Alabama, you could use the talent excuse. But that excuse won’t fly against South Carolina. And that’s not meant as an insult to the Gamecocks’ players — the fact is that Alabama and Georgia (and even LSU) have way more talent than South Carolina.

I mean, this Vols team beat South Carolina 45-20 last season. Tennessee has obviously improved this season, yet they laid a total egg on Saturday night against the Gamecocks.

And it falls on Banks.

I’ve defended Banks and his “bend but don’t break” approach for most of the season. I’ve understood that he’s had to adjust his approach because of the Vols’ personnel.

But there was no excuse for what happened on Saturday night in Columbia. South Carolina was coming off a game in which they scored six points against a not-very-good Florida team. And yet Tennessee let them score 25 points more than they had in any other SEC game this season.

That’s not something the No. 5 team in the nation should let happen — especially against an unranked team.

We’ve seen these types of performances get defensive coordinators fired before (like Kevin Steele at Clemson in 2011 after giving up 70 to West Virginia).

Simply put, the Vols have to make a change at defensive coordinator after this season. Banks just isn’t it. He showed on Saturday against South Carolina that he’s not an SEC defensive coordinator. He didn’t do a good job against Alabama, LSU made self-inflicted mistakes, and Kentucky had a bad game plan.

Against South Carolina, Banks faced a middle-of-the-road SEC offense and got boat raced. There’s no excuse for it (even though linebacker Jeremy Banks was out, there’s still no excuse).

The good news is that Tennessee, which had trouble hiring a defensive coordinator in early 2021 (they heard several “nos”), shouldn’t have any issues finding an elite option after this season. The Vols, despite the loss to South Carolina, are still heading in the right direction. And they’re ahead of schedule.

But if they want to stay ahead of schedule, Josh Heupel has to make a change at defensive coordinator.

Featured image via Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports