Opportunities Lost – Vols Fall Flat

South Carolina 14  Tennessee 3
29 October 2011 | Neyland Stadium | ATT: 96,655
Recap | Boxscore | Play-by-Play | Drive Chart
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Down 7-3 to begin that Dreaded Third Quarter, Tennessee nearly exorcised all those early second half demons. But early in the third quarter, when Prentiss Waggner’s run — after his pass interception near the Vol 45 yard — ended just two yards shy of the goal line, it eerily didn’t seem like the Big Orange would capitalize. A three-yard rushing loss was followed by freshman Vol QB Justin Worley throwing his first collegiate interception.

Eerily predictable.

It was one of multiple opportunities lost.

It was one of those perfect evenings Saturday night as the Vols hosted the South Carolina Gamecocks. Photo by Adam Brimer / GVX.com

Twenty long, agonizing Gamecock plays later, South Carolina QB Connor Shaw raced into an unobstructed end zone to drive a stake into the Vols’ hearts as if we were vampires.

Tennessee’s shambolic third quarter history was back in full form. Tennessee had the ball for 4 plays in the quarter; South Carolina for 25. The Vols had the ball for 2 minutes; the Gamecocks for 13.

Football is a hard, unforgiving game. We are (barely) living proof. When the chips are just a shade down during a game, the smell of death hangs over this young team like a thick, dense Tule Fog.

Winning three of the last four to become bowl eligible seems like a pipe dream right now. At this point last year, winning all four November games to qualify for December football seemed equally impossible. But we had Tyler Bray in our belt, ready to be loaded. This time, we’re completely out of bullets.

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OPPORTUNITIES WASTED

First Quarter

The Worley Experiment started out a bit shakey, as the freshman threw several errant passes in the first quarter. What really killed the Vols in the opening 15 minutes was the inability to capitalize on some good field possession.

Wayward passes by Justin Worley - this one intended for Da'Rick Rogers - were not the only reason the Vols couldn't put South Carolina away. Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess / GVX.com

After Justin Worley’s first collegiate pass flew somewhere far away from his intended receiver, Gamecock punt returner Ace Sanders fumbled a Michael Palardy punt. John Probst recovered, giving the Vols a reprieve at the Gamecock 18. Then, after air mailing his pass to Da’Rick Rogers near the back of the end zone, Tennessee had to settle on a Palardy 22 yard field goal.

USC and the Vols traded possessions and punts. When Malik Jackson sacked Connor Shaw, the Gamecocks answered with a poor punt, giving the Vols their second possession starting position in USC territory at the Gamecock 41. After a promising gamble of sorts on a 4th and 1, and a nice 3rd down pass from Worley to TE Michael Rivera to get the Vols only a yard short of a first down, Dooley was going to roll the dice again, but Vol OL Ja’Wuan James committed a false start to take away the 4th down conversion. Then another false start by Michael Rivera made Palardy’s 42 yard FGA a 47 FGA, which he hooded a bit to the right because of a partial block by Gamecock Stephon Gilmore.

After a lopsided opening quarter in which the Vols had the bulk of the game clock and field position, all Tennessee could muster was a 3-0 lead.

Second Quarter

The Vols’ offensive ineptitudes caught up with them in the early part of the second quarter. After a good defensive stop near midfield, the Gamecock punter put the Vols back at their own 11. Worley’s pass on 3rd and 5 was knocked down at the line of scrimmage, putting the young colt at 5-for-13 for 34 yards passing. Palardy’s short punt gave the Gamecocks their first chance to begin a drive in Tennessee territory.

Justin Worley's best pass of the evening was somehow not good enough for Da'Rick Rogers who let opportunity slide through his fingers. Photo of the season by Amy Smotherman Burgess / GVX.com

They made the most of it. After what looked to be another good defensive stop by the Vols, South Carolina was forced to decide on a 4th and 1 situation at the Tennessee 23. The Ol’ Ball Coach did what you would expect. He dialed up something out of the crypt. QB Connor Shaw rolled right on a play action, sucked in the Tennessee safeties, and when the Vol LBs had bit on a run, Shaw lofted a floater over everybody to Rory Anderson running all alone at the goal line to put the Carolinians up 7-3.

Now it was advantage, Gamecocks. But Tennessee, on a 2nd and 21, snuck out of a three-and-out ending when Worley hit DeAnthony Arnett streaking near midfield. It was Worley’s best throw of the evening. Then, on the ensuing 3rd and 1, Worley lofted his best pass of the game, a perfect tight-spiral-bomb to Da’Rick Rogers running full-tilt at the Gamecock 5 on his way for a score. But Rogers let the perfect throw burn through his hands. And, when Worley was unable to convert the 4th and 1 with a sneak, the Vols’ drive flamed out.

What should have been a 3-point Vol lead remained at a 4-point deficit. South Carolina threatened twice more in the remaining minutes of the half, but failed to score.

With a generally dismal offensive performance, the Vols were in no position to give up opportunities.

Worley was 9-20 for 99 yards in the first half, being much more effective in the second 15-minutes, improving with more play. The Vols out-possessed the Gamecocks 18 minutes to 12, but gained only 29 rushing yards on 17 carries.

The Bogey Man – the Dreaded Second half – Awaited Derek Dooley and his Volunteers.

***

MORE OPPORTUNITIES WASTED

Third Quarter

Knowing that the Vols needed to establish Major Mojo in the early part of the second half, Dooley once again rolled his dice. Palardy’s onsides kick attempt was a horrible one, going out-of-bounds, giving South Carolina excellent field position.

The offense's ineptitudes were an injustice to the Vols' defensive efforts. Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess / GVX.com

Another opportunity lost? You would think, but no. Not yet. On third down, Shaw’s pass was somehow bounced upward into the air. Vol DB Prentiss Waggner grabbed it and started on a long, winding gallop. Desperately looking for blockers at multiple times along the way, Waggner’s return unfortunately ended short of the goal line, at the Gamecock two yard line.

Bad omen. We had to try to score from scrimmage.

Tauren Poole, on first and goal, gained a negative three yards on a (you guessed it) run off tackle, followed by Justin Worley being picked off by D.J. Swearinger who read a quickly developing situation perfectly and cut in front of intended receiver Da’Rick Rogers. It sucked the air out of what would have been a turnaround of the Vols’ third quarter fortunes of late.

Then the Gamecocks tried to sucked the life out of the Vols with a long, tedious drive beginning at their own two yard line. Twenty long plays later, the Gamecocks had a 3rd and goal at the Tennessee 5. It really felt like Autumn – it was nut-cutting time.

Legends from the Vol past were more like ghosts on this Halloween weekend (Johnny Majors in the student section). Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess / GVX.com

Conner Shaw took the snap in the shotgun, and with no Vol defender in the middle of the defensive backfield, Shaw read the situation and ran around the right end of his line into a land of no orange jerseys to drive a stake through the heart of Tennessee. It was an ugly 14-3 Gamecock lead.

The Vols’ shambolic third quarter history was back in full form. Tennessee had run 2 plays in the quarter; South Carolina had the ball for 25 plays. The Vols had the ball for 2 minutes; the Gamecocks had it for 13 minutes.

Fourth Quarter

Plenty of time is 15 minutes to come back from an 11-point deficit. Unless you are Tennessee. The smell of death hung like a thick Tule Fog. The majority of the less-than-hundred-thousand in the house stormed the exit gates after Worley’s pass following a turnover from a fumble recovery was promptly intercepted at the goal line.

It’s hard to recall what happened during the final quarter.

It’s hard to recall what it was like to have a really good football team.

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8 responses to “Opportunities Lost – Vols Fall Flat”

  1. TK says :

    maybe i know why DW has quit doing this………………….whew

  2. JanEvett (@JanEvett) says :

    Zombies … more like zombies than vampires … sorry to say and I’m usually optimistic. I thought we were basically out-coached tonight.

  3. norcalvol says :

    Jan,
    Excellent comment. Zombies definitely a more apt descriptor.

  4. rockytop78 says :

    A cold night in Neyland Stadium, spent watching a winnable game slip through our fingers — just like the football slipped through Da’Rick Rogers’s fingers on his way to the goal line in the second quarter.

    I thought Justin Worley had some good plays, and had good presence in the pocket on occasion. But I think that perhaps he just wasn’t used to the speed of the game; and too many times he took too long to get rid of the football, either to a receiver or just to throw it away. As for the fourth quarter, I think that he may have tried a little too hard to win the game on a couple of big plays; but I can’t fault aggressive behavior too much.

    As for out-coaching, I certainly think that South Carolina’s defensive coordinator had the better of UT’s offensive coordinator Jim Chaney in terms of the running game; and UT’s defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox didn’t seem able to make adjustments to South Carolina’s run game, where USC’s offensive line kept making big holes for Wild (and Shaw). We didn’t give up the big play to Alshon Jeffrey (he had 17 yards in receptions), but it was instead “death by a thousand cuts” from the South Carolina run game. And there were a number of times that our defense looked confused about assignments and positions.

    Although 14-3 appears respectable in black and white, it could have been worse; at the end of the game I kept waiting for Spurrier to throw it long for a late touchdown. He could have gotten away with it, I think, but just chose not to do it.

    How many quarters since we’ve scored a touchdown — 10? — in what, the LSU game? Although that likely will change next weekend against MTSU, it doesn’t bode well for Arkansas, Vandy, or even Kentucky after that.

    • rockytop78 says :

      One or two addenda from last night. First, although one of the posters used the word “zombies” to describe what I took to be the team, it could equally have described the UT fans at the end of the game. The other word that comes to mind for my feelings last night at the end of the game about Tennessee’s overall play is “disheartened” — just no more heart for it.

      Second, I am a “bitter-ender,” and usually stay until the end of the game irrespective whether UT wins or loses, and until the Pride of the Southland Band packs it up. I did so again last night; and the sight reminded me of, I guess it was, the 2008 game against Alabama, where by the end of the 4th quarter most of the fans left in the stadium were wearing red (and black). Another disheartening spectacle.

      • norcalvol says :

        Fans leaving early, in droves, is disheartening for me. Just think of what it does for the players.

        The game turned on a couple of things, including as you say Roger’s inability to catch a perfectly thrown ball. That brings up one of the Maxims: …when the breaks go against you, pour on more steam. We don’t seem to have the coal to put on the fire.

  5. Bryant Denny says :

    This is a nice write-up of the game. I was traveling last night and listened to the UT broadcast.

    Not trying to pile on, but this was a very winnable game for you guys, as was UF and possibly UGA. These are the kinds of games that make you crazy because you look at them later and know you should have won.

    With a young offensive line and suspect defense, I’m a little surprised that Dooley didn’t try to build this team around the running game (starting last year).

    Is UT’s cupboard so bare talent-wise or do you think DD and the staff are getting out-coached?

    Have a good one,

    BD

    • norcalvol says :

      Hey, BD, glad to have you visiting again.
      I could make this into a long story, but I’ll keep it short.
      We began this season with a pretty thin squad (thus my 6-6 pre-season pick). It got much thinner with the loss of Hunter and then Bray, our two best offensive players. Last night, after physical beat downs, we had no one but Poole to run the ball; Lane was hurt (one play following no practice time this week), and there’s very little after that. Top it all with the fact that this is the SEC – not the PAC 12, not the Big IX, not anywhere else.
      That’s a doomsday scenario.
      Having said that, this team looks to me as a ‘psychologically fragile’ team. There are two viable reasons for that: (1) lack of senior leadership, and (2) motivational coaching.
      The lack of seniors, or any significant number of upper-classmen, is likely a huge factor when ‘the chips are down’. ESPN’s sideline reporter said during the second half that the players were ‘very quiet’ and the coaches were the only ones trying to lead. I’m not in the dressing room and at the practice field, so I can’t report on the motivational part.
      It’s pretty easy to point fingers at Dooley et al, as many are – ‘he’s in over his head’ and all that. But even if we had a fully healthy team, we are exactly where I thought we’d be in terms of wins and losses. In terms of actual performance, all I can say is that we would have beaten South Carolina with Bray and Hunter healthy, perhaps soundly.
      Some teams are so deep that they can adjust to key injuries. We can’t afford to lose our best players. We did. Last night is what it looks like without them.

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