Tennessee Football: 5 Reasons To Be Encouraged After Week 1
Yes, we know it was only UT-Martin or, as they were called until the 60's, the "Baby Vols" that Tennessee thumped 50-0 in Derek Dooley's debut on Saturday, but there are reasons for Vol fans to be encouraged after a textbook showing on the first week of the season.
Next week the competition gets tougher when Oregon comes to town, but before we discuss the steep odds facing UT in week 2, we break down the positives from the beginning of the Dooley era.
1. The Poise Of Matt Simms And The Vol Offense
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Matt Simms replaced one of the most criticized quarterbacks in UT football history on Saturday when he stood in the shoes of John Crompton. Crompton was never a fan favorite and far from perfect as a quarterback, but his poise on the field in the face of criticism held the Vols together last season until the offense began clicking.
Simms, who has been lauded by coaches for his leadership ability, will need the same "calm in the storm" demeanor as Tennessee faces a monstrous stretch that begins this Saturday with Oregon.
He showed promise on Saturday completing 14-24 passes for 181 yards in just more than a half of game play. More importantly, Simms patiently protected the football with no turnovers while allowing the Tennessee running game to dominate as Tauren Poole wracked up 110 yards rushing.
Immediately after the game Simms thoughtfully discussed a rough stretch in the second quarter and chalked it up as a "learning experience" he and the team needed before coming out focused in the 3rd quarter.
Tennessee needs a quarterback who can learn and move on in the treacherous waters that lie ahead on the Vols schedule. Simms looked like he was ready to do just that on Saturday.
2. Justin Wilcox And The Tennessee Defense
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Derek Dooley and the Vol coaching staff spent the summer bemoaning the lack of depth on the Tennessee defensive line. True, the Vols weren't playing an offensive line like those they will face in Gainesville or Athens, but, led by the game's top tackler in Sophomore DT Montori Hughes, the Vols dominated the Skyhawk offense.
Wilcox's schemes, surely a very small picture of what we will see this weekend, kept the Skyhawks looking confused throughout the game. Hughes and his line-mates had their way with UT-Martin.
More importantly, the UT defense looked sharp and well-coached without mental errors to speak of. The margin of error will be thin for the Vols on D this year. This week we saw that the Vols are capable of playing smart and disciplined football on defense.
3. Daniel Lincoln
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Lincoln was expected by many Tennessee fans to be warming the bench in his final year in Knoxville when the Vols signed the nation's number 1 kicking prospect in Michael Palardy.
Instead, the 2007 All SEC Freshman turned shaky scapegoat for last year's Alabama loss looked automatic on Saturday.
True, he only kicked two field goals and the longest was 35 yards, but last year a 5 yarder from the inconsistent Lincoln made Vol fans nervous.
Coaches stood behind Lincoln, who suffered from injuries last season, after a strong summer camp. On Saturday, there was hope their trust will be rewarded.
4. Injuries...Well, Sort Of.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
No injuries are good injuries, especially for a team as thin as the Vols. On Saturday, Senior Wide Receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore both turned up injured after the game with UT-Martin. There is nothing good about that news.
Still, there is a strong chance that Moore will play on Saturday against Oregon. Jones will likely miss the next 2-3 weeks after surgery, but will bring his senior leadership back to the Vols lineup at a time when their egos could be fragile after a brutal stretch against Oregon and Florida.
Tennessee is loaded, if young, at wide receiver and leading tight-end Luck Stocker will be looking to prove something against Oregon after a rough outing against Martin. Despite losing Saturday's leading receiver, Simms will have good options when he looks down the field this weekend.
UT cannot afford serious injuries on the offensive or defensive lines. That could expose the Vols beyond any schematic damage control the Tennessee coaching staff could have up their sleeve. Losing Jones is bad for Tennessee, but the news could have been much worse.
5. The Patience And Faithfulness Of Tennessee Volunteer Fans
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
In the last three years they have witnessed the end of the Fulmer era that, despite a BCS title in '98, seemed to drag on for ten years on a slow downward spiral. They have experienced some of the worst offensive football played in Neyland Stadium in 50 years, culminating in an embarrassing home loss to Wyoming in 2008.
Last season they experienced a mini-revival only to have their tradition and faithfulness dumped for the bright lights of Los Angeles by former coach Lane Kiffin, leading to their third head coach in three years.
The Vols are not expected to go far this season- by many accounts a bowl game would be a miracle. Still, on Saturday, against one of the weakest opponents to visit Knoxville in years, there they were by the thousands lined up three hours before kickoff to welcome their new underdog coach to his first game as a Volunteer before packing the stadium with 100,000 orange blooded supporters.
Volunteer fans are as humble and unassuming about this year's team as any in a long while. They patiently acknowledge the long rebuilding job that faces Dooley and the Vols in the next few years. They don't sell out games as easily in a down economy and this age of ESPN contracts, HDTV, and late night kickoffs, but they are always there.
As the Vols face a long season and a tough schedule, they should be encouraged to see that the Big Orange faithful are behind them, even when things get tough.