Tennessee Volunteers Football: What We Learned in the Week 3 Game vs. Florida
Since 1990, the Tennessee Volunteers have played Florida every year, typically on the third Saturday in September. Their record is 6-17 over that time span. The Vols' kryptonite is clad in orange and blue.
Saturday night's loss was an all-to familiar story for Tennessee fans. In fact, you could literally feel the 102,455 crowd (nearly 90 percent rooting for the Big Orange) lose their faith with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Florida went up by 14 points.
The mass exodus was both embarrassing and understandable at the same time.
Immediately after the game, I—like every other orange-blooded Tennessean—wanted to tear into the team from top to bottom. How could Tyler Bray throw two interceptions? Why is Marlin Lane not performing? What's wrong with the defense and the big plays?
But I promised myself I'd give it a day, just like you're taught to do when you have an issue at work. Write down your feelings, put it in a drawer and edit them after you have time to sleep on it.
Well, I've slept on it. Here's what we learned.
If You Can't Run, You Can't Win
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This isn't the Big 12, and we aren't Mike Leach's Texas Tech. Tyler Bray went to the air 44 times against Florida, third-most in a single game for his career.
The other two are the 2010 Music City Bowl that went into double-overtime and last year's Florida game.
I commend Derek Dooley and Jim Chaney for committing to running the ball in the first half, but what happened in the third and fourth quarter?
The first offensive drive after halftime featured eight runs and ended in a touchdown. It was a beautiful 81-yard drive. The only problem? Tennessee ran the ball just four times the rest of the game.
By the end of the third quarter, any incompletion by Bray meant the drive would likely stall. It's tough to beat Florida or any other SEC team like that.
Missed Opportunities Will Always Come Back to Haunt You
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The halo effect is in full effect across the Volunteer State. Apparently, because Tennessee lost, nothing went right at all. That's simply not true.
Let me recap a moment in the game that illustrates this:
After going into halftime with a 14-10 lead, the Vols were able to hold Florida to a field goal on the opening drive of the second half. They then went on a five-minute touchdown drive that covered more than 80 yards. It was a brilliant response.
(Of course, new starting kicker Derrick Brodus missed the extra point, but that goes without being said these days for Tennessee.)
On the ensuing defensive possession, the Volunteers forced Florida into a 4th-and-7 situation, resulting in a failed fake punt. Tennessee got the ball at Florida's 47-yard line.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, the Vols had a short field in front of them and the opportunity to go up two touchdowns against their arch rivals in front of the entire country.
What actually happened? Bray was immediately pressured and was called for intentional grounding (he would've been sacked anyway), and Tennessee went three-and-out.
After a punt into the end zone, Florida quarterback Trey Burton eked his way to the outside for a pathetic 80-yard touchdown to tie the game on the very next play.
The Vols had an opportunity to deliver the first serious blow in the game. That uninspired series at midfield defined the rest of the game.
If a Future Game Comes Down to a Field Goal, Advantage Other Team
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Never before have I felt so anxious before an extra point. Kudos to the UT kickers for keeping me emotionally involved in a play that usually results in a guaranteed point.
It hasn't mattered yet, but when the Volunteers take on Mississippi State, South Carolina and Missouri later in the year, things could very well be tight at the end, and a kicker will need to hit a field goal to win.
Right now, I have no confidence in Tennessee's ability to convert such a kick. What's worse is that Derrick Brodus and Michael Palardy feel the same.
Palardy and Matt Darr did a nice job punting, though. Together, they averaged over 44 yards per punt. Maybe, it's a one-step-at-a-time kind of thing.
The Distance Between Euphoria and Despair Is Razor Thin
Just a week ago, Tennessee was riding high with news that the Vols were ranked in the AP Top 25 and that ESPN was hosting College Gameday from Knoxville. Nearly every bookmaker was making Tennessee the favorite to win. It was like the Volunteers were officially back!
The vast majority of experts had decided the rebuilding era of Tennessee was over and that Dooley would get his first victory over a ranked opponent in 11 tries.
Just a few hours after the Vols took a halftime lead into the locker rooms, all of the good feelings were gone, and major changes were demanded by the same folks that wanted Dooley given a raised and Tyler Bray awarded the Heisman.
If the Volunteers go out and beat Georgia, a lot of the current disappointment will be forgotten. It will be an extremely tough game, but the Tennessee-Georgia rivalry has seen some weird results over the years.
And then what happens if Tennessee beats Mississippi State and takes a 5-1 record into Alabama? These scenarios aren't easy to make reality, but they're possible when you have the offensive talent Tennessee does and a defense that is quickly moving up the learning curve.
Euphoria and despair. Sometimes, they're one in the same.
Rocky Top Will Truly Always Be Home Sweet Home to Me
I heard a Chicago Cubs fan once say, "You learn to like a team when they're winning. You fall in love when they lose." It's so true.
Tennessee fans come back week after week, year after year to cheer on the boys in orange and white and know how sweet winning is. They want to get back there so badly it hurts.
And that day will come again. I hope it's sooner rather than later, but the tradition of Tennessee is too proud to keep the Volunteers down for long. After all, how many schools would be ready to fire their coach and call the season a wash with a record of 2-1, going on 3-1?
Mark your calendars for Georgia and Mississippi State. Those two games will tell us who the coach will be in 2013. Until then, remember it's not the name of the quarterback or the resume of the head coach that keeps us coming back as fans. It's the letter on the side of the helmet.
As long as there are players running through the T on Saturdays in the fall, Tennessee fans will be there cheering and hoping for win.
I can't wait for next weekend.