Kentucky at Tennessee
Saturday November 15, 2014 | Knoxville | 4:00pm EST
The Vols have defeated the ‘Cats 28 of the last 29 meetings of this historic border rivalry. Tennessee dominance notwithstanding, these two teams will meet each other with nearly equal records (Big Blue with 5-5/2-5; Big Orange with 4-5/1-4).
But if there is such a thing as momentum in sports, right now the Vols seem to have it and the Wildcats don’t.
Joshua Dobbs has breathed new life into a comatose Tennessee offense. And last week’s break in the schedule will help heal some bruises and fatigue.
On the other side, Kentucky hasn’t had an off week in a couple of months and has lost their last four games by an average of 23 points.
What’s at stake on Saturday? The winner of this game (Kentucky for sure; Tennessee probably) will secure their first bowl bid since 2010. Dreadfully for the Wildcats, one more win for six victories and a bowl bid has been the rallying cry for the last month. A loss to the Vols Saturday and to Louisville in two weeks to close the season will keep the ‘Cats stuck on the nickel.
It looks like the game in Knoxville might be the fourth sellout of Neyland Stadium this season. Utah State, Florida, and Alabama were the previous sellouts. A full house against Kentucky would be a welcome turnaround of late season empty seats that have featured in Knoxville over the past few seasons.
And who knows but a full house on Saturday might be the difference between a bowl game and a fourth consecutive bowl-less season for Tennessee.
Here’s to changes in fortune…
Tennessee 29 Kentucky 17
Tennessee 45 South Carolina 42 (OT)
Football teams, football programs… they don’t transform overnight. But sometimes it can seem that way.
South Carolina looked like they had the Vols done and dusted after Brandon Wilds ran right through Tennessee’s defensive line untouched on the way to a 70 yard TD run with just less than 5 minutes remaining on the game clock. It was a 42-28 Gamecock lead, and it looked simply like more of the same for a Volunteer football program that was wondering if there were even lower lows to be reached before ultimate recovery from years of decline and atrophy.
You couldn’t blame a soul for giving up at that moment.
But the players didn’t. And their coaches certainly didn’t.
What happened in those final five minutes was certainly a reflection of the Butch Jones era and a turnaround from the miserable fourth quarters the Vols suffered under three years of Derek Dooley.
What struck me the most was how methodical it was… no miracle plays, no onside kicks recovered (we tried), no turnovers (one was missed by the officials), no lopsided field position (Vols began deep in their own territory). Just two offensive drives of brilliant execution and one big defensive 3-and-out stop.
Both of Tennessee’s final possessions ended up with TDs. One drive started on the Vol 20 and took only 3:02. The second, game-tying drive took only 1:12 on 9 plays that started on the Tennessee 15 yard line!
And there were only two 3rd down situations for the Vols in both drives combined.
Combining both drives, Pig Howard caught 4 passes, Jalen Hurd caught 3, and Jason Croom corralled the game-tying TD pass with only 11 ticks left on the clock.
But it was sophomore QB Joshua Dobbs that stole the hearts of Vol fans everywhere looking cool and collected. For the two last possessions in regulation time, Dobbs threw for 130 yards, completing 10 of 15 passes. He looked more like a fifth year senior that had been doing this for years.
For the evening, Dobbs ran for 166 yards and was 23-of-40 passing for 301 yards. He set the school mark for single-game rushing by a quarterback, breaking the record of 106 yards by the late Jimmy Streater in 1979. True freshman Jalen Hurd ran for 125 yards, resulting in two Vols runners each having over 100 yards for the first time in five years.
The Vols finished with 645 yards of offense, a total unthinkable just a couple of weeks ago.
But that was before Joshua Dobbs became Tennessee’s number one quarterback and before this 2014 squad suddenly became Joshua Dobbs’ team.
Once a third-string quarterback to finish out the 2014 season as a redshirt, Dobbs’ performance Saturday night on a cold night in Columbia was simply transformative. It put a bounce in everyone’s step, a heaping load of confidence that Tennessee can go to a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
And it prompted the most obvious of questions: Where has Joshua Dobbs been all this time?
It was clearly a calculated strategy of Butch Jones to somehow get through the 2014 season while preserving an extra year of eligibility for Dobbs via the redshirt strategy. But plans have a way of disintegrating into thin air due to circumstances — an injury to the number one and the total ineptitude of the number two.
It wasn’t some brilliant decision that caused this to happen. Circumstances forced the hand of the coaching staff. Luck notwithstanding, the Vols’ near miracle on Saturday night left many wondering how different the outcomes against Florida and against Georgia might have been had Mr. Dobbs been the man in charge.
It really doesn’t serve any constructive purpose to dwell on that possibility. Instead, Tennessee is not yet bowl eligible. The Vols, after this coming and well needed bye week, have to win two of their last three contests. Luckily, two of the three are at home with the two games in Knoxville against the best of the three opponents. So nothing is settled yet — there is a lot of work yet to be done to crown the 2014 season as a success (yes, a 6-win season would be a success in the eyes of this long-time observer).
But what now seems brightly possible seemed totally impossible with a little less than 5 minutes remaining in Saturday night’s game. That was until Josh Dobbs and company took over and gave VolNation one of the most memorable finishes in many, many years.
UPDATE (11/3/2014): Josh Dobbs was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Tennessee at South Carolina
Saturday November 1, 2014 | Columbia, SC | 7:30pm EDT | SEC Network
Last season’s shining star was Tennessee’s upset of ninth-ranked South Carolina 23-21 on a last-second field goal. But it wasn’t enough to get the Vols to a bowl. Saturday, Tennessee (3-5; 0-4) travels to Columbia having to win three of its last four games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. And if they don’t, 2014 will be a fifth straight losing season for the Vols, the longest such drought in program history.
Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks (4-4; 2-4) have a bit at stake themselves. They need to win half of their remaining games to go bowling. Not making a bowl game would break the OBC’s streak of nine seasons with a bowl-eligible season at South Carolina.
Last week, South Carolina came close to upsetting sixth-ranked Auburn, and Tennessee outscored Alabama 20-7 after being behind 0-27 early in the second quarter.
So both teams are coming off of losses to better opponents, and both the Vols and Gamecocks have a lot at stake in the 2014 edition of a series where the average margin of victory has been 8+ points since 2000, the narrowest in any SEC series. And it’s been a while since the Vols have beaten South Carolina down in Columbia — you have to go back to 2006 for Tennessee’s last win (31-24) in the Palmetto State.
So, which team has more at stake Saturday night?
You would think it was the Gamecocks based on their decision to wear all-black uniforms this week, both jerseys and pants. As Spurrier said this week, “Maybe it’ll put a little inspiration in our guys, who knows. We need something to get us a little bit more motivated.” Three straight conference losses aren’t sitting well with the OBC. So South Carolina will don the black tops and black pants combo for the first time since 2009 when they lost to Florida (24-14). They last wore black jerseys (but with white pants) against Auburn in 2011 and also wore them against the Vols in 2008 in a game that was perhaps the last straw for Phil Fulmer as Vols head coach. But the Gamecocks have lost five of their last six games wearing the black tops.
For the Vols, this week isn’t about uniforms (personally I hope I never see the Smokey Grays again). Instead, it’s about an offense that suddenly sprang to life under third-string QB Josh Dobbs. Last week, the Sophomore signal caller led his team to a season high in rushing yards, and his style of play completely took Nick Saban’s team (at Saban’s admission) off guard as they were completely unprepared for a Dobbs-lead attack in Knoxville last week.
The chances of Spurrier and Co. being unprepared for Dobbs and Co. this week is zero.
So maybe the Vols should counter and wear black, too… remember when Kiffin and Tennessee did a Halloween night upset special of South Carolina? Yes. And those were the most hideous jerseys I’ve ever seen. On any team.
But enough about apparel. This is a bigger game for Tennessee and Butch Jones who really must get to six wins and a bowl to stave off the wolves who are beginning to be heard off in the distance calling for immediate improvement. The honeymoon is effectively over for Jones and his staff. We’ve now entered the second phase of the Butch Era that demands winning seasons. Or else.
I’m afraid that Tennessee will have to win its final three games this season in order to play more football in December.
Josh Dobbs is not the ticket, yet, and is certainly no longer a surprise factor.
South Carolina 34 Tennessee 27
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.