jekyll

Halloween is officially next Wednesday, but the Vols will do a little "Trick or Treating" Saturday night when they host the South Carolina Gamecocks and the dreaded "ball coach," Steve Spurrier.

The question is will we see the offense that tricked Georgia a few weeks ago or the defense that treated Alabama, Florida and Cal offenses to season high performances? My guess is some of both.

Here we are at week 8 of the football season and I think we probably know less about this team as the season progresses. A few short weeks ago most of us thought that the Vols had figured out what ailed the defense when they destroyed Georgia at Neyland Stadium.

To reinforce the turnaround, the Vols went to Mississippi State and won on the road for the first time this year. All was well and upbeat in Big Orange Country. Then came Alabama and here we are back at the drawing board with over half the season in the books,

The 41-17 loss to the Crimson Tide did more than add to the loss column, it caused all those associated with the Vols from fans to the coaching staff to step back and try and figure out what went horribly wrong on the third Saturday in October. The only thing apparent was that any adjustments made during the intermission were definitely the wrong ones.

This loss appeared to be a complete break down on both sides of the ball. It starts with the coaches putting these student athletes in a position to succeed and last weekend that failed miserably.

Whether it is coaching or poor execution on the field, it is simply unacceptable. It appears that one coach even forgot that in short yardage situations you probably should have Montario Hardesdy on the field. Note: Hardesdy is still waiting to get on the field after having a good day against MSU the previous week.

The defense looks to be in disarray, and I think it will take a miracle to have it improve significantly any time soon.  Alabama's Coach Saban has let the genie out of the bottle as to how to move the ball on the Vols.

Pass! In fact, forget what "the ball coach" keeps saying this week about running the ball, South Carolina will come off the team bus passing. Why not? The Vols have not shown consistent ability to pressure the passer all year and having two true freshmen in the secondary along with no pass rush is a recipe for disaster.

To make matters worse, the offense looked to have lost their direction in the second half of the Alabama game as well. I thought that this team could outscore Alabama if the game became a shootout. I wasn't counting on the leading receiver going down with a toe injury or not using all your assets to move the ball in critical short yardage situations.

If you think I am overly concerned about this season starting to have an eerie resemblance to the 2005 season, take a look at the UT coaching staff now in a full panic mode. Sunday practices and the Knoxville press nipping at their heels. All this and just in time to kick off Halloween week — Great!

One thing has been constant this season and that is that this team is definitely not "Road Warriors," at least not yet. Perhaps any future ticket sales for away games should include a warning to the consumer that the purchase of this ticket might result in extreme disappointment. But that is further down the road; our orange-clad warriors are at home for the next four games in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium. Where, just in case you have forgotten, they are undefeated.

Until they lose at home, there is hope that this season, which has crept close to being on the brink of disaster, can be salvaged. This weekend will tell us if the win against Georgia was the exception or the rule of how this team will play on their home turf. The crowd will make a huge difference this weekend and with Spurrier, the coach that everyone loves to hate in attendance on the visiting sidelines, getting the crowd going should not be a problem on this Saturday night.

To make my life miserable this past weekend, not only did the Vols melt down in Tuscaloosa, but the other team from Tennessee in the SEC won at South Carolina.

Congrats to Jim Butler but don't expect me to be standing with my cohorts singing "Dynamite" on the courthouse steps come Nov. 19 after the Vandy game. My advice is for you to keep on practicing "Rocky Top."

Well, here we go, Spurrier coming to town and Butler still gloating; just doesn't get much scarier than that! You think things have been bad for me, how about poor Smokey? First he has to put up with two Bulldogs, then he gets trampled by an elephant and only to get home and welcome some crazy rooster to the stadium. I tell you life in the SEC can get pretty hectic for our Vol mascot.

Hopefully, this weekend the Vols can get back on the winning side of the ledger. No matter what happens, remember that there are two basketball teams in the wings just waiting to thrill the Big Orange Nation this season. But, something tells me this team is not quite ready to give up on this season. They still had a winning record last time I checked. That is why the Georgia game several weeks ago was so huge. Lose that game and things would really look dismal, 4-3 sure looks so much better than 3-4.

Win this game and a decent season is still within reach. Lose and a cold weather bowl game might not be the only bad thing on the horizon.

If you are going to Knoxville this weekend, be sure and let the "ole ball coach" know he is in our house. Send him out of Neyland Stadium humming "Rocky Top" and chewing on his visor. Go Vols!!!!

(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent, and his column appears weekly.)

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