Chicken, egg, or circumstance?

We’ve reached the most interesting point of the season. There is a renewed sense of hope based on three quarters of play against an archrival. But upon what is that hope based? And will that hope still be there before kickoff in Columbia Saturday night?

After the first 6 minutes this past Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, both Alabama and Tennessee had garnered two possessions. Blake Simms and Amari Cooper had hooked up for two long TD passes (80 and 41 yards). Nathan Peterman had hooked up with Von Pearson and Jalen Hurd for two short, inconsequential completions. It was 13-0 and the season was already over.

Third string QB Josh Dobbs trotted onto the field, smoke boiling off of his burning red shirt. For the next 12 minutes, it was more of the same as the Vols did little with the ball and Alabama scored 2 more TDs to make it 27-0.

27-0. And there were nearly three entire quarters to play.

Then something happened.

The Big Orange proceeded to outscore and mostly outplay the Crimson Tide for the remainder of the game, to the tune of 20 Tennessee points to 7 Alabama points. The Vols came away with their heads held high following a spread-beating 34-20 loss.

It seemed that the 2014 season had taken its last breath when Josh Dobbs with his scintillating play created a visual memory of senior QB Justin Worley as a stationary punching bag. Dobbs dropped back. Dobbs rolled out. Dobbs threw. Dobbs ran. Dobbs faked Tide defenders out of their personal protective equipment.

Dobbs led the Vols in rushing yardage (75) and passing yardage (192). Dobbs led the Vols to a scoresheet that statistically looked fairly even against one of the best teams in the country.

Dobbs gave the VolNation a reason to believe that something good might come out of this 2014 season.

What happened, exactly, that caused this turnaround of team performance with fascinating immediacy?

That has been the talk of the town ever since late Saturday night. Until today that is.

Is Dobbs that much of a better quarterback for this particular team? Or was it the beleaguered offensive line that had recently been reconfigured to allow such production?

Or was it the simple circumstance of Alabama being up 27-0 and ‘relaxing’ as Nick Saban indicated at halftime?

Like a lot of things in sports, it was probably a little bit of all of those and more.

And with the team and fans seemingly supercharged even after a loss, there was that old friend expectation that raised its head up from the collective hands of this fan base, ready to predict a table run on the way to 7 wins and a bowl appearance.

You could feel Butch Jones sensed it all as he took to the podium for his weekly Monday press conference. His tone was pendantic, objective, and uber-realistic. There were no unqualified praises. There were even criticisms.

It was like Derek Dooley had returned to make one more appearance in front of the Knoxville press corps.

Butch Jones now knows very well how dangerous of a place Knoxville really is. He understands this fan base through and through. And he is not about to give juicy morsels of hope. Instead, he brings you into his world, the world of teaching a young group of athletes how to be winners. Because none of them know. All they know is 5 and 7. And he doesn’t want to raise anyone’s hopes.

Mr. Jones certainly wasn’t about to crown Josh Dobbs as the savior of the season, or even as next week’s starting quarterback.

Nope. Instead it’s back to the process of competition for starting spots, the process of getting ready for a road game against a notable but beatable opponent.

One day at a time.

But, that’s not a headline. That is boring.

Until today, when the best that the writers could do was publish a rumor that Butch Jones is one of four possible candidates to replace Brady Hoke at Michigan should he be fired in December, or sooner. And they actually asked Butch Jones about it.

We went from ‘who’s our starting quarterback?’ to ‘who’s our next head coach?’ in just one day.

The insanity never stops.

Just another day in Volville.

What would you do with a rotten tomato?

Alabama at Tennessee

Saturday October 25, 2014 | Knoxville, TN | 7:30 EST

Just another Top 5 opponent for the 2014 Tennessee Vols who appear to be on life support.

This time it’s bitter rival Alabama who comes to Knoxville for a tilt under the lights. Alabama has beaten the Vols by at least 30 points each of the last four meetings. After Saturday, that streak is likely to grow to five.

As good as the Vols defense is, it eventually wears down under the weight of a totally inept offense, led by a young offensive line, now beat up with injuries, that has allowed an SEC-worst 30 sacks.

The next worst in the conference has surrendered 16.

They are so beat up that fifth-year senior Jacob Gilliam has had to play. With a torn ACL.

There has been a lot of talk about Josh Dobbs this week. Should his red shirt be burned?

First, I don’t know how good Josh Dobbs really is. He didn’t show well in his games he played in last season, and reports indicate that he lags behind Nathan Peterman in practice week after week.

That’s where we are. As one Knoxville radio host said this week, Tennessee’s offense is in a state of triage.

This week, we have even less hope than last week, when we had very little.

So that makes the return of a former Tennessee head coach to Knoxville this Saturday the main focus of this great rivalry. That’s what we’ve sunk to.

That single year (2009) Lane Kiffin was the head coach, the Vols went 7-6, the last winning season by the orange. They went 4-4 in conference play, a record that now would cause parties to spontaneously break out throughout the Volunteer State. Since riots broke out after Kiffin, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, announced he was leaving Tennessee for the West Coast, the Vols have beaten one ranked team and reached one bowl game.

I’m no Lane Kiffin fan. But if I had a rotten tomato, I wouldn’t throw it at Lane Kiffin just to make myself feel good. I would instead extract its seeds and plant them, nurture their growth, and make sure they grow to be giant plants that will bear fruit to nourish the masses for many years to come.

Vols football on-field performance hasn’t quite reached the bottom. We are soon going to be worse in terms of W’s and L’s than any of the Derek Dooley teams — not only will we not go to a bowl game, but we will most likely set the school record for the most losses in a season.

Then things will improve.

But not now.

Alabama 34 Tennessee 0

p.s., note that my metaphor used tomatoes, not bamboo.

 

What is killing the Vols’ offensive production?

I’m simply stealing material today (but also giving credit). These data come from a post on VolNation Forums (by a user with the masterful name of “Dick Tugnuts.”). Apparently, Mr. Tugnuts did us all a favor by doing some homework in order to sift out our play-calling tendencies as dictated by Mike Bajakian and his offensive staff. They are categorized by the down situation…

On first downs:

  • 49% pass
  • 50% run
  • And the QB is sacked 1% of the time

On second downs:

  • 50% pass
  • 44% run
  • And the QB is sacked 6% of the time

On third downs:

  • 63% pass
  • 23% run
  • And the QB is sacked 14% of the time.

Obviously, the interesting part is the third down situations… and even though no data are given regarding how many yards are left for a first down, it is reasonable to assess that the Vols have far too many yards to go for a first down in third down situations.

And that is likely killing us against good competition.

And the post also gave these interesting stats for third down situations by opponent…

  • Oklahoma sacked us 22% of the time
  • Florida sacked us 24% of the time
  • Chattanooga sacked us 23% of the time.
  • Ole Miss sacked us 20% of the time.

So much for thinking that the high sack rate on third down was only against quality opposition.

Furthermore, on third down…

  • We ran the most against Georgia (31% of the time)
  • We ran the least against Florida (6% of the time)

More situational data are needed to fully flush out the picture, but it goes without saying that if we are third-and-long all night against Alabama on Saturday, we are not sniffing a win, or even a competitive final score.

And I think you could easily say the same thing against South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and, yes, even Vanderbilt.

Third-and-long for the rest of the season will give us a record 8- or 9-loss season.

 

What did we learn from Oxford?

Ole Miss 34  Tennessee 3

For starters, Mississippi is a very, very good football team.

The Rebels were being stifled by Tennessee’s valiant defense that held Mississippi scoreless in the first quarter, the first shutout of an Ole Miss first period this season. But they adjusted. They went to a bit of a hurry-up offense and scored very quickly, twice, in the second period to pull ahead 14-3 at the half. And that was pretty much the ballgame…

An all too familiar pose of Tennessee's quarterback Saturday night at Ole Miss.

An all too familiar pose of Tennessee’s quarterback Saturday night at Ole Miss.

Until Tennessee came out to start the second half by moving the ball and threatening to make a game of it after all. But then the Vols tried a triple reverse. The Tennessee ball handlers, all four of them on the play, had to avoid running into Rebel defenders there were so many of them. The play was brilliantly snuffed for a big loss, and that pretty much ended Tennessee’s night.

It was a long second half, with The Rebs outscoring the Vols 20-0 after intermission.

Predictably ugly as we pointed out here on the pre-game post: Tennessee’s OL was no match for Mississippi’s front seven. But it was perhaps even uglier than even the most level-headed of us thought. Here are some numbers for some digestion of reality…

  • Tennessee made only 10 first downs.
  • The Vols converted only 3 of 16 3rd down situations.
  • UT’s total offense was 191 yards, and they were all passing yards.
  • Rushing attempts: 28. Yards gained: 0. Yards per carry: 0.0 (Skewed by Worley’s -41 yards).
  • Ole Miss’ celebrated defensive front tallied 7 sacks.
  • Tennessee committed 4 turnovers to Ole Miss’ none. Three were INTs thrown by Worley Bird, and a fourth was a fumble on a kickoff return.

But, there were some bright spots…

  • Tennessee’s true freshman defensive end Derek Barnett just might be the second coming of Reggie White, who’s number 92 is preserved for eternity in Neyland Stadium: 10 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks. And fellow DE Corey Vareen didn’t do too badly either. The Tennessee defense sacked Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace 5 times.
  • Vol sophomore cornerback Cameron Sutton played like an NFL-calibre defender by sticking (sometimes jersey holding) to his man all night long, usually on single coverage.
  • Bulletin: we have a punter of worth. Senior Matt Darr is trying to steal the nickname “Thunderfoot” from former Vol punter Herman Weaver. With the offensive woes, Darr got a lot of kicks in on national TV (nine punts) and with the exception of one bad one (amplified by a good Butch chewing on the sideline), Darr was magnificent with a 45.6 yard average.

But don’t get too giddy. Next week, Tennessee hosts a football team that apparently got pissed off by their own fans and then promptly defeated a top-20 squad on Saturday to the tune of 59-0.

It’s the SEC. Every week.

Could I have written this post four years ago?

Tennessee at Ole Miss

Saturday October 18, 2014 | Oxford, Mississippi | 6:00 pm Central | ESPN

Tennessee begins the second half of its season on the road, in the state that has become the focus of college football. Halfway through the season, the Vols have half the number of wins needed for consideration as a post-season participant. But the second half of the 2014 campaign promises to be a difficult road.

First stop is Oxford and Ole Miss, the undefeated slayers of Alabama and Texas A&M and ranked #3 in the country.

Freshmen offensive linemen, meet the Mississippi Front Seven.

The Ole Miss defense is the jewel of the 2014 Rebs. It is the highest-rated defensive unit in the SEC and top-five nationally. Primarily, it excels when a team tries to run laterally around the end or throws one of those lateral bubble screens.

Here are some numbers describing the Mississippi defense…

  • 6 TDs allowed through 6 games.
  • 4 scores of its own.
  • Allow 4.31 yards per play (fifth nationally).
  • A “havoc rate” of 19.4 percent, an advanced metric describing the havoc it creates by including tackles for loss (including sacks), forced fumbles and passes defended (interceptions and break-ups), all divided by total plays. That’s right – they creat havoc on nearly one out of five plays they defend.

I’ll bet the Vol OL and QB haven’t had much sleep so far this week, because they probably are painfully aware of these numbers…

23 – the number of sacks Tennessee has allowed this season.

48 – the number of tackles for loss Tennessee has allowed this season.

Football, like many other team sports, is a game of matchups, which in this upcoming game don’t look good unless you like your football played in blue, red, and gray in front of truckloads of drunk fans under the lights in a small, Southern town.

Mississippi 31 Tennessee 7

These posts are getting old, because I feel like I’ve been writing the same one for the last 4+ years.

Ole Miss Revisited – A VITF article from November 2009

Ole Miss fans

“When you think of the University of Mississippi, the first thing you think of is the past.” – Former Ole Miss Running Back Deuce McAllister (ESPN.com).

Music and race in this country go hand and hand. Blues, jazz, rock and roll…

On Tuesday, they collided in a fatal crash on Route 6 in Oxford.

From Dixie With Love [The Old Miss band performs it in The Grove for the last time] is a song played by the Ole Miss band before and after football games. It’s been that way since the 1970’s. The song is a blend of DixieAll My Trials and the Battle Hymn of the Republic written by an assistant band director in the mid-1970s, supposedly as a way to get away from just Dixie, which had become offensive to many people in the post Civil Rights era.

Fast-forward to October and November 2009…

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Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones announces that From Dixie With Love would no longer be played at games if fans continue to include the traditional chant “The South Will Rise Again” – chanted during the transition between the slow opening and the fast closing.

The Ole Miss student government passes a resolution suggesting the chant be replaced by the phrase, “To hell with LSU.”

Ole Miss BandThe band shortens the song to discourage fans from the traditional chant during part of the tune. But, some continue to recite the chant at the end of the song, despite the change made at the chancellor’s request.

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So the line in the sand was drawn. Dr. Jones announced the fate of the song would be decided by fan reaction during the Old Miss-Northern Arizona game this past Saturday.

The chant continued.

Tuesday, Dr. Jones wrote a one-page letter to the Ole Miss community banning the song to be played at all. At least for now. He wrote, “If the chant stops and our elected student leaders ask for the song to return, I will consider their request. But for now, those who continue the chant leave me no choice but to ask the band to stop playing (the song).”

__________________________________________________________

End of story?

Read the comments to a post from yesterday over at the Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion. It’ll take all of your lunchtime, but if you want all 100 sides of the issue, read it.

If you want a lengthy but extremely worthy read on this issue from the Ole Miss perspective, read what Godfrey has to say in a Nov 4th post over at The Godfrey Show [link is broken]. Godfrey reminds us that the playing of From Dixie With Loveis a game-day tradition, but the chanting of TSWRA is not. Godfrey writes that the chant “is not, nor ever has been, a tradition at Ole Miss during football games. I’ve been attending and reporting on almost every home game for the Rebels in the last decade. It’s been going on no more than four years. Don’t argue with me.”

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In the near term, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that Saturday’s game will be attended by a very partisian home crowd with a lot on their mind. Many of the players also will have a lot of pride to play for – Saturday is the return of Ed Orgeron to Oxford, former Ole Miss head coach (“Coach O”) now roaming the sidelines for the Vols as one of Lane Kiffin’s key staffers. Ed recruited many of Ole Miss’ key players during his stint in Oxford.

As Rebel star TB Dexter McCluster said, “Different guys think different things about him. But everyone’s excited about it. Everyone wants to go out there and win. Him being our former coach – we have a connection with him from the past few years. It’s emotional. Everyone wants to go out there and show him what we’ve become.”

I look forward to Saturday for a lot of reasons.

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I’d like to look back, also.

BenWilliams ColonelReb 1976

Robert “Ben” Williams was the first black football player for Ole Miss (defensive lineman, 1972-75), the first black from Ole Miss to earn All-SEC honors, and the first African-American chosen by the student body as Colonel Reb, the University’s highest elective honor.  He was also the first African-American from Ole Miss to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.   He  is a recipient of the University’s Award of Distinction. He helped establish the Robert “Ben” Williams Minority Scholarship at the school by endowing the scholarship.

After earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1976, he played 10 years in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills.  During this time, Williams earned All-Pro honors and was named to the Bills’ Silver Anniversary All-Time Team.

What does Ben think about From Dixie With Love with the chant TSWRA?

I’d like to know.

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James Meredith and John Doar at Ole Miss_1962

James Meredith in 1962 became the first black student enrolled at Ole Miss. His first day wasn’t the typical orientation day we all have experienced. The state’s governor, Ross Barnett, vociferously opposed his enrollment, and the violence and rioting surrounding the incident, leaving two people dead, caused President Kennedy to send federal troops. Under adverse circumstances, recounted in his book Three Years in Mississippi, Meredith graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963 with a degree in political science (he had entered the university as a transfer student from Jackson State).

Meredith continued to work as a civil rights activist, most notably by leading the March Against Fear in 1966, a protest against voter registration intimidation. During the march, which began in Memphis and ended in Jackson, Meredith was shot and wounded by a roadside rifleman.

He enrolled in Columbia University, where he received a law degree in 1968. He ceased his civil rights work and became a stock broker. He made several attempts to be elected to Congress as a Republican, became increasingly conservative in his political and social views, and served for several years as a domestic advisor to U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. He opposed the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, and staunchly opposed affirmative action.

What does James think about From Dixie With Love with the chant TSWRA?

I’d like to know.

What do you think?

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Sources:

Milestones by Old Miss African Americans (olemiss.edu)

Article by ESPN’s Chris Low, Oct 23, 2009

CBS News story, Nov 3, 2009

Story in The Commercial Appeal, Nov 10, 2009

Article in NEMS360.c0m, Nov 10, 2009

Ole Miss Alumni Association-Robert “Ben” Williams Minority Scholarship

Wikipedia page on James Meredith

Anything important come out of the Vols’ win?

Tennessee 45  Chattanooga 10

Neyland Stadium, Knoxville (93,097)

Vols QB Justin Worley threw three TD passes on Saturday. But by running for two more (an eight-yarded in the second quarter and a 1 yard score in the third), he became the first Tennessee signal caller to rush for two TDs in a game since Casey Clausen in a 45-17 Florida Citrus Bowl triumph over Michigan on New Years Day 2002.

Coach Jones really liked Worley’s aggressive mindset Saturday as well as his return to solid passing stats: 19 of 24 for 198 yards.

But the glaring fly in the ointment remained against an underwhelming opponent — Worley was sacked five times. One of them resulted in a turnover and the first 3 points for the Mocs.

And then there was the rushing attack: 42 carries for 123 yards. Yes, the five sacks are included and make the numbers look worse then they are. But they are not good… The tally was only 52 yards through the first three quarters, meaning that the Vols’ remaining 71 yards came during the fourth quarter when nothing was at stake. It all totaled 2.9 yards per carry. Against Chattanooga.

Derrell Scott 9-42, Justus Pickett 10-27, Nathan Peterman 5-26, Pig Howard 2-13, Deanthonie Summerhill 2-9, Jalen Hurd 2-7, Devrin Young 2-0, Justin Worley 10-(-1).

The good than came from the ground game were the young ones getting some quality time, Derrell Scott and Justus Pickett. That was important. We need depth in the ground game, especially with Jalen Hurd banged up and Devrin Young wholly unimpressive. And depth will come with experience. Unfortunately, Saturday was only a first step forward. Ole Miss, Alabama, and South Carolina will make any more forward steps much more difficult if not impossible, and this will put pressure on the passing game which will put pressure on our terrible OL, and…. well, you see where this is going. And the destination doesn’t end with the word “Bowl”.

On to better things, WR Jason Croom had a career high six catches for 76 yards. At 6 foot-five inches, he is a formidable talent, and that talent is starting to blossom.

And then there was Johnathon Johnson, a junior WR who caught three passes for 46 yards. Two of his catches were for touchdowns. Is Pig Howard going to find more time on the pines? Stay tuned…

And more… Only 5 penalty yards were assessed to Tennessee yesterday. That is a return to form for this 2014 squad who against Florida basically shot themselves in the foot with their undisciplined performance.

And then there was that Big Orange defense. Led by the budding All-America-to-be A.J. Johnson, Chattanooga was held to less than 100 passing yards and 106 yards rushing. Apart from a Georgia running back who has been suspended indefinitely, no big plays have been allowed by this Vols defense, probably the very best Tennessee defensive squad in many years.

And finally, the special teams are starting to look special. Aaron Medley is booming kickoffs and looks pretty consistent in FGAs and XPAs. The sound of the ball off of Matt Darr’s foot is starting to have a little ‘boom’ to it. And the return teams had a couple of nice runs, one on a punt return and another for 68 yards on a kickoff.

But back to the question of the day: did anything really important come out of this win? Looking for a silver lining, I would say yes because of how this team bounced back from a very bitter loss. And that quality starts with Butch Jones and his staff. It’s enough to keep one watching for at least a few more games in 2014 in the hope for some December football.

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