Tennessee Vols Biggest Opponent This Season: Adversity
Merely one week ago Tennessee fans were rejoicing. For nearly a month, the Vols were the hottest team in the SEC. A 45-19 beat down of Georgia began a streak of positive momentum on the field for the first time since 2007.
A week later we saw a heartbreaking loss to then-No. 1 Alabama. Only to be followed up by a 31-13 thrashing of South Carolina. Homecoming was over before it started as the Vols had their way with Memphis. Fans were giddy.
The Vols lost two close games to two No. 1 teams, Florida and Alabama. It's other losses came when the offense was still trying to find any semblance of rhythm (UCLA and Auburn).
Once the Vols got on track against UGA and continued that momentum through last week, many of the Vol-faithful were excited about football again.
Folks were making reservations for New Year's in Dallas, Orlando, and Tampa.
Then came that terrible Thursday. Vols fans awoke to the terrible news that three key freshmen had been involved in an unspeakable act of stupidity in the overnight hours.
Momentum vanished. Adversity appeared.
At approximately 2:30 Thursday morning, Nu'Keese Richardson, Mike Edwards, and Janzen Jackson, all freshmen, attempted to rob two men sitting in a gas station parking lot. They had a weapon, a pellet gun. The charge? Attempted Armed Robbery.
Defensive standout, Jackson was supposedly in the restroom at the time, but he was still out, after curfew, with the two troublemakers.
In the days and hours since that terrible moment, Lane Kiffin has been flooded with questions and concerns about the incident. And rightfully so.
At the time, I wrote that we would see just what kind of coach we had this weekend. Could he take care of the issue? Could he focus his player's attention past the issue and onto a big football game?
Those were questions I asked. Unfortunately I received the answer.
I will not blame the 42-17 loss solely on the three amigos and their ridiculous lapse in judgment. No way. The majority of this loss is on a defense that simply could not stop Dexter McCluster. But I am not so naive as to think that Thursday morning's incident had nothing to do with this loss.
By and large the defense looked listless on Saturday. Missed tackles, missed assignments, and overall terrible play was the determining factor. For a defense that had been swarming and hitting hard all season long, this was definitely a departure from the norm.
No one can argue against the fact that the wind was completely taken out of the Vols sails on Thursday.
I felt Lane Kiffin should have taken action immediately. He did not. I can certainly understand his wanting to get all the facts before reacting. I can certainly understand wanting to keep the focus on the game.
I cannot understand how he expected 80 other 18 to 22-year-olds to keep that focus when three friends, compadres, and teammates had just committed the stupidest act of their lives.
Did it contribute to the loss? No doubt in my mind. Should it have? I do not know.
I do know that this has been quite possibly the worst week for Tennessee football in a long time.
When you have momentum and it's suddenly snatched from your grasp, it's tough to deal with.
Lane Kiffin has a lot on his plate this week. He has to prepare for two opponents. One on the field and one in the minds of his players. Vanderbilt and adversity go hand-in-hand as big time obstacles in the week ahead.
At this point adversity is a much larger threat than the Commodores ever could be. Losing to one, however, could equal losing to both.
Once again, Lane Kiffin has an opportunity. An opportunity to show that he's a leader. An opportunity to prove that he's more than a big mouth. An opportunity to seize momentum once again.
Will adversity become the theme of '09? Or will overcoming adversity be this team's destiny?
The ball is in Kiffin's court, it's time to act.
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