Can the Vols Finally Have a Good Second Half?
It feels like a very long time since the Vols last played the MTSU Blue Raiders. It’s not because it was nearly a decade ago (2002), but more that the Vols were ranked fourth in the nation. Tennessee won 26-3, on their way to an 8-win season. MTSU was on their way to losing their first 5 games that season, and ultimately 8.
Fortunes have changes for the Vols, with an 8-win season out of the question. MTSU, at 2-5, could easily be headed for another 8 loss campaign.
MTSU feature an entertaining offense and porous defense. The Blue Raiders give up an average of 130 yards on the ground and over 200 yards passing per game. Senior safety Eric Russell (#1) is the only defensive star with 40 solo tackles on the season. But it’s the spread offense that has kept MTSU close in the majority of their games. They rank 21st in the county based on over 460 total offensive yards per game. Sophomore QB Logan Kilgore (#10) throws all game long – he passed for 5 TDs and 415 yards against Troy. But, he’s erratic, throwing an INT in every game with a total of nine.
The storyline for the Blue Raiders in 2011 is their near misses. Of the 5 losses this season, 3 were by only 3 points. They don’t give up either. The Blue Raiders came back from a 17-point deficit to defeat Memphis in the final seconds. They’ve also played some quality opposition: 2 of the 5 losses were against Purdue and Georgia Tech. The loss at Purdue was one of the 3-point defeats.
MTSU is coached by Rick Stockstill, twice the Sun Belt coach of the year. The former honorable-mention All-American QB at Florida State has held assistant coaching positions at South Carolina, East Carolina, Clemson, Central Florida, and Bethune-Cookman. Now in his 6th season with the Blue Raiders, Stockstill has led his team to three bowl appearances and an even 35-35 record.
Looking forward to the remainder of MTSU’s season, the injury bug has hit hard, leaving little doubt that a losing season with no bowl invitation is in the cards. Likely missing action against the Vols Saturday night will be 3 OLs, 3 WRs, 2 RBs, and 1 LB.
An injured, 2-and-5 Sun Belt team visiting for Homecoming is obviously a welcome development for Tennessee following the second-consecutive October from Hell.
The Vols’ injuries continue to whittle away at what little depth we have. Sophomore DB Brent Brewer is freshly out for the season with a knee — prompting junior CB Prentiss Waggner to move to safety — and apparently Freshman TB Marlin Lane is still not doing that well either.
Earlier in the week, Derek Dooley named freshman Justin Worley to start at QB for the second consecutive week. So, the Worley Experiment continues. I suspect that if Worley has trouble to the extent that the Vols were behind at the half, Simms might make an appearance earlier that mop-up time. I think you can treat the present situation as a two-QB partnership.
In hindsight, since Worley’s redshirt was burned, it is advantageous for Worley to have the South Carolina game under his belt instead of beginning his career this week against lowly MTSU. It would have been a bigger risk going into the MTSU game with no game experience, because this week is categorized as a sure win. It might not be such a sure thing if Worley were to have the first quarter tomorrow that he had last week against the Gamecocks. I’m confident his first 15 minutes this Saturday will not resemble his first 15 minutes last week.
I know last week looked winnable, considering how well the Tennessee defense played and how South Carolina were missing Marcus Lattimore, but I don’t think starting Simms would have tipped the scales to a win. Yes, I think we would have lost either way.
So, what should we look for tomorrow?
Let Devrin run!
First, I hope to see freshman TB Devrin Young get some touches from scrimmage. He has shown fantastic improvement in the return game. I think Devrin will, because Tauren Poole is going to get tired — we are going to run the ball and then run it some more.
Finish somebody off!
Second, I look for an explosive second half. The Vols have to get that weight off their backs, even if it is against a defense with the structure of pumice. The second half ineptitudes against SEC opponents are well-chronicled. But they are just as disappointing against the weaker non-conference foes. We outscored Montana in the second half by only 14-9. Similar letdowns were seen against Cincinnati (17-9) and Buffalo (10-3).
Stop making me bang my head against my wall!
And third, I look for no stupid mental errors (false starts and the like) as well as better game management (no timeouts called due to inefficient substitutions, etc.). Such embarrassments are not dooing Dooley any favors as his critics are sharpening their knives.
This should be a comfortable win, although I wouldn’t be surprised if things are tight and interesting in the first quarter or so. I would like to think that there is enough in this game to keep me watching past the start time of the sumo wrestling match in Tuscaloosa that begins an hour after the Vols kick it off.
Let’s hope the coming win gives us more answers than questions for a change.
Tennessee 31 MTSU 7
It’s good to see Smokey back with a smile on his face.