Big Things, Little Things, Everything
Tennessee’s offense set a new school record for most number of total yards in a game (718). Tennessee’s defense set a new school record for the most number of total yards allowed in a game (721).
Both of these events happened on the same day, in the same game, which also saw the most combined yards in any Tennessee game (1,439).
During his introductory press conference in 2010, Derek Dooley said that under his leadership, the Vols would play exciting football. Saturday was exciting, but Dooley didn’t have Saturday in mind when he said this almost three years ago.
On the heels of Tyler Bray’s best game (at South Carolina) in an orange jersey, Bray outdid himself on Saturday — he broke Peyton Manning’s school record for yards passing in a game. Bray’s 29-of-47 performance resulted in an almost obscene 530 yards (including 5 TDs and 0 INTs).
The problem is that every one of those yards were needed to overcome the complete ineptness of the Volunteer defense, as well as some dropped passes (two that would have been TDs) that are becoming the characteristic dark side of the 2012 Vols’ offense. For without Tyler’s ability to carry his team — his University — on his back, Tennessee would have suffered a loss that would have ranked right up there with the most famous of horrendous loses in Tennessee school history: Kentucky of last season; and the Wyomings, Rutgers, Virginias, and North Texas States of years gone by.
Bray had some help along the way. There was Justin Hunter’s 9 catches for 181 yards and 3 TDs, tying (many) the school record for TD catches in a game. There was Marlin Lane’s 19 carries for 132 yards and 2 TDs.
But above all, there was Cordarrelle Patterson.
CP had 219 yards receiving (9 catches) combined with 43 yards on two kickoff returns to bust Stanley Morgan’s single-game all-purpose yards record. In the first half alone, Patterson caught a pass for a TD to cap the Vols’ first possession, caught a short pass and used his patented juke-joint moves to turn it into a 41-yard gain, gained 37 yards on another pass play, and 58 yards on yet another.
Perhaps under-appreciated was Patterson’s more subtle contribution as a kickoff return threat. This caused Troy to kick away from Patterson, resulting in very good field position for the Vols to begin drives — from the Tenn 35, Tenn47, and the Troy 45 on the first three Tennessee possessions which all ended in Big Orange TDs.
This game will help put the Volunteer offense into the stratosphere of the very best offenses to every play on Shields-Watkins Field in Neyland Stadium.
Sal Sunseri’s defense was another matter. It was the train wreck that keeps piling up. It was the dumpster fire that seems to spread from one back lot to another, unabated.
The official stat sheet shows that Troy ran an astounding 99 plays from scrimmage (compared with Tennessee’s 76), and had possession for 15 more minutes than did the Vols (37:22 to 22:28) — a full quarter of time more.
There were the same missed tackles by the inept Tennessee defense as weeks past. There were the same opponent WRs flashing past Volunteer corners to the wide open spaces as in previous games.
But more than everything, there were the complete breakdowns just when the Vol defense were about to make a much-needed defensive stop to retain possession. Here are the ugly data:
Troy faced a 3rd and long situation 11 times on Saturday (3rd down and 7 or more yards to go for a first down). They converted four of those situations for a first down. But it was how they did it more than what they did.
- On a 3rd and 12 from the Troy 26, the Trojans converted on a 37 yard pass play.
- On a 3rd and 16 from the Troy 15, the Trojans converted on a 39 yard run.
- On a 3rd and 8 from the Troy 6, the Trojans converted on a 40 yard pass play.
- On a 3rd and 15 from the Troy 15, the Trojans converted on a 34 yard pass play.
On four situations when Troy was backed up deep into their own territory and facing long yardage to keep a drive from stalling, the Trojans converted on spectacularly long gains, repeatedly breaking the back of the Volunteer defense. The first three of these instances resulted in two TDs and a FG.
This was part of the reason that Troy was able to pile up the yardage and points on Tennessee that saw the Trojans trying to hold a 7 point lead deep in the 4th quarter to pull off an upset that would have made Troy’s season.
But there were also the frustrating little things — inexplicable coaching decisions and personnel organization mistakes — that bit the Volunteers around the edges…
Just before the end of the first half, Troy scored on a 28-yard QB draw play to go up 30-28. With just over a minute remaining, after a 58-yard pass play to Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee found themselves at the Trojan 4 yard line with a first and goal. Instead of pounding the ball into the endzone, Chaney and Company got cute with a couple pass plays (incompletions) and then ran the ball on 3rd down for little. But instead of trying for the TD on 4th and goal, Derek Dooley decided to kick a FG. That showed that Dooley had no confidence in his team to convert the 4th down for a TD and also had no confidence in his squad to be able to overcome not getting 3 points in the event of a failed 4th down go at a TD.
But before that was the game-changer. Early in the second quarter with Tennessee ahead with a seemingly commanding 28-10 lead, Troy’s drive had stalled in the Red Zone at the Vol 16 yard line. It was 4th down and 2 yards to go. With the Troy kicking unit trotting onto the field to attempt a 33-yard field goal attempt, Tennessee’s coaching staff discovered that there were 12 defenders on the field. Dooley called timeout. This of course gave Troy a bit of time to think about the situation. With seemingly little to lose, Troy decided to go for it, and converted for a first down, later to score a touchdown. It was Vols 28 Trojans 17, but the situation seemingly gave Troy a spark. two quick TDs later, Troy was ahead 30-28, setting up the near upset.
It all added up to a Tennessee win that no one in Big Orange Country was particularly happy about. Sal Sunseri’s defensive unit appears to be regressing. The Vols not only can not stop the Georgias, Alabamas, Mississippi States and South Carolinas of the work, but they cannot stop the offense of a mid-table Sun Belt Conference school.
And this does not bode well for the next two contests. Missouri would ‘normally’ be a comfortable win at home, but it can no longer be viewed as anything other than a potential nightmare. And a visit to an improved Vanderbilt (defeated Kentucky 40-0 on Saturday) the following week has most of us wishing that Dooley had not uttered those now-famous words after last year’s overtime game. Only lowly Kentucky can be viewed as a sure win, but by that time, anything could happen.
The anti-Dooley camp is more anti than ever. The pro-Dooley camp can not speak for fear of public ridicule. And the workings behind the scenes within the Athletic Department and the money-changers will be the subject of speculation at a level even higher than during the past week.