By Frank Gale
This week, the Big Orange fans spent the week trying to decipher what happened last Saturday night. It all started deep in the third quarter, with the good guys up by a touchdown and having just stopped a fake punt in Gator territory. Then something went horribly wrong on Rocky Top.
When the dust cleared, the Vols were the recipients of a 37-20 loss to Florida. The team wearing orange in the end resembled more of the team we saw in Lexington last season than the team riding high leaving Atlanta a few weeks ago. Coach Derek Dooley says there is plenty of time to fix what went wrong.
I understand that this defense is a work in progress, with misalignment and mistakes being a part of the learning curve. When you add the Gators' speed and athleticism to that equation, you have the recipe for disaster.
Talk about a game turning quickly, how about seven plays in about three minutes (two of which covered over 150 yards) and 21 points accounting for just about half of the Gators' 550 yards of total offense. Wow! Tennessee won the other 57 minutes played, but lost in a rout.
Those that jumped off the “Dooley Bandwagon” this week might have been a bit premature. The significance of this loss and the NC State win will not be totally understood until later in the season. The games played in October will be a deciding factor in this team’s ultimate legacy. They are still on track to have a decent season, but their margin for error becomes less with each loss. (I might add, so does the head coach's tenure.)
This week, the Akron Zips will bring their air show to Knoxville. They will feature a team that has had trouble moving the ball on the ground and have relied on a prolific passing attack for their offense. Conversely, they have had little success stopping the opposition’s ground attack. Sounds like it could be a good time for Tennessee to work on a running game and find out how the loss of Brian Randolph (ACL) is going to effect the secondary going forward.
The game last week pointed out more than defensive problems. The offense ground to a stop late in the third quarter. Bray was not having his best night before then and was lucky his inconsistent play had not cost the Vols earlier. This offense has become too dependant on one individual and because of that, they will remain vulnerable to having another collapse down the road.
The running and kicking is still a major concern, with both still struggling for consistency. Another missed PAT last Saturday brings the total to three for the season.
At least for now, it appears the short yardage concerns were answered with a little help from the other side of the ball. Linebacker A.J. Johnson was effective in running the wildcat and should see more opportunities as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, our friend Jim Butler is certainly elated with a high powered offense that destroyed their opponent last week. But not so fast there, Jim, that was Presbyterian! Let’s see how things go in Athens this weekend. It would be nice; however, if the ‘Dores could soften the 'Dawgs up for the Vols' upcoming visit.
Going into this year’s season, most of the reasonable predictions for the Vols were for records of 7-5 and 8-4. Saturday’s loss did nothing to effect those predictions, but it has made the fan base a little less optimistic. This team has an inferior foe to take care of tomorrow night if they want to enter October 3-1. No hype and no College Game Day this weekend; just time to show maturity and take care of business. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)