Quick-Hitters For Western Carolina

SS FOOTBALL VIEWS GRAPHICJust some random thoughts as Tennessee heads into Game Three versus Western Carolina:

1.  Who cares?  Face it… the crowd will drop off this week.  The energy will drop off this week.  There’s not a whole lot that you can take out of a game against a team that lost 28-10 to The Citadel last week.  I’m not even going to give a score prediction.  (And Sunday’s show will feature more Florida talk than WCU talk, barring a nightmare scenario.)

2.  If Tennessee runs all of its starters onto the field and presses the pedal to the metal for three quarters, the Vols could win this one 60-10.  But it’s much more likely Butch Jones and staff will take this opportunity to gauge their younger players.  I suspect you’ll see quite a bit of mixing and matching along the defensive and offensive lines, for example.  Names like Mack Crowder, Chance Hall, Jack Jones, Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle and Khalil McKenzie will be heard more often this week on the Vol Network broadcast.

3.  The Vols will most likely try to work on their vertical passing game.  At some point they’ll need to get a deep ball on film just so opponents know they can connect on one.  I doubt Florida or Georgia or Arkansas or Alabama, etc, will be quaking in their cleats over a bombing of WCU, but still, ya gotta start somewhere.  It would certainly aid the confidence of Josh Dobbs and his receivers, too.

4.  Keep an eye on the receiver rotation.  Most teams rotate their receivers, but Tennessee has so many guys it sometimes feels as if they’re rotating them too much.  So, will the coaches pick four guys and let them have most of the work with Dobbs this week?  Or will they give everyone more in-game chances in order to arrive at a four-man grouping they can focus on moving forward?  At some point, chemistry needs to develop between Dobbs and his pass-catchers.  (Also, how much work will Quinten Dormady get?)

5.  So, after the loss to Oklahoma, is it now clear that “feeling better” and “looking better” really don’t have a darn thing to do with winning football games?  Nike’s new uniforms weren’t worth a lot of points on Saturday, it didn’t seem.  (Such an overblown story this offseason.  It’s a revenue boon for UT; it means nary in terms of wins and losses.)

6.  All week I’ve heard a line from Jones’ Monday press conference translated — twisted, spun, repurposed — as “We never, ever make in-game adjustments.”  Is that what you read here:  “In terms of the second half, in particularly the fourth quarter, it wasn’t anything magical that they did. Everyone wants to talk about great halftime adjustments. You have a scheme, and you stick to your scheme.”  Because I don’t see the “we never make adjustments” line in there.  He’s downplaying adjustments — and rightfully so — because Oklahoma didn’t toss out its playbook and start running Ohio State’s defense in the second half.  They simply brought more pressure and dropped eight into the box.  Had the Vols been able to connect with their downfield passing game as OU dared them to do, would it have meant big “adjustments” from UT’s coaching staff?  No.  They would have simply connected on passes.  Look, coaches adjust things in every game.  And any staff waiting til halftime to make adjustments is dead anyway.  There’s a reason they have fax machines and phone lines in use from the first whistle to the final gun.  Bob Stoops wanted his team to stop the run after the Vols ran all over the Sooners in the first quarter.  They put eight in the box and UT’s line could no longer open holes.  Then, disappointingly, the passing game failed at every level — line, receivers, quarterback.  Anyone twisting Jones’ words to suggest his staff never makes adjustments is lying to you in order to get page views or ratings points.

7.  Dobbs’ completion percentage doesn’t look great after two games — 52.8%.  Last year he completed 63.3% of his passes.  As a freshman he connected on 59.5%.  For his career he’s sitting at 60.3% on 212-of-351 passing.  Peyton Manning he is not.  But he doesn’t need to be.  The Vols are going to be a run-first offense.  All Dobbs must do — easier said than done — is prove that he can connect on deep passes in order to keep defenses honest and punish those squads who throw eight men in the box and/or run blitz.  Who do I have in mind?  Tee Martin.  The quarterback who led Tennessee to a national title in 1998 did so with a completion percentage of just 57.3%.  In ’99 he fell off to just 54.1%.  Folks don’t remember how inaccurate he was because a) he threw some fantastic, memorable deep balls and b) he had a “where the hell did that come from” game against South Carolina in ’98 in which he completed 23 passes in a row.  (Imagine his numbers without that hot day.)  If I’m Mike DeBord, I’m finding my two fastest receivers, grabbing Dobbs and working on some backyard ball in the days ahead.  “Run to the goalpost and I’ll wing it.”  If Tennessee can make opponents pay on a deep ball or two per game, Dobbs’ inconsistencies — which Jones harped on in August — won’t be nearly as damaging.  Martin proved that.

8.  Sidenote to the last point — better make sure the offensive line can actually hold up long enough for the receivers to get down field.  That’s a big if at this stage.

9.  When Jones was hired, we wondered on The Sports Source how long it would be before he started paying for “the sins of the father,” as I put it.  He’s coached 27 games at Tennessee.  But fans this week — and rightly so — have told me they are sick to dang death of hearing wait til next year.  In this case, I think that’s a realistic statement.  Next year SHOULD be the year when UT competes for an SEC title.  Expecting that this year was asking too much too soon, in my opinion.  But to a fan who’s paying bigger and bigger dollars for tickets and parking passes, patience has worn thin (if not out).  But it is important to remember that Jones has lost twice to Florida.  He didn’t lose the eight straight to the Gators prior to his arrival.  He’s lost two to Alabama.  He didn’t drop the previous six.  Every time Tennessee wipes the slate clean and brings in a new football coach it’s — to some extent — starting the rebuilding process all over again.  Kiffin only made matters worse when he departed.  Dooley failed to improve the roster for his successor.  But Jones is building the roster.  If he left today, the program would be in better shape than it was when he arrived.  The last coach who could say that at UT is John Majors.  Think about it.  So while “next year” gets very old for fans who want to win and win now — and who doesn’t? — it’s not completely fair to direct a decade’s worth of frustrations onto the guy currently sitting in the captain’s chair.  He hasn’t won an SEC title in two years.  His predecessors are the ones who didn’t win an SEC title from 1999 through 2012.

10.  Last one.  If Aaron Medley hits a 48-yard field goal to open the second half of play, none of the outrage we’ve seen this week ever percolates into social media and call-in shows.  If Medley hits that kick, play-calling isn’t an issue… #Butchisms aren’t an issue… coaching “scared” isn’t an issue.  If Medley hits that kick folks are basking in a big win, Tennessee’s back on the national scene, and all eyes would be focused on an SEC crown.  But Medley missed that kick.  And the pendulum has swung completely into the negative zone.  If the Vols fall at Florida — as every UT team/coach has since 2003 — the pendulum might just break altogether.  And one missed field goal has set that up.

— John Pennington

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