Monday, October 5, 2015

Grab a Bucket. The Vols Ship is Taking on Water!

If you want to go fast Go alone.  If you want to go far Go together. 

That African proverb sums up where things are for the Tennessee football program right now. It will take a unified Vol nation to endure the next two games, and then hopefully finish the season with success. There's a lot of stone throwing going on in Knoxville, and Butch Jones doesn't have much hair to help soften the blow of those lobbed at his noggin. It will take strong leadership to keep this train on the tracks, so we are about to find out if Jones can lead during pressure filled times.

Before this season started most would have agreed the Vols fortunes are most likely to turn in 2016.  But, that glimpse of glory against Oklahoma in game two of this season, and then the near miss in  Gainesville have an awful lot of folks saying things I didn't expect to hear in 2015. There's a lot of talk about firing Jones which is really unfortunate, and frankly crazy. Strange and disturbing rumors are swirling around about players quitting prior to the season only to return.  Specifically, I heard mention of three offensive linemen quitting, and then today during his press conference Butch was asked about a physical altercation with offensive lineman Mac Crowder during that time period.  Jones called the question ridiculous, but the airwaves are cluttered with talk about it. So the pressure is sky high right now on Rocky Top. 

It appears the coaches are feeling that pressure too.  Some of the decisions Saturday night were perplexing.  There were two very questionable decisions both in the 4th quarter.  The first was the decision to throw a reverse pass with Jauan Jennings. I never thought I would say this, but I miss the days when we ran the ball down our opponents throats and crushed their will.  Yes, I said it, we should have run the ball more. Hurd was very difficult for them to tackle.  The other decision I questioned was to go for it on 4th down on the Vols last possession.  There was enough time to punt and play defense, maybe even get a shot at a kick return if the defense could get a stop.  It also appeared there was an over reaction to the lack of a passing attack in the weeks leading up to the Arkansas game, and it seemed like the Vols offense was forcing things in an effort to pass more.

To be fair, Tennessee only had four possessions in the second half, and there was a sense that Arkansas had seized all momentum during their opening drive of the second half.  Arkansas simply imposed its will on Tennessee and when you combine that with very sloppy tackling and poor angles, the defense was simply not going to get it done.  The defense was on the field for a very long time, and that offensive line for Arkansas is disturbingly large.  The largest offensive line in the entire sport of football?  Wow.  Give it about 10 years and the Big Loser can have a special full season addition that features this year's Razorback blockers.  They can change the name to The Biggest Loser: Fattest Pig Edition, or something like that. 

Has anyone else noticed that this season Tennessee's offensive line is really struggling with pass blocking?  That has to be impacting the ability to throw the ball down the field.  But, even with that, Dobbs is just not getting it done with the passing game.  With Georgia on the way and Bama waiting for a few weeks to host the Vols, it's not going to get easier for Dobbs and company.  In fact, the next two games are very worrisome.  Tennessee is potentially one play away from missing post season.  If either Dobbs or Hurd were to get injured it could be very problematic for the season out look.  Kamara is so good it could be less of an impact to lose Hurd, but I don't want to find out if that's true or not.  If Dobbs goes down, the season is changed drastically.  I recommend Butch decide now to get Dormady some snaps in a big game. 

So, it's Georgia week and last Saturday around 5:30 pm Eastern time the Dawgs were getting their necks stepped on, and it appeared the Vols were poised to salvage the season after a couple of heart breaking defeats.  Now, the idea of watching Nick Chubb run around in the Tennessee secondary is like taking a swim in the ocean a couple of hours after watching Jaws.  The thought of it is chilling.  Can you even wrap your mind around how many yards Nick Chubb would gain behind the Arkansas offensive line?  Well, the Georgia offensive line ain't shabby.  But, this is a young team, and if these coaches are ever going to earn their paychecks it's this week.  This team has to be prepared and simply cannot continue the same mistakes it's made so far this season. 

I'm OoooooouuuuuuuuUT! Go Big Orange!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bogged Down

It is difficult to decide where to start the conversation about Saturday's loss to Florida.  We could start with Butch Jones and what seems like a growing pattern of questionable in game decisions.  We could start with Mike DeBord and his failures as an offensive coordinator to help our passing game. We could start with John Jancek and scrutinize his inability to call a defensive play that would result in a stop on 4th down.  We could start with the youth of the team and talk about folding to the pressure during critical times. I suppose we could identify other areas to analyze as well.

But, let's start with a positive tone. Josh Dobbs has Heisman like talent.  In fact, if he had the ability to throw for an average of 200+ yards per game he would probably be the front runner right now to win it.  Can anyone point out a game, college or pro, when the starting QB was the leading rusher, passer, and receiver?  I don't recall that ever happening before, but it happened Saturday. 

Creativity found it's way onto the field Saturday and for once it was Tennessee that pulled out the tricks.  A jump pass for a first down and reverse throw back to the QB for a TD.  If I had told you prior to the game those two plays would occur, everyone reading this would have guessed it was Florida who pulled that off, not Tennessee.

Jalen Hurd may end his career at Tennessee as the best back that's ever strapped on the Power T.  That guy is impressive.  Talk about a work horse. Former Tennessee QB Jerry Colquitt said if Tennessee had run him 30 times it would have been a 3 touchdown win.  Not sure that's true, but I do know he should have gotten it 3 times late in the 4th quarter when we needed a first down to seal a win.

There are other positives too, but I would like to focus on the 4th quarter and what I saw.  For all it's worth I don't agree with a lot of the criticism Butch has gotten about this loss.  Yes, he used a time out that gave Florida a chance to reconsider kicking the ball and they ended up getting a touchdown out of it.  Yes, he should have gone for two instead of kicking for a point.  Yes, there was confusion on the final drive when Dobbs fumbled.  And, yes Tennessee should have gotten off more than 4 plays with 1:21 remaining and two time outs. And, yes you could say those mistakes cost Tennessee the game.  Jones hasn't thrown his players under the bus, he never said (as far as I know) why they burned the two time outs, but I would be willing to bet either someone was out of position, or there was some mistake going on that forced it.  Think about it, coaches don't just call time out to think in those circumstances.

I've re-watched the 4th quarter twice.  Yes, it was painful.  But, I have been listening to incredible criticism of Butch Jones for the past few days. I've actually heard some people say he needs to go and that he can't get it done. There have been comments about him doing everything right Monday-Friday, but he can't coach.  Of course fans, especially those who have endured about 12-15 years of brutal experiences are going to be hurt and angry after two collapses in the 4th quarter.  But, I needed to see for myself if all the blame belonged to him.  Tennessee found a way to score 27 points on the road against a very good defense and their QB only passed for 83 yards. That probably had nothing to do with coaching, right?  Here's what I saw:

The Vols went on a 16 play touchdown drive followed by Juan Jennings making a huge tackle on the kickoff at the Gators 15 yard line 10:14 left to play.  With 7:05 left we blitz and Gary Danielson says, "Its as if John Jancek is in the FL head set, perfect call again."  Not that Danielson says a lot of things right, but he said it.  With 6:25 left the FL QB is slightly injured on a run to avoid a sack, FL calls time out, 4th and 7.  On 4th down the QB makes a back foot throw on an out route to the tight end.  The ball was perfectly placed and TE made a nice play to make the catch.  6:00 left, FL makes another throw under pressure for a 1st down and the Vols defense seems slow to react.

4:40 remaining, 3rd and 8, incomplete pass.  4th down and 8 with 4:38 left, FL completes a crossing route to the 5 yard line.  4:09 left Florida touchdown.  On the kickoff, Evan Berry falls down at the 15 yard line without being touched.  Hurd goes off tackle for 3 yards.  3:20 left, up the middle for no gain, T.O. Florida. On 3rd down Dobbs attempts a sweep for a loss of yardage.  After a good punt Florida ball with 2:18, but due to the previous plays they have good field position.  Florida attempts a screen for a loss of yardage.  With 1:45 remaining Florida drops a pass near the sidelines, it's 3rd and 14.  Next, the Florida QB again avoids a sack and throws the ball away.  It's 4th down with 1:39 remaining and Florida converts for a 63 yard TD.  On this play the primary defender is out of position, fails to make a tackle, and then one blocker takes 3 additional defenders out of the play.

Tennessee returns the kick to the 32.  With 1:21 remaining Dobbs completes a pass to the 42 to Wolf.  Next is a false start, :56 remaining 1st and 15.  The Vols line up and delay running a play, T.O. Tennessee.  Dobbs completes a pass to Kamara to the Florida 44.  The ball is snapped with :38 left, Dobbs runs to the Florida 36 and fumbles forward, which means the ball comes back to the point of fumble and the clock runs, and that's where the confusion begins.  Completion to the FL 32, more confusion and a substitution violation.  In order to avoid a 10 second run off the Vols lose the penalty yardage and their last time out is used.  Medley comes on to attempt roughly a 54 yard kick, he's never previously attempted anything 50+.

That's what happened.  Can you blame coaching?  Of course, and good leaders take that blame.  Jones took it too.  Did he say, "I lost the game?"  No, and rarely do you see coaches do that.  In many ways saying things like that is setting yourself up for more criticism down the road and your words used against you.  He did say he shoulders the blame.  And, he also said, "we need to learn to close out games."  He's absolutely right about both.

So, it's regroup. Time for these young guys to grow up and finish somebody off. Unfortunately, the news broke today that Curt Maggitt is out for the season, so they'll have to continue to rely on these young players for the rest of the season.

The last time Arkansas won in Knoxville was 1992.  I like the Vols chances on Saturday night.  Let's just hope they don't have a two touchdown lead late in the 4th quarter. 

I'm OOOOuuuuuuuuuUT!  Go Big Orange.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Let's Go Muddin' in the Swamp

It's here.  Time to head down to the state south of Georgia and take on a team that's beaten us 10 straight times.  I think breaking that streak is long overdue.  Let's take a look at how the Vols can stomp a mud hole in el lagarto and walk it dry.  El lagarto, that's the Spanish word from which aligator is derived.  I am committed to not using the name of that school or their mascot in this post.  Those words make me queasy.

Some interesting things are buzzing on the airwaves in and around Knoxville.  I listen to several sports stations out of K-town on a daily basis and have done so since Lane Kiffin left and all the buzz about John Gruden began.  Speaking of Gruden, a guest on one of the talk shows mentioned an article that is already kicking around replacement names for Butch Jones.  That's right, there are people out there who actually believe that if Jones doesn't get it done this season it could be over.  Of course, that is incredibly ridiculous notion.  Regardless of what happens this season, he deserves minimum of one more year, and while I was as frustrated as anyone about the outcome of the Oklahoma game, I never had the thought that he can't win in Knoxville.  Now, it is true that he can't win making the same mistakes week in and week out.  But, that program was in such bad shape when he arrived he needs a fair shot at it.  I think there should be an arrangement made that includes someone publicly punching Derek Dooley in the gut every time we lose.  He made this mess.  Even better would be a plan that had him flogged for every sack we take since he didn't sign a lineman in the 2012 class, and then both he and that punk Lane Kiffin can be punched in the gut for every loss.  Yeah, I like that plan better.

Back to the point.  Prior to the start of the season anyone who honestly looked at the schedule would probably agree that there were a number of games that were questionable at best.  Most would have said Alabama was likely a loss.  Those of us who are long time fans would have reluctantly agreed that Florida was a tough one to win, especially on the road and especially after last year's blown win.  And, Oklahoma was certainly going to be tough even at home.   Then there's Georgia and Missouri, both of whom have beaten us multiple times.  And, even Arkansas seemed like a tough game prior to the season.  The point is, most Vols fans came into the season knowing it could be a great year or it could be another tough one.  The first half of the Oklahoma game convinced a lot of us the Vols were arriving a year earlier than expected.  And then, it fell apart of course.

After three weeks of football and an exciting first half against Oklahoma, things have drastically changed in regard to future Vols opponents.  The Tennessee football team, Butch Jones, the city of Knoxville, and Vols fans everywhere badly need a win this Saturday.  The emotional aspect of this game is torturous. But, if you analyze the schedule a little bit, it is clearly critical to success of this season for the Vols to win on Saturday.  Here's why:

Arkansas has serious issues and unless something significant changes, I expect that game to be a win for the Vols at home.  The next game is also at home against Georgia.  We owe Georgia whoopin big time.  I'm talking about a pick out your own switch whoopin.  If we can stop their run a little bit, I like our chances.  To win the next 3 would be huge.  After those 3, there's a bye and then a road trip to Alabama.  Those of you who stayed up last Saturday night and watched that one saw a different Alabama team than they've had in recent years.  They aren't scary any longer and likely are not going to win the West.  But, let's say it's another year before Tennessee is ready to take down the Tide. A loss there would put the record at 5-2. Everyone else on the schedule is beatable and the only road game left is Missouri.  So, let's say for some reason we can't get past Missouri again this season.  Win the rest and the final record is 9-3 with only two conference losses.  If that had been offered to you pre-season would you have taken it Vol fan?  I would have, and would have been thrilled to know we would be a serious contender in 2016.

Looking at that same plan I just laid out, only change Missouri from a loss to a win, and it is likely a slam dunk that Tennessee wins the East, and that would certainly be a year earlier than most ever would have seriously predicted.

In an ironic twist the two stars of last year's win over Tennessee, Treon Harris and Jalen Tabor, were each suspended for Saturday's game.  Tabor made a huge sack on Tennessee QB Justin Worley forcing a fumble and completely changing the momentum of the game.  Harris then entered the game as the new QB replacing the sarter for El Lagarto. Harris then led a touchdown drive and a drive that ended with a game winning field goal.  Both players have been starters this season. The backup quarterback is a receiver who transferred from Vanderbilt.  Thank the good lord above Vols fans that the backup isn't a receiver from Kentucky.  The last time that happened the Vols lost!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Let's Get it Done and Move On

Western Carolina opened it's football season with a convincing 42-10 win.  If you stop with that, it would appear the Vols are facing a test on Saturday night when they face the Catamounts.  But, a glance at the Western Carolina schedule would tell another story.  The Citadel beat them by 18 points last weekend.  The team they beat in week 1 was Mars Hill, which I believe is located in Decatur County between Blue Goose and Lexington.  Presbyterian, Mercer, Wofford, Samford, and VMI are a few teams on their schedule, and Chattanooga too.  They play at Texas A & M near the end of the season, which means their athletic budget is set for the next couple of years based on two games this season.  Yes, I did have to research to find the name of their mascot, that's not part of the useless information that floats around the football corner of my mind.  I happen to be familiar with where Western Carolina is located because we pass the exit for that school just before we head through the Smokey Mountains as we drive down I40 headed to Knoxville. That's a beautiful area of the country, and that pretty much wraps up this week's pre-game analysis of the Vols Opponent.

A few things to look for on Saturday:

(1) Do they give Dobbs an opportunity to throw some deep passes?  If not, I'm giving fair warning about next week.  Florida has one of the best defensive backfields in the country.  And, they have talent up front too, which means if they don't fear the pass at all, it will be a long game for Dobbs and company.  Look for the Vols to air it out a little against Western Carolina.

(2) How much will Quinten Dormady play?  It's vital that he get serious playing time.  Imagine a Dobbs injury early against the Gators and the Freshman forced into action down in the swamp.  He needs some confidence coming out of this weeks game.

(3) Darrin Kirkland getting the start at middle linebacker is either a sign that he's ready, or a sign the coaches don't want to start another game with Jumper in that position. We'll see if this game gives him the confidence he needs.

(4) Time to get the Wide Receivers involved early and often.  The team owes Marques North about 8-10 targets to make up for the start of this season.  But, if he can't get open against the Catamounts, that's a very bad sign.  It would do the offense a lot of good to roll up about 300 yards passing.  We'll see what happens.

(5) Khalil McKenzie needs to make some plays, expect to see that tonight.

(6) Butch Jones will show the Vol faithful a lot tonight.  His opponent is over matched, the offense should roll up some points early and make way for more guys to play.  Will they dial it back, or will they do what Ole Miss is doing this season and drop a 70-burger on somebody?  How the Vols play this out will come into play next week.  I'd like to see them give the Gators defense a lot to prepare for during the week.

Let's face it, this week is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.  Reminds me of week 4 of the NFL preseason.  Fans tend to come away from these types of games wondering why we played a game, and chomping at the bit waiting for the next weekend.  The most important thing this week is to leave Neyland Stadium at about 10pm Saturday night with zero injuries.  The Vols are about two key injuries away from playing in the Campbell Soup Bowl, or missing post season all together.  It would be a disaster to lose any key players in a game like this one. 

Let's enjoy watching some of these "younger" players get some significant time on the field.

I'm OoooouuuuuuUT! GBO!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Big Orange Melt Down

I know, I know.  It's been two years since the blog was updated.  After Saturday night's epic come apart by the Vols, I decided I needed to get this thing back up and running and I need the therapy of getting these things off my chest.  Once again I invite any of you who read this regularly to contribute your own post.  All you need to do is write it in word format or some text format and send it to me,
and I'll post it.  On to the game.

What a fan base!  Tennessee has without a doubt, if not the best, certainly one of the best fan bases in any sport.  Not sure how that can truly be measured, but a good place to start when you're looking for the best is Rocky Top.  Name another fan base that turns out crowds like the one Saturday night after the agonizing experiences we've had over the past 7 years.  Checker boarding Neyland will without a doubt start a trend in the sport, and likely will spill over into the basketball season.  What a fantastic idea that was, and our fans have pulled that off twice and it is a sight to behold on television.  That sends a pretty loud message to the rest of the country about who has the most passion.  Mix the look with the sound on Saturday night and you have an atmosphere that is unrivaled.  I'm proud to be a part of such an energized sports family.

This fan base does not deserve what happened Saturday night.  We didn't deserve to lose to LSU a few years ago, we didn't deserve to lose to North Carolina the same season.  We should have beaten Georgia in O.T. two years ago, but those things happen.  Last season the loss to Florida, you remember, the one we should have won by four touchdowns, we shouldn't have lost it period.  But, Saturday night was beyond painful.  And, I have some real concerns about it.

First of all, the decision to kick a field goal from the 1 yard line was not shocking, it was disappointing.  I felt the message in that to the team and the country was, "I don't have confidence in my offense."  Coach Jones said he kicked because points were at a premium, and if he had gone for it and failed, the question would have been why not kick.  Well, that's hog wash.  I believe it is obvious now that he feels the same about this offense as many of us do.  If you have to line up in the shot gun from the 1 yard line because you have no power game, you run a good chance of being stopped.  Shame on us for not having a full back or the ability to run from the I formation. It's insult to the fan base to leave our 240 lb running back on the sidelines after we got to first down from the 5 yard line! Would it have mattered if we had gotten 7 instead of 3?  Yes, I'm not a math major, but I do believe those extra 4 points would have left OU a little short at the end, just sayin. 

But, coaches make those tough decisions all the time.  Some times it works out, some times it doesn't, that's why it's called a game.  So, the fact that we kicked there is just 1 play and decision.  The concern is it shouldn't have mattered.  Tennessee dominated a good team for a half and two plays into the second half.  The Vols haven't done that in years.  Everything was working, or seemed to be, but even as we were making a push to blow them out of that Orange and White Thunderdome, there were some curious things going on. 

For one, Hurd carried the load on the first three drives until we got close to the goal line and then Kamara came on the field.  Wait a minute... they aren't called thunder and lightening for nothing. Hurd is the Thunder.  He should be on the field near the goal line for the power.  Speaking of Kamara, he only had 4 carries, I hear he got injured, but don't recall hearing that during the game or after. 

Pig Howard returned from his leave of absence (hope he stays away from the weed for the rest of the season) with a bang!  He took a reverse up the field and made the OU defense look like it was standing still.  From there he never ran the ball again, and had only 1 catch on the night.   Our most dynamic playmaker for the past two seasons gets 2 touches the entire game. 

Our two top receivers touched the ball once each.  How in the world do we not get the ball in the hands of Pearson and North more than once each?  Pearson did get a reverse, for a 3 yard loss.  Our leading receiver was Josh Smith, who did look good, but let's face it, he should be the third or fourth choice most of the time.

Oklahoma out passed us.  The questionable choice for starting QB for the Sooners threw for more yards than Dobbs.  And our "dual threat" QB rushed the ball 12 times for 14 yards.  Granted his sack yardage took that number down a little, but his opposition, the guy with two last names out rushed him.  Baker Mayfield was the better athlete as far as I could tell on Saturday.  That's just the way it seemed to me.  I don't know the last time I saw a QB escape that many tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Is it possible we have so many athletes on offense that the coaches are trying too hard to give everybody playing time?  Between plays it looks like a Chinese Fire drill out there.  Substituting practically every play kills any chance a receiver is going to get into a rhythm with the QB.  With this system before you know it the game is basically over and our best receivers end up with 1 catch each.  Not sure how that is going to work long term for the QB and receiver relationship.

As much as I like Josh Dobbs, I am concerned that he's not the right guy to get us where we need to be, and frankly should be.  We need to stop calling him a dual threat.  At best he's a threat to run the
ball, a legitimate threat.  But, he either will not do it, cannot do it, or is not allowed to do it when it comes to throwing the ball down the field.  We are zero threat to beat teams deep.  He really doesn't have the kind of touch needed to succeed in the SEC, at least to this point.  Teams are not afraid of his arm, so that makes us vulnerable up front both running the ball and throwing.  It's a very bad position to be in when the defense doesn't have to be concerned with the long ball, or for that matter the intermediate routes.  I'm not attempting to bash Dobbs.  He seems like a great kid and everybody knows how smart he is.  And, speaking of how smart he is, maybe there's a reason we've never heard of a football player being a rocket scientist.  Maybe he's too damn smart for football?

Tennessee has had some dual threat QBs.  Too many to mention them all, but Condredge Holloway, Jimmy Streater, Tony Robinson, and Heath Shuler make Dobbs look like a running back playing QB.  I bet you thought I was going to include Casey Clausen on that list right?  Ok, a little humor never hurts.  Poor Casey couldn't out run a lawn sprinkler.  But, he could damn sure throw it.  Back to the point.

Our offensive philosophy is to snap the ball as fast as possible and keep the defense on their heals.  Prevent them from substituting, and create a rhythm.  But, when you have a 17 point lead, and then a 14 point lead against a pretty good team. We had a possession in the 3rd quarter that lasted 40 seconds. If you aren't clicking on offense, dial it down.  Dial it way down and let that clock roll.  That's basic football philosophy.  The 1 back read option, fast break style offense is nothing more than the flavor of the month.  At the end of it all, offensive basics still apply- block, run, throw, protect the ball, and manage the clock!!!!

Our defense played an outstanding game.  Jaylen Reeves Maybin had 21 tackles and Barnett had 15. Todd Kelly, Jr. played a fantastic game and the loss of Curt Maggitt hurt.  As well as they played,
they were on the field longer than OU's defense.  That's right, Oklahoma won time of possession.  And, the worst of it, we still don't have a middle linebacker.  That has to get fixed.  People have been screaming for freshman Darrin Kirkland to play instead of Jumper, but the word is Kirkland is struggling to get up to speed with lining up correctly.  He's much more athletic than Jumper, but we have to wait to see him do anything of significance.

I believe Butch Jones has the train moving in the right direction and picking up speed.  Prior to the season, very few would have circled the Oklahoma game as a win.  But, that first half gave us a real glimpse of the future. Watching so many really good young football players run around that field was fun. Shy Tuttle didn't have a tackle, but he sure blew up some plays.  And, don't get me wrong, a kicker is a kicker, but I think we found a punter.  He was a huge part of that big early lead.  Other guys were looking special too, and I think the first half allowed some of us to imagine it really could be we are very good. 

There's a lot of football left to play and we can still win the East, but it'll take a better game plan, actual adjustments at half time and some of the young guys have to play like they're older in crunch time.  In less than two weeks we're going to run out onto the field down in the swamp with a chance of starting a win streak against Florida. I hope we drain that mud hole and have gator tail for dinner.  But, let's get ready for Western Carolina, they give us a chance to get some confidence back.  Who knows, maybe we can figure out how to milk a clock.  I'm OooooooouuuuUT! Go Big Orange.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crystal Ball

I am confused.  I'm irritated.  I'm looking for answers and I keep searching everywhere I can find for an answer about the Vols future.  Every turn comes up empty.  So, because I'm a dedicated Vols fan I'm taking one for the team.  I've gone on ebay and made a purchase.  No need to go look for one of your own, I bought the last crystal ball.  The bidding was pretty fierce and I finally out bid some guy with the user name  It was close, seemed like he just gave up toward the end. 

I had it shipped overnight and when I got home from work today I ripped open the box and prayed that it would tell me something, anything.  I placed it on the table and was shocked at what happened when I asked the simple question, "can you tell me anything at all about Tennessee football's future?" Smoke rose within the glass sphere and remarkably, info freely flowed.

So, there you have it.  Seems like the crystal ball got tired of talking about Tennessee football, so I never got to the part about who will coach the team next season.  I'll keep trying.

I'm OoooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuUT! Go Big Orange

Monday, November 5, 2012

When a Win Feels Like a Loss, It's Over

I am having a very hard time coming up with a previous win that felt so much like a loss, not just for the Vols but any sports team.  Beating Troy the way Tennessee did stunk.  Troy is not a name for a football team.  It's more like a name for the annoying kid who sat across from you in 5th grade and just couldn't get out his own way. "Knock it off Troy, you're getting on my last nerve with the spit balls."  No, the name Troy does not shake Vol nation to the core hard enough to wake General Neyland.  But, Tennessee's incredibly embarrassing defensive effort probably had him rolling over in his grave.

I've heard some so called Vols fans say they wanted Tennessee to lose to Troy so that Dooley would be fired.  Hell, if it takes losing to Troy to get the attention of the powers that be, heaven help us all.  I have been a vocal supporter of Dooley, and thought he was the right person at the time he was hired.  Today, I'm done.  Truthfully, I was done after the South Carolina game.  I'm no longer par taking of the Dooley Coolade, or Doolade as some call it.  Under his leadership the Vols invent new ways to lose every week.  I would argue that the only reason they managed to win against Troy was the obvious difference between the athletes on Tennessee's offense and Troy's defense.  Specifically, CP and Hunter.  It's time for Dooley to hang up the cane and the orange pants and move on to another place to start over.  Regardless of who the coach is, I will never pull against the Vols.  I have to trust that the decision makers know a change has to happen whether they win out or not.  And frankly, if they win out, I will be absolutely floored.

It's not just that the Vols are 0-5 in the SEC for the third straight season.  It's much bigger than that.  Regardless of how long the University waits, he'll never succeed at Tennessee.  It is obvious he cannot lead.  He offers no reasonable explanation for how bad the defense has become.  And, it's gotten worse through the course of the season.  Think back to the NC State game.  On Saturday against Troy, the halftime adjustment should have been firing the defensive staff.  I'm sure there was a high school defensive coach in the stands somewhere, assuming he hadn't left by the half like most others did.  Pulling someone out of the stands to the sidelines would have been a tremendous upgraded at that point.

This week Dooley says he's devoting all his time to the defense.  The good news about that is the offense should immediately improve if he's letting go of it.  Blaming Sal Sunseri or even Mike Hamilton no longer holds water.  He was hired to stabilize and turn around a proud football program.  Instead, he stabilized some things and has turned the team into the laughing stock of the SEC.  Believe me, the other schools are laughing.  I did a fair amount of laughing at Bama just a few years ago when they went through similar circumstances.

I've seen enough.  That win was like a painful loss.  I, along with most, can no longer deal with that.  Apparently, Dave Hart and some others have seen enough too.  Reportedly, on Sunday after Peyton was finished whooping the Bengals, he hopped a plane and headed to Knoxville to assist some others in an attempt to kidnap Jon Gruden.  You didn't see that on the news?  The kidnapping attempt was thwarted, the truth is in the photo.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

By the way, Vols fans deserve better.  If Dave Hart doesn't get that he needs to go too.

The time is now.  Make the announcement and put everyone out of their misery!  Bring on someone. Anyone.  Help!

I'm OooooooooooouuuuuuuuuUT!  Go Big Orange.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Ground Swell

(This article is written under the assumption that Jon Gruden IS a viable candidate, a follow up to previous article)

It is incredible how quickly the momentum has grown regarding Jon Gruden as a candidate for the Tennessee job.  So, let's take a moment to consider the possibilities.

I'm not convinced he is coming, nor that he will come.  Jon Gruden is a savvy individual, he knows what is happening in Knoxville.  He's known for quite some time.  It's a fact that the University contacted him in 2008 before reaching out to Kiffin.  If he had wanted the job a year later, Dooley wouldn't be our coach right now.  Knowing the state of the Tennessee program he had to figure the chances were good he'd be contacted again.  He signed a 5 year contract extension with ESPN at the end of 2011.  Maybe he has it written into his contract he can leave for his dream job, crazier things have happened, right?

Jon Gruden has never been a head coach at the college level.  Does that matter?  It matters if he has no interest in the recruiting process.  It matters a lot.  College head coaches have to give up large chunks of their lives to be successful.  NFL coaches do as well, but recruiting is not something everyone wants to do.

Now, if he's okay with the recruiting process, I'd say he would be an instant hit on the recruiting trails.  Do you think top QB recruits would want to play for Jon Gruden, hell yes!  Our stock would immediately rise on the recruiting trails, and as we all know talent is a must to rebuild this program.

A hire like that would resolve the money problems in the athletic department, almost instantly.  Season ticket sales would soar, immediately.  Merchandise sales would soar immediately.  The fan base would be electrified.  Think about how many people would show up for the spring game.  It would be like the old days right out of the gates.   The excitement alone could help win a couple of games.

There are other places that are interested in Jon Gruden.  Arkansas is one of them.  Would he choose them over the Vols, I have no idea, I would guess not, but who knows.  What about the NFL?  There would probably be a handful of teams looking for a coach at the end of the season.  The Jets may need a coach, the Chargers, and a little team down in Texas called the Cowboys could need a coach.  He wouldn't coach for Jerry Jones you say?  He coached for Al Davis, he would certainly coach for Jerry Jones.  I, along with most people, have no clue whether he would take a college job over another NFL job.

Jon Gruden did an outstanding job as a coach in the NFL.  He took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Tony Dungy was fired.  He won the Super Bowl in his first season.  Some have argued that he won that Super Bowl with Dungy's players.  Of course he did.  And, he beat the Raiders whom he left to take the Bucs job.  You could say he took two teams to the Super Bowl that year.  I'm not sure that's ever happened before.  He built the Raiders into a Super Bowl team from nothing, they were a wreck before he got there.

What if he failed at Tennessee?  Well, then someone else would need to take over.  But, the state of the program, I would bet, would be better.  What if he coaches 3-4 years then bolts for the NFL?  Well, then someone else would need to take over.  If he was at Tennessee 4 years, I would bet he would hand off a much improved, and most importantly, respected Tennessee team. 

His offensive coordinator could be his brother, Jay.  He's the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals right now.  Maybe he would be Jon's replacement?  Who knows what the possibilities are with a Gruden team running the show. 

As stated before, I'm not convinced he would come.  But, he would bring immediate energy, much needed energy, and most importantly hope for Vols fans.  I like the looks of his wind breaker above. If it's Gruden, I'm all in.

I'm OooooooooouuuuuuuUT! Go Big Orange.

Monday, October 22, 2012

(This article is written under the assumption that Joh Gruden is not a viable candidate)

Derek Dooley opened his press conference with these words of wisdom,

"Talkin' to myself and feelin' old
Sometimes I'd like to quit,
nothin' ever seems to fit
Hangin' around, nothin' to do but frown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down"

Okay, he didn't say that, but I'm sure he was thinking it.  What he did say was this,

“If he’s loose with the football, he’s coming out of the game and
we’re going to play Justin,” Dooley said. “I told him that.”

The natural question that should have followed Dooley's statement is, "Why wait?"  Why not give Justin Worley the same luxury Bray had two seasons ago when he took over for Matt Simms who had been beaten senseless by teams very similar to the ones Bray is losing to right now?  Dooley was reportedly upset with Bray for refusing to speak with the media following the game.  Said he needs to "man up."  Again, why wait.  It's not going to happen.  Tyler Bray isn't going to man up.  He'll be 21 years old at the end of December.  He's been coddled long enough.  Time to give someone else the reigns, at least for a little while.  Get this kids attention.  By the way, some are referring to him as coach Derek "Stooley" now.  Back to Bray...

Bray has gotten away with things on and off the field that others would not get away with.  He's immature, he slings the ball around with nothing but hope written on it, and from what I'm hearing out of Knoxville he doesn't watch film.  Doesn't watch film?  If that's true, no wonder he isn't improving and neither is the team.  It wouldn't hurt Bray to come off the bench, it might even help him.

One of the reasons Dooley looks like he can't coach (I realize it may be fact), is because he doesn't have a leader on the field.  Bray certainly isn't a leader.  Look at the careers of the best QBs ever and you'll find they were frequently referred to as "field generals."  They brought more to the table than an ability to throw or read a defense. 

I have to admit, I am back and forth on the fire Dooley thing.  I'm on that band waggon and then I'm off.  I'm on, and I'm off.  Right now, I feel like I've been run over by that damned band waggon.  So, I don't know what should happen.  From what I've read the athletic department is out of money for the most part.  Doesn't sound to me like UT can afford the buy out or what it would take to get someone proven on the sidelines.

I do know this, and I thought it at the time, it is hard to understand why Dooley kept offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on staff when he arrived.  Some of the play calling this season is just baffling.  Maybe Bray is changing the play, who knows?

I also know that the gap in talent between Tennessee and the top SEC schools is Ginormous.  That's a cross between Gigantic and Enormous.  I had to combine them because I'm not sure which is bigger.  We have never had such a lack of talent in the defensive secondary. Those kids got embarrassed at times.  Wide open receivers, with no one within 20 yards on multiple occasions, along with more "air" tackled than actual bodies.  Prentiss Wagner would have led the team in "air tackles", but he got juked so bad on one play he couldn't even grab air!  It's not their fault really.  They just aren't as good as the National Champion's players.

This is a painful thing to watch.  And, the screaming for Dooley to be fired in Tennessee has gotten so loud it woke me up several times early Sunday morning.  Reminder- I live on the coast of North Carolina.  That's some loud screaming.  But, without talent, who will win?  The Vols are more competitive than they were last year.  Until Saturday night it was clear that our offensive line is worlds better.  We have some very good linebackers.  And CP, well I'm not sure the Vols have ever had anyone like that on the field. 

Speaking of CP, we all know he's the best player on the team, so why wouldn't he get a minimum of 20 touches a game.  Okay, 20's a lot, how about 15?  Touchbacks on a kickoff don't count.  He had 1 catch Saturday night, 1! And, it was phenomenal!  He ran the ball 2 times for -6 yards (remember he dropped a pitch, thus the loss of yardage), and we can't get him the ball more than that?  He returned 4 kicks for 111 yards, that's 4 touches 111 yards of offense.  I'm certainly no offensive coordinator, but even I know that if 4 touches equals 111 yards, it's time to start getting the guy the ball more than anyone else on the field.  That lack of production falls squarely on the Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach.  Stop for a minute and consider this... What would Spurrier's staff do with a player like Cordarrell Patterson?  Do you think he would have had more opportunities Saturday?

Justin Hunter has to be losing stock on the NFL draft board.  He started the season as a near slam dunk first round pick and he may still be one, but if he is the NFL's standards for a WR has changed.  Hunter looks tentative and like he's afraid of getting hit.  Maybe I am misinterpretting the alligator arms and the lack of catches over the middle.  If he is afraid to go over the middle I don't blame him a lot, he did blow out his knee last season.  I don't blame him for not wanting to do it, but it is his job and if he can't do it in college how the heck will he do it at the next level.  Hopefully he'll be himself again once the opponents get easier. 

Back to the talent thing.  If the coaching staffs had swapped sides, the result would have been the same.  It may have even been worse. How's that?  Well, we don't know what Dooley would have done with a lead like that.  Hell, Maybe he would have pulled a Spurrier and thrown a couple of TDs late just to say go stick it!!  But, Dooley hasn't had a lead like that over an SEC school, so we'll just settle for the result would have been the same.  Saban wouldn't beat Alabama with Tennesee's players, and that's the truth.  Who's at fault for that lack of talent?  Hell, I don't know.  I know our current recruiting class is ranked 17 by rivals.  That's not bad, but Alabama is #1 and Florida is #3.  Auburn is #10, Georgia is #12, and Texas A & M is #15 right now.  If he lands a couple of surprises, maybe we jump to the top 10.

The primary reason I jump off the fire Dooley band waggon is simple.  Saturday night's game doesn't matter right now.  I didn't say I don't care, I said it doesn't matter right now.  No one believed Tennessee was going to win Saturday night.  I doubt too many people thought it would be close.  Has it become a standard for Tennesse to enter ball games thinking it's okay to lose?  No, and losing like that is unacceptable.  But, it's not a standard right now.  No Vols fan is happy with the situation.  But, unless things fall completely apart, he should get a shot at coaching the players he's recruited after they have matured and have experience. 

If the Vols get embarrassed on Saturday it may be over.  But, if they show up for 4 quarters, and especially if they get a win, they could be set up for nice run to end the season.  Ladies and Gentlemen, the combined record of the teams we have lost to is 27-1.  South Carolina has lost two in a row, by the way to teams with a combined record of 13-1.  The Vols have a real shot at this game.  The bad news- it's in Columbia.  The good news- it starts at 12 eastern time so if it's painful, it'll be over early, won't ruin your evening.

I'm OoooooouuuuuuuUT!  Go Big Orange.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Long Does Dooley Have?

DooleyLuckily, my job security is not determined by the number of wins the Tennessee football team produces.  Likewise, I am fortunate that I don't get paid to decide about the fate of the head coach.  But, at some point in the very near future, Dave Hart has to make a decision.  Does he stay or go?  How many wins secures his job? Does it matter who those wins come against?  Would an upset of Alabama or South Carolina secure his job regardless of record at the end of the season?  Is he in danger of losing his job this year?
Those are very tough questions.  I've been listening to a lot of Knoxville area radio this season.  The level of optimism heading into the Florida game was reminiscent of the glory years of the Fulmer era. After that loss, optimism was still there, not as strong, but there.  Heading into the Mississippi State game, the consensus was this would be the first big win of Dooley's career at Tennessee.  I personally fired Dooley several times Saturday night.  I fired Sal probably a dozen times.  I fired our special teams coach and cut our punter.  Luckily for them, I don't have any say, especially in the middle of a game.
Right now, I don't want to see any of them lose their job (except the punter).  On the flip side, if Dooley, Sal, and Chaney were all let go tonight, it would not break my heart.  I don't claim to know what the right answer is, and I doubt anyone really does know.  What I am about to share is not an argument to keep Dooley, it's just facts, that's all.  There are some things to consider.
It may be the wrong answer completely, but my argument today, and I reserve the right to change my mind and deny all together that I ever made the following suggestion.  Even though it's in writing I could easily claim delirium brought on by Tennessee football despair.  So, here goes...
I think Dooley needs to be the coach for the rest of this season, and unless things just fall completely apart he should be back next season too.  I know, some of you are done with it and him.  I get that.  And, like I said before, it wouldn't be heart breaking if it were over now.  When he arrived at UT the program was a mess.  My favorite Vol fan and long time Vols viewing companion stated the other day that if UT ends the season with a losing record he will be fired, and he followed that with, "there hasn't been any improvement."  I agreed.  But, upon further consideration I'll offer up some observations.
I don't believe that moral victory is a part of Tennessee football, so staying close to an oponent really doesn't hold water.  If we begin thinking staying close is acceptable we are done as a fan base and UT is done as a football power forever.  It is true fan bases lower expectations over time if their team loses enough.  Ask Vandy fans.  Ask Memphis fans, and countless others who are never a factor in National conversation when it comes to football.  If Tennessee fans ever reach that point, I can't see myself in Knoxville for a game again.
But, if you look at who we have played and the margin of loss, maybe we have improved.  The BCS poll came out on Monday.  It is sobering for a UT fan base that came into this season with high expectations.  We are not a top 25 team and haven't been all season.  But, as of Monday we have lost to the number 2 in the BCS, number 11 and number 12.  And, we very well may lose to number 1 on Saturday.  What team has ever faced that in the first 6 games of the season?  Should we be one of those ranked in the top 12, well hell yes, this is Tennessee by damn.  That's what we expect.  But, we r not one of those.  And, we are a season or two from even having a shot at that, no matter who is coaching.
Speaking of which, if Dooley is let go, who is going to replace him.  Gruden would have been here after Kiffin if he wanted to coach college ball, forget it.  So, who is it?  Petrino?  Please.  Tuberville?  He's not likeable.  Could I get over that?  Maybe, look what he's done at Texas Tech.  Texas Tech! What about Dan Mullen?  He just beat us.  But, then again, why would he leave what he's built to come to UT where the fans may turn on him before he's had adequate time to fix what's broke? That leaves David Cutcliffe who is managing to win at Duke.  Duke, people! But, that would be moving backwards.  No need to go there. Of course there are other options, but who is a truly big time coach who can step right in and make it work?  A change could easily just continue what is happening now and then we face another change.  WE ARE NOT OLE MISS!
I don't know what the answer is, but if we plan to part ways with Derek Dooley, we damn well better have a slam dunk winner in the wings.  Why not give Dooley a full four years and see what happens.  If it doesn't work, maybe Peyton will be ready to leave playing for coaching.  It's what we all want anyway.
While you think about it, take a look at this information about Nick Saban, Dooley's mentor and current world beater at Alabama.
I find the 1998 season especially interesting to consider.  After two huge upsets, things did not turn out so well.  We didn't notice and we didn't care because we were busy winning a National Title.
Michigan State
When Saban arrived in East Lansing, Michigan prior to the 1995 season, MSU had not had a winning season since 1990, and the team was sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations committed under his predecessor and former mentor, George Perles.[15]
  • 1995–1997 – Beginning in 1995, Saban moderately improved MSU's fortunes, taking the Spartans to minor bowl games (all of which they lost by double-digit margins) in each of his first three seasons. From 1995 to 1997, Michigan State finished 6–5–1, 6–6, and 7–5. In comparison, MSU had finished 5–6, 6–6 and 5–6 (prior to NCAA forfeits) in 1992–1994.
  • 1998 – On November 7, 1998, the Spartans upset the No. 1 ranked Ohio State 28–24 at Ohio Stadium. However, even after the upset and an early-season rout of then-highly-ranked Notre Dame the Spartans finished 6–6, including three last-minute losses featuring turnovers, defensive lapses, and special-teams misplays, and failed to earn a bowl invitation.
  • 1999 – Saban led the Spartans to a 9–2 season that included wins over Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. However, the two losses were routs at the hands of Purdue and Wisconsin. Following the final regular-season game against Penn State, Saban abruptly resigned to accept the head coaching position with LSU. Saban's assistant head coach and successor, Bobby Williams, then coached MSU to a Citrus Bowl victory over Florida, giving the Spartans an overall record of 10–2 for the 1999 season. It would be the best season in terms of wins for the Spartans since 1965, and it would see the Spartans reach their highest ranking since the 1966 team.[16] Future former NFL Head Coach Josh McDaniels served as a Graduate Assistant on Saban's 1999 coaching staff.
Saban left Mich. State for LSU where he won a National title.  He left LSU for the NFL and then returned to college at Alabama and the rest is history.  One of his pupils was Derek Dooley.  Let's hope Dooley turns it around soon.

I'm  OOOOOOooooouuuuUT!  Go Vols

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Zip One In There

Okay, writing about playing the Akron Zips is not productive and certainly isn't exciting, so I won't bother to spend any time on that.  The only notable issue is we are matched against Terry Bowden.  We've always enjoyed beating a Bowden, especially on January 4, 1999.  But, that's a distant memory.  This is certainly a must win, I think we'll get it done.

But, there are some things to consider as the Vols move into a warm up for the most critical stretch of the season. 

The loss to Florida essentially negated the win against NC State.  We all knew it was a possibility, but until it actually happened, it was hard to imagine the positive vibe for the season could unravel early on.  I was in Neyland last Saturday with Chris, and technically with Brad and his family along with 102,000 other people.  I haven't been in Neyland when it was that electric since the '90s.  I will say most SEC games were that electric in the 90's, but those days are gone.

It was so loud last Saturday, at least for a half, my ears were hurting.  It was crazy in there.  It was fantastic.  But, a disturbing thing happened on the way to a victory.  The Vols collapsed under the pressure.  Chris and I had a good view of things.  We had great angles on key plays.  We were close to the UT bench and the South end zone.  We had a birds eye view of the goal line stand.  We didn't need a birds eye view to see the fatal flaws of this team.  So here it is, my assessment of what we are dealing with....

No need to hold back, let's just look at the reality of what Vols fans are watching.  For starters, Tyler Bray is not a leader, and I don't see anything that would indicate he will become one.  He's great when things are going well.  In fact, he's entertaining to watch.  But, when it gets rough, he checks out.  It's not just Bray.  The team lacks on the field leadership and has for a number of years.  But, most successful teams have a QB that players believe in and will listen to when it's crunch time.  Bray is not that leader.  He comes off as down right bratty.  He cannot deal with getting hit.  Honestly, I probably couldn't either, but that's only one of a multitude of reasons I didn't play college football, especially QB.  In the end, I predict that lack of leadership ability will mean Tyler plays very little football at a professional level.

We do not have an SEC caliber running back.  There is zero threat from our backfield.  There is zero threat that one of our backs will break a long run.  We just don't have a guy who can do that.  At least, we haven't seen a guy who can do that to this point in the season.

We are an immature team.  Simply, when things got tough this team was done.  I do not believe that the kids "quit."  I just think they were demoralized.  It's like there feelings were hurt when they went from up 7 to down 7 in about 4 minutes of game time.  Instead of stepping up and saying we are not done, the team just melted. That's a reflection of leadership, and you can point the finger at Dooley, and he deserves criticism, but in the end if the players don't want it enough, there is no coach in the country who will win, and that includes people like Saban.  At some point, the players must take responsibility for the desire to win and to execute.

We are bad in the secondary.  Losing Brian Randolph to a blown out knee just adds to the disaster we have with our defensive backs.  And, the fact that he was injured on a humiliating long run after catching a pass only make is worse.  As a side bar, I was pleased to learn that giving up a pass and run like that was mostly due to the fact that the ball was thrown to where our conerback blitzed from.  I couldn't see that from my seat.  Marsalis Teague is a receiver, that's where he played as a freshman with Kiffin, and he cannot tackle.  It is admirable he has tried to help on defense, but he simply is not a defensive back who can bring what we need.

Dan McCullers is big.  It is amazing to look at him on the field.  And, he just tossed the center aside on one play in particular.  He cannot be blocked one on one.

The jury is out on our coaching staff.  Half time adjustments are critical to success, I wonder if we will see any adjustments that actually make a difference as the season moves on.  Chris and I commented over and over in the first half about the fact that it looked like they could not cover our receivers.  That changed somewhat in the second half, but not much, Tyler just seemed to look for one guy at a time and it didn't work.  What did change was attitude and ability to stop the Florida running game.  At the half the Gators had 176 total yards.  By game's end they had over 300 rushing yards alone.  No one wins in the SEC giving up 300 yards rushing, no one.
If the Vols are going to win a big SEC game any time soon, they have to make big plays when they present themselves.  The defense must find a way to cover a fumble at the two.  Hunter must find a way to catch a pass in a critical situation when it hits him between the numbers.  A defensive back must figure out how to hang on to a sure interception in the first half.  Tyler has to know the linebacker is there early in the game when he throws over the middle.  If Patterson can get his hand on a long pass that would be a TD, he has to find a way to hold on in a game like the UT/Florida game.  Bottom line, big players make big plays in big games.  We don't have any of that.

Finally, Johnny Majors was honored prior to the game.  That was very nice.  It felt good and it felt right.  As a coach, John Majors stressed some basics for winning football-  You must win 3 phases of the game-- The running game, the kicking game, and turnovers.  We lost all three against Florida.  If we don't find a way to win those three areas each week, we should expect to lose. 

And, by the way, the best kicker on the team last Saturday was Tyler Bray.  I'm just saying, we need to fix that problem, and I am at a loss as to why that wasn't resolved in the off season.

I'm OOOOuuuuuuuuUT!  Go Vols!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Biggest Game in More than a Decade

Da'Rick is gone, Tennessee Tech can suffer through his distractions now that he's transferring to them, and it's 4 nights until the Orange and White take the field.  On the eve of the 2012 football season, Vols fans are anxious.  And, for the first time in a very long time fans anxiously await the start of the season because of optimism.  Of course, there will always be the pessimists; their voices are always too loud to ignore, but for the most part Tennessee fans are eager to get the season under way.

I cannot imagine the level of anxiety Derek Dooley must be feeling.  He just lost his top receiver from a year ago, his next best receiver is coming off of knee surgery, and the next guy in line has never played a down in the SEC.  Not only are those items looming large, he has to find a way to make the Vols faithful forget and unforgivably embarrassing loss to Kentucky to end last season.  Hermann Lathers didn't play last season.  Dooley's fingers must be triple crossed hoping his top linebacker can play a full season.

But, with a lot of question marks lining the depth chart, there is a lot of room for optimism about how this season will turnout.  The Vols have 18 starters returning.  By all accounts Cordarrelle Patterson could make fans forget Da'Rick in very short order.  And Michael Rivera is a top senior tight end who can catch the rock and run with it.  The offensive line is in tact and very experienced.  Tyler Bray is back and healthy.

Maybe the biggest positive, and I do mean biggest, is the defensive line.  Daniel McCullers is 6'6" and 368lbs., on each side of him is Darrington Sentimore 6'2" 288 and Maurice Couch 6'2" and 299lbs.  They are certainly going to get in the way a lot.  Number 45 in this photo is A.J. Johnson, he's 6'2" and weighs 240lbs.  It's rumored that McCullers nick name is the "Green Mile."  I would suggest that instead of healing the pain as in the movie, this Green Mile is going to bring the pain, big time!  As he meets a running back at the line of scrimmage early on this season I can imagine a lot of introductory lines. "I hit you so hard your children will be born with a bruise."  "Hello, I'm Mr. McCullers.  I think your gonna need to change your pants at the half."  "Trust me, your head is still in your helmet, you just can't find your helmet."  "Hi, I'm Dan.  That noise you heard was every bone in your body screaming in terror."  "Hey dude, I think this head belongs to you."  He's a big boy.  Hope the aching Vols budget can afford to feed him.

Sports talk in K-town is a buzz.  Until the news of Da'Rick broke Eric Ainge was suggesting the Vols could average near 40 points a game.  I think he's right, and I don't think the loss of Rogers will change that, the Vols will score a lot of points. 

But, I will suggest to you, my fellow Vols followers, that this game on Friday night could be the most important game since January 4, 1999.  That's the night Tennessee beat Florida State for the National Championship.  Losing the game certainly doesn't spell a bad season necessarily.  But, to start with a loss is going to make it especially difficult for the Vols to gain enough confidence through the season to beat some of the best.  The numbers don't help either if they lose.  The Vols face 3 preseason top 10 teams and a fourth top 25 team.   Recent history would suggest losses to those top 25 teams.  That, combined with an opening loss would equal 5 losses.  I don't have to tell you how stressful that would make the swing games.  That scenario would mean I'll need a new remote, because the one I have would certainly not survive.

But, with all that, the need for a win is bigger than the final win total.  The Vols need to taste victory on the national stage.  It would begin moving the Big Orange back toward relevance, and could start them down the road to significant confidence.  Considering that Florida plays Bowling Green and then goes on the road to Texas A & M, the Vols could be in the best seat they've been in for years when they meet the Gators in Knoxville.  Traditionally, the Gators have started the season against two doormats before playing Tennessee.  Thanks to conference realignment, they have two difficult road games in a row, and Tennessee is number two in that line.

Imagine coming out of the Florida game 3-0 followed by Akron at home.  It is conceivable that the Vols will roll into Athens at the end of September undefeated.  But, it starts with Friday night.  A loss could be disastrous.  But, imagine the "what ifs" if they lose that game and hit Athens with only 1 loss to NC State.

Friday nights game could be viewed in retrospect as the game that turned the program around.  Or, it could just be another forgettable game.  Tennessee has not done well in Atlanta.  Let's hope that changes this week and helps to change the program.

I'm OoooooooooUT!  Go Vols!