The Bloom of the Rose
In this age of instant gratification, the life of a head football coach, especially in the SEC, is filled with the stress of having to produce W’s, regardless of the circumstances.
I have written about this topic, on this site, a few times.
That brings us to this Saturday Night.
Hosting the Georgia Bulldogs is always a big deal for Vol fans. Georgia has developed into a special kind of rivalry. It doesn’t have the “age-old” flavor of Alabama, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. It doesn’t have the down-right nastiness and hate of Florida. But it is important in the race for the SEC East, and it is significant in terms of bragging rights, which translates to recruiting. The state of Georgia teems with high school talent that is prized by a number of college programs.
Lane Kiffin wasn’t just talking smack in 2009 when he vowed to never lose to Georgia. He knew all of the sub-texts related to this rivalry. He and his staff out-mastered the Bulldogs during Kiffin’s only game against Georgia. It was nothing short of miraculous. The performances of Hardesty, Jones, and Crompton were the contents of the gift box given to the Vol faithful by a coaching staff who believed in their beleagured QB and built a scheme of genius to minimize his weak spots and allow the playmakers to make plays.
In the third quarter, Georgia was left to die in the wake of Montario Hardesty’s 39-yard run to the orange and white checkerboards.
Derek Dooley brought his inaugural version of the Big Orange to Athens last October. The Vols had nine net rushing yards on 26 carries for an average per carry of nearly zero – numbers that were not helped much by Matt Simms’ minus 21 yards due in large part to numerous sacks. Remember the days of Matt Simms? Tennessee turned the ball over three times – two fumbles and one INT. The two fumbles were in the kicking game: a punt and a kickoff were both lost by Eric Gordon, and both led to Georgia TDs. When it was 17-0 ‘Dogs at the end of the first quarter, it was over before it was over.
That was smack dab in the middle of a horrorshow month after which the Vols stood (if you can call it that) at 2-6. Dooley’s Vols rallied with Bray as the on-field savior to make it to December football. Even the loss against North Carolina in the bowl game wasn’t enough for the Vol Nation to dump on their first year head coach.
The bloom was still on the rose.
Without a win over the ‘Dogs this Saturday, time will become Dooley’s enemy. There will be the Himalayan matches against LSU and Alabama.
And South Carolina, with the added visit to Arkansas, will not be seen as opportunities for losses to be forgiven because of the circumstances of our youth and lack of depth.
Patience will no longer be seen as a virtue by a significant portion of the fan base.
It will be unfortunate, and unfair, for Dooley to be the recipient of sudden scorn if the Vols lose to Georgia.
But, without a win over a SEC foe not named Old Miss, Kentucky, or Vandy, Dooley’s record of 9-9 after a loss to Georgia, followed by games with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the land, will be nailed to the bulletin boards by the town criers and portrayed as not good enough, especially if Saturday night is filled with a continuation of turnovers and special teams ineptitudes.
Sadly, and prematurely, the bloom will be off the rose.