It was good to get out of conference on Saturday. Tennessee hosted MTSU and got their first win in a month. Let’s get to it:

The Good:

Much has been made of Derek Brodus making his first career appearance as a Volunteer. The walk-on scored 6 points. That’s a pretty good story.

De-Fense! De-Fense! De-Fense!. I don’t care who you play, you shut somebody out, you’ve done something right.

Justin Worley had a nice game. 23-32 for 291 and a touchdown. His arm is elite, whether or not burning Worley’s red-shirt was the right move or not remains to be seen though.

The Bad

The running game has just been awful. Derek Dooley has said time and again that Matt Simms gets the Vols in the best position to run. It’s hard to argue that.  The Vols averaged a paltry 2.7 yards per carry, and they were down to their 4th tailback of the season in JaRon Toney. The Alcoa product was ok, but the team as a whole really is struggling moving the ball on the ground. Somewhere The General is crying.

The Ugly

Gonna go with fact that this game went head to head with LSU and Alabama. This was a game that I was hoping was at noon. But, such is life.

Thoughts and observations from the game.

The sun came up this morning, but for the life of me, I don’t know why that’s supposed to be a good thing.

In a perfect world, Trent Richardson’s performance yesterday would have strengthened his Heisman standings.  Despite the defense clearly keying on him on every single down, he managed 169 yards from scrimmage, including an impressive 24 yard run that most people will quickly forget because the next play was the Marquis Maze pass gone wrong.

Is there a more overrated player than Tyrann Matthieu?  His only real contribution was a dirty play that took a true All-American quality corner — Dre Kirkpatrick — out of the game.  There is no arguing that it was just the speed of play or an accident.  He got beat, and decided to take the player out.  Did he intend to injure Kirkpatrick?  Probably not, though I have no idea what he was thinking.  Was there anyway he could believe he was making a legitimate football play?  No chance.  LSU’s secondary is extremely good, but Matthieu is only the fourth best player on it.

Is there a more underrated player than Eric Reid?  He made plays all night and all over the field, including the biggest play of the game — stripping the ball from Michael Williams at the goal line.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that because of the lengths of the kicks, Tide fans shouldn’t fault the kickers.  I do agree that those are not gimme kicks that were missed. But the issue isn’t with a missed kick here or there, it’s with missing four kicks, and missing them egregiously.  Those kicks never had a chance.  They didn’t cut just outside the upright.  One didn’t go far enough (and was still wide), one was blocked because it was so low, one was so wide that it had not passed the line of scrimmage before it was obvious it was missed.

Still, Alabama’s defense played arguably better than expected — as did LSU’s — and there is little doubt that these are still the two best teams in college football.  Which is of course problematic.  Most folks, myself included, don’t believe there should be a rematch.  But, as the system dictates, the top two teams in the game should play in the championship.  If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State and Oregon beats Stanford, and we assume everyone believes that the SEC pair are one and two, the issue becomes this:  do voters manipulate their ballots to make sure their isn’t a rematch or do we get a rematch which will invalidate the importance of the first matchup?   Neither is ideal.

Kicking.

 

 

Kicking.

Another Tuesday, another round of Dooleyisms: This is one of the few things that can make a loss bearable:

On South Carolina

 

 

Brent Brewer tore his ACL so he is out for the year. (It’s) unfortunate, but we have to put the next guy in and go play. We are going to start Justin (Worley) again this week. Justin obviously didn’t play great. He made some good throws. He did some things that we felt good about and then he made some really bad decisions and some throws that he could have thrown better. Hopefully, we will see a little improvement in his play. I think we will. I think there were a lot of nerves out there that affected him especially early on. I don’t think anybody really played well around him and that was probably the disappointing part. Everybody has to do their part, play a little better around him and I think we will be fine…We feel like in practice that he has delivered the ball very well, more consistently and more accurately. I don’t want to get into comparing the two. Matt Simms does some things better than Justin and really a lot of it’s unknown what he does better. We just made the decision to go with Justin based on how we have performed as a unit when Matt has been in there.

Clearly the right call now is to start Worley again against MTSU. Hopefully their defense isn’t as advanced as South Carolina’s it shouldn’t be as talented.

On Second-Guessing

Well I don’t know what the result would have been if I didn’t start him. If I knew the result was we would have won the game, then yeah it was a terrible decision. If the result was going to be the same, I don’t know. If we would have gotten blown out then it was a good call. I don’t know what the answer is. But I can’t look back now. I guess only time will answer that question.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. You make your own bed, and then you lie in it.

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South Carolina vs. Tennessee

What Mike said:

In a game billed as the SEC East Championship game, neither team disappoints. Marcus Lattimore goes crazy, scoring twice. Alshon Jeffery pumps his gas twice in the end zone as well. A furious 4th quarter comeback by Tyler Bray ensues. With time clicking off the clock Bray finds Justin Hunter in the end zone. Final score UT 31-28
7-1

What Steve said:

No rest for the weary, huh? Fourth week, fourth straight opponent that beat the Vols last season (three of the four by multiple TDs). Mr. Bray, meet Mr. Clowney. Despite the fact that this will be the fourth consecutive top twenty program the Vols will have faced, rumblings will begin in the fanbase that perhaps Coach Dooley isn’t the right man for the job. It’s not right, but it will happen. Perhaps Coach Spurrier can give him the secret to winning in Knoxville during the post-game handshake. Score: Cocks 31-17

What actually happened: 

In a defensive struggle, South Carolina managed mistakes better than the Vols did.  It was ugly, and when South Carolina made mistakes, Tennessee didn’t take advantage, and they made blunders nearly as big. Final score South Carolina 14-3.

Mike’s reviews, retractions, and/or mea culpas:

Hmmm, well since three of the four players I mentioned didn’t even play in this game, and the fourth was an amazing non-factor. (Partly because Stephen Garcia also is gone). This prediction wasn’t even close.  Steve mentioned Dooley’s “hot seat”. He gets mad props for me on that for being right. There is talent in Knoxville, but not enough right now, and not all of it is healthy.

Steve’s reviews, retractions, and/or mea culpas:

Again, I got the winner and not much else.  Tyler Bray didn’t play of course, and likely won’t again, at least not in a game where he would be a difference maker.  While they didn’t make Jadaveon Clowney a complete non-factor, the offensive line did manage to keep Justin Worley on his feet most of the night with solid pass protection.  What he did with that protection looked a lot like you would expect from a 3rd-string true freshman getting his first collegiate start against the best pass defense in the country.

As for the fan reaction to Coach Dooley, my inbox certainly saw it’s share of coaching criticism, including one Vols fan gloating over predicting the failure of the Worley experiment, but I haven’t seen anyone go that extra step and call for his ouster (though Roll Bama Roll‘s Meltdown Time on Tuesday will likely feature a few calls for his head).  I sense a lot of people don’t want to go through even further turnover as the result of another coaching change, so they are holding their tongues.  Long-term, I believe those reservations will pay off.  With championships?  I don’t know, but certainly with the kind of stability this program really needs which will be a solid platform for the next coach if it’s not ultimately Dooley.  Vols fans bristle at the comparison, but if Dooley can do for UT what Mike Shula did for UA, that’s a net positive on Rocky Top.

I’ve been thinking about this game for 36 hours. And I still don’t know what to think. I’ve heard people blame coaching. Surely Derek Dooley can’t get off blame free here. But I just don’t know where we are as a program. I think, from an expectation standpoint, the worst thing that happened to us this year was the blowout of a decent-to-good Cincinnati team. It set us as fans up to believe in something that just isn’t ready yet. This week personified what Tennessee football is this week, like it or not, and no fan of Tennessee likes it.

The Good

Justin Worley’s arm. There were a couple of throws, both 3rd and long completions to D’Anthony Arnett, and the bomb that Da’Rick Rogers dropped that were All-American throws. Those were throws that Matt Simms just can’t make.

Brian Randolph is starting to play pretty well. In fact he’s playing well enough that Prentiss Waggner can go back to his natural spot at the corner. Randolph also forced a fumble that at the time, got me really excited.

Devrin Young continues to be a weapon returning kicks. It’s going to get to the point, and soon where Young only getting to the 35 is going to be a disappointment.

The Bad

Justin Worley’s decision making. I don’t know what he was thinking on both picks. On the first interception by DJ Swearinger, nobody was close to that ball. On the second, it was clearly a forced throw, to a guy who was double teamed, and double teamed well.  Matt Simms can make those decisions. The Tennessee quarterback is a double-edged sword right now, and both edges are dull.

Tennessee’s inability to execute a sneak. A couple of times now in the last couple of weeks, big plays have come from Tennessee not being able to get a 4th and inches. Unacceptable. I don’t care whose fault it is, it needs to be fixed.

The Ugly

Shooting yourself in the foot. I can rationally figure out where Tennessee could have 17-21 more points than it ended up with. What does it say about the program, when my first thought after Prentiss Waggner’s long pick was “Crap, I am not sure if they’re gonna score here”. Brian Randolph came up with a huge forced fumble, that led to the second interception.  Da’Rick Rogers’ drop was a huge blow to momentum. Rogers is starting to remind me of Terrell Owens. He’s big, strong, makes some great catches, and has some huge drops. Is he still great? Yep. Does he do a lot of things that drive you crazy? Yep. False starts happen. But, two in a row? That cost us 3 points at a minimum. A lot of ifs ands and buts coming, but if we make the second field goal, now it’s 6-0 Tennessee. At 7-6, if Rogers catches the touchdown, it’s 13-7 at halftime. If Waggner gets into the end zone, it’s 20-7. I think at 20-14 final is reasonable. Too many self-inflicted mistakes. Some on the coaches, some on the players. The margin for error is now razor-thin.

I know this will happen Saturday, but after this, all bets are off.

Well, I could fill you up with statistical analysis of what to expect on Saturday night, when the Vols and Gamecocks meet. But the fact of the matter is, I have no idea, and neither do you. Would I be stunned by a 21 point South Carolina win? Sadly no. Would I be surprised by a 21 point Tennessee win? Nope. I have zero expectations. But you think something about what may happen and so do I.

So here’s what I think: I think that without Marcus Lattimore, UT’s rush defense has a phenomenal day. I think that Conner Shaw is a decent enough quarterback, that he’ll hit Alshon Jeffrey a few times, and once at least he’ll score. But I also think that Tauren Poole and the offensive line (with new starter Marcus Jackson) will continue the recent trend of good run blocking, and I think that UT will put a few points up on the board. South Carolina has some elite defensive ends in Jadaveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram. Tennessee’s offensive line has been pretty good at pass protection. I think Justin Worley will have a little bit of time, and I think UT wins. 21-17. What say you?

Another Tuesday, another round of Dooleyisms. Let’s get to it:

On New Starters:

From a personnel standpoint, we are going to keep tinkering around in the secondary because we just aren’t playing as good as we need to be. Prentiss (Waggner) and Izauea (Lanier) will still be out there at corner starting out with (Brian) Randolph and (Brent) Brewer, but we are going to play (Justin) Coleman and (Byron) Moore a little bit more. Justin showed up and it was good to see him going out there and competing. He had a couple of pass breakups, which we haven’t had many of this year. We might play Rod Wilksa little bit more to see if he can help us some and take some snaps off of Brewer.

“We are going to start Marcus Jackson at left guard. He’s doing some good things. He’s a little more developed physically than James (Stone).

“We are going to start Justin (Worley) at quarterback. I know that will be the big storyline. I just feel like it’s something we need to do. I think we have to be very cautious to say it’s like last year because I know that’s what everybody thinks. But we had a lot more data on Tyler (Bray) going into last season when I made the move than I do right now on Justin. We played Tyler in the first game. We played him at Georgia. We played him against Alabama. We played him at South Carolina, and he was the number two the whole time he got here. This one is a little different and I don’t know what it is going to look like on Saturday.

The red shirt has officially been tossed for Justin Worley, and we’ll see what happens, clearly not even Dooley knows. It’s been said for weeks, that Marcus Jackson is the strongest, most powerful, offensive lineman, hard to keep a guy like that on the bench. Generally guards like that are great run blockers.

Since the day he stepped on campus, Marcus Jackson has been the strongest Vol

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Tennessee vs. Alabama

What Steve said:

I don’t expect it to be as large of a blowout as last year, when the spread set a record in the series. Still, the Tide’s defense is designed to stop offenses like the Vols (and has — the Vols have not scored more than 10 points in each of it’s last three tries) and the nation’s best secondary is licking it’s chops at the thought of Bray trying to go deep. The Vols do top 10 points this time (moral victory!). Score: Tide 38-17.

Please, Vols fans.  Don’t be too hard on Tyler Bray.  He won’t be the best QB on the field.  He won’t even be top two.  He’ll also be responsible for the turnover that breaks this game open.  But that’s more because of the quality of the defenses each of them has to face and not because of his personal lack of talent.  DeAndrew White receives the “DJ Hall Memorial Award” with a seven catch, 125 yard day.  Trent Richardson will sit out the fourth quarter for the fourth time this season.  Score: Tide 38 – 17

What Mike said:

Nothing to see hear folks, move along, move along. Final score Alabama 21-13

Nothing good happens for UT other than the fact that the score is closer than recent games. Alabama 21-13

What actually happened:  

According to the Alabama players, they were too arrogant coming into the game and actually thought Tennessee would just lay down.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  UT played well for a half and frankly, Alabama didn’t.  AJ McCarron was particularly sloppy in the first two frames, missing open receivers egregiously, and getting picked off by a linebacker dropping into coverage.  Whatever was said at the half worked, though.  Trent Richardson added two more TDs to his season total moving into second place in the country in scoring.  McCarron came out crisp, completing his first eight passes of the half, and more importantly, participated in what has become an Alabama quarterback tradition:  having a career day against the Vols secondary.  He’s now the fourth consecutive starter to set personal bests in passing yards against Tennessee.  After getting their act together at halftime, the game was never close.  Tennessee would not convert another first down or ever threaten to score again.  Alabama would rattle off 31 unanswered points before ceding the reins to the second and third stringers.  Lost in the poor play during the first half is also the fact that the Alabama defense never allowed Tennessee inside the 20.   Tide rolled to victory – 37-6.

Steve’s reviews, retractions, and/or mea culpas:

So, taunting Tyler Bray just looks cruel right now.  Obviously, he wasn’t responsible for any turnovers, and the turnovers the Vols did cough up both occurred after Alabama had the game in hand.  Clearly, I was off on the score as well, though I was within a point of what Alabama would score.  That’s nullified somewhat by my statement that the score would be closer than the record-setting margin of the year before, since that margin was equaled.  On the year (and given Bray’s and Hunter’s status, this is a trend that will likely continue), I’ve overestimated the Vols offense six of seven games.  DeAndrew White did not earn the “DJ Hall Memorial Award.”  He didn’t have a single catch.  Marquis Maze did manage to top 100 yards receiving, but it was built largely on a 69 yard reception rather than a series of back-breaking first down catches which would merit the honor.  Richardson also played half of the fourth quarter, and had he sat, it would have been the sixth time this season.

Mike’s reviews, retractions, and/or mea culpas

Well. For a half…it was beautiful. I nearly broke my hand. Pumping my fist in joy Tiger Woods style after the successful fake punt, and nearly hitting my wall.  I enjoyed the first half as much as any part of the Derek Dooley era. No Tennessee didn’t get inside the 20. But this version of Tennessee is hard to get a bead on. Is it the same version that played Cincinnati? Nope.  I was disappointed in another 31 point loss to the Tide. But, this time last week, I wouldn’t have predicted 21-13 Alabama either. So much for the validity of pre-season predictions.

Saturday was awesome for a half. I wasn’t sure of a victory at any point Saturday, but I liked the way we competed in the first half in that hostile environment. 6-6 at the half…and we’ll stop there. Now on to the good, bad and ugly.

The Good

Mike Palardy had his best game ever as a Vol. He hit UT’s longest field goal in 15 years, and he had an awesome fake punt to Anthony Anderson.  Alabama was giving up an average of 38 yards per game on the ground. UT got 92. Compared to where we were a few weeks ago…amazing. Trent Richardson had been gashing people all year. He looked good Saturday, but not amazing as he had looked all year.

I also thought many of the coaching moves were good. Alex Bullard appeared to do well at center. I thought all of the 4th down calls were right, even if they didn’t work out. I’ll hold judgement on Justin Worley’s redshirt until November.

The Bad

Man, our secondary is bad. We don’t get great pressure on the opposing quarterback, but we get burned constantly back there. Tennessee also turned the ball over too much.  Tennessee had to play a perfect game to beat Alabama. Too many false starts, and too many turnovers.

The Ugly

The entire second half was pretty ugly. False starts and turnovers are controllable. Getting drilled by superior talent isn’t. We have a long way to go still Vol fans.