The lopsided loss last weekend to Auburn said volumes about where the program is now and what is needed to get better in the future. The Vols were simply too slow on defense and had no answer for Auburn’s ground game. Most of those fixes will come from recruiting, but in the meantime, there are a few more games to be played this season.
It did not bolster the confidence of the fan base that while the Vols were looking dismal, their biggest in-state rival was dominating a depleted Gator team in The Swamp. That rival is due to make an appearance a week from tomorrow at Neyland Stadium. Their hope is to keep the Big Orange at home for the post-season by winning a second consecutive game against the state’s flagship program.
Vanderbilt had the only blemish on Coach Neyland’s first season as the Vols head coach. The following year Neyland went undefeated, but again the record included a tie with the in-state rival. In the modern era, almost all the previous Vol coaches had issues with the team from Nashville, but none have managed to lose back-to-back games since 1926.
That is the challenge for Team #117 and Coach Butch Jones as they use the off week to avoid that negative legacy. The off-week comes at just the right time to refocus this team and get mentally prepared to finish the season on a high note. The team goal of a bowl game is still within reach.
Jim Butler has to be ecstatic after the Commodores beat Florida last weekend, a feat Tennessee has been unable to pull off since 2003. Jim should be trying to coerce this writer into one of our crazy rivalry bets by now; however, my friend has been eerily quiet. Perhaps his "Rocky Top" solo on the courthouse steps a few years ago has left my friend a bit “bet” shy.
Meantime, the basketball season is off to a mixed review. The Lady Vols look to have improved their lineup and are likely to have a great season for Coach Holly Warlick. With a deep, talented squad, Lady Vol fans can expect a few new banners in the rafters.
The men also improved their lineup for this year; however, some of the same problems that plagued them last season are still present. Inconsistent shooting from the floor and the foul line cost them a game earlier this week at Xavier. That can’t continue if this team is to be successful and finally return to the NCAA Tournament.
The Vols will return to the field next weekend. Thankfully, they will not be facing teams ranked in the top 10 in their final two games. Coach Jones told his seniors after the last game that they will be remembered for the way they finish this season. Let’s hope that doesn’t include being a part of the first team in 87 years to drop two successive games to the team from Nashville. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)