Tennessee's 19-15 loss to UCLA over the weekend was astonishingly discouraging, but it's not quarterback Jonathan Crompton's fault.
For all the talk about the pro-style offense Kiffin was supposed to bring into Knoxville, everything looked exactly the same. Both Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown looked great, but besides a slightly more advanced blocking scheme on the ground, the offense looked like the same tired mix of running plays, terrifying out patterns and desperate slings over the middle.
I've been watching Tennessee football seriously since 1990, and that's been the formula the whole time. It was the formula during the final years of Johnny Majors, it was the formula under Fulmer, and based on this game, Kiffin has yet to right the ship.
Let's talk about Crompton. My goodness – I feel bad for that kid. I've never seen a quarterback fold like that. Andy Kelly thew interceptions with heart-breaking regularity, but he'd also come alive at unexpected times and win games – Virginia in the '91 Sugar Bowl and the '91 Notre Dame game both spring to mind.
I don't remember much about Shuler other than he could run really, really fast.
Manning was Manning, but he couldn't carry the whole team, and good old Tee Martin showed us that a boring, hard-working smart guy under center was just what we needed to win it all.
The Tennessee quarterbacks of the 2000s are ... who? Casey Clausen? He was OK, I guess.
Anyway, look at Crompton. He's 6'4", 228lbs. He's got decent feet and a great arm. I mean, some of those interceptions he threw today were bullets, for crying out loud. I can't imagine that this guy couldn't thrive in the right environment, and I don't know why it's not at Tennessee.
To be sure, the offensive line looked awfully porous on pass-protection, and we can debate the wisdom of running it off-tackle on a looong fourth and goal instead of, say, a bootleg or a fade -- but then I doubt Kiffin wanted to let Crompton throw a fade at that point.
Side note: Do we have a receiving corps? Will they catch any balls this season?
Hoo, boy. What is Florida going to do to us in Gainesville? I was torturing myself with repeated viewings of our failed fourth and goal against the bruins today, and I thought back to last year's 30-6 drubbing at the hands of the gators. Do any of you guys remember what Florida would run on key short-yardage plays like that? They'd fake a QB sneak, then Tebow would hop back and chuck the ball over the scrum to a waiting reciever (a TE, I feel like). He looked like a cool-headed second-baseman jogging over to first to complete an easy double-play.
They made it look easy, and seldom in my time as a Tennessee fan have I felt like the Vols make anything look easy. Every third down is a nightmare. Every punt or kickoff liable to bounce off someone's helmet.
Listen, I like Kiffin, and let's not forget that the defense looked pretty damn great today. By all accounts, Monte Kiffin's the real deal, though part of me feels bad that old Chavis got away -- it turned out he had built one of the best defensive units on one of the worst teams in the SEC.
But back to Kiffin: I'd love to follow a Tennessee football program that makes it look easy.
Remember the first play of the 1995 Alabama game? Manning throws a TD, and we go on to break that interminable losing streak to the Tide 41-14 in Birmingham? That was one of the times when the Vols made it look easy.
Remember Spurrier's first game against Tennessee as the Florida coach? I do. I was there, and if you can bend your mind's eye past the haze of humiliation that hangs between now and then, you'll see Dale Carter run back the second-half kickoff to spark a 45-3 annihilation.
That's right. Once upon a time, Tennessee beat Florida by six touchdowns. It is possible.
I'd like to sound a pre-emptive note of support for Crompton. He's a fine athlete, and frankly, the storied football program at the University of Tennessee has failed this heralded blue-chipper if it can't turn him into a winner.
On the contrary, I'd like to call for coach Kiffin to bring the discipline to Tennessee football that I've always wanted to see. That means a strong kicking game. No fumbles. Unity of thought. Intensity, not swagger. And a confidence that we can make it look easy.
Because it should be easier. Easier than this.
Now that my soapbox session's over, I'd like to congratulate the bruins. I've always loved the Tennessee-UCLA rivalry, and it was great to see those gorgeous gold uniforms in Neyland again. Good luck in the Pac-10, and here's hoping you knock off those dastardly Trojans, who twice denied the Volunteers any points in the Rose Bowl.
Other random thoughts:
• Go cats! My loyalty also lies with the Northwestern Wildcats, and I'm pumped to see us 2-0 going into the Syracuse game next week. Let's be undefeated when Big 10 play begins!
• Man, Clemson looked good. I've always dug the ramblin' wreck, but they were lucky to pull that one out.
• Did anyone catch the Oklahoma St. game? What happened? As an SEC fan, should I be worried about the dawgs?