Tennessee-Vanderbilt Preview: The Game as a Mere Distraction
Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Saturday 17 November 2012 | 7:00pm EST
Vanderbilt Stadium (40,550) | Nashville, TN | ESPN2
Absolutely everything has been discussed this week within the VolNation. Everything except the upcoming football game.
After the excruciating overtime loss last week to SEC-newcomer Missouri last Saturday, the focus was put squarely on Dave Hart. During the following day, it was the turn of some of the more reputable information outlets to indicate that Dooley would be fired, and he might have even been already informed of that. No longer was the question “If.” It was now “When.”
But Dooley was back to the podium on Monday at noon for his weekly post-game press conference. He stated that Dave Hart had not told him that he would be relieved of his duties. He did however indicate that he had addressed his team regarding the swirling rumors about his job status.
There were reports that the head coach broke down and cried during the team meeting. Some of the sources of this information were reported to be players who were in the meeting. And many were still expecting an anouncement to be made that afternoon that Dooley was done. But there was nothing verifiable that Dooley had told his team that Dave Hart had made a decision to remove him.
Monday evening came and there was no announcement. There has been no announcement.
And so it goes in the grand sports soap opera that is Knoxville and The University of Tennessee Volunteers.
This week devolved into the speculation of who would be Dooley’s replacement and when the announcement would be made. Nobody, and I mean nobody in the media — reputable or not — was and is of the opinion that Dooley will be back for 2013.
And that communion of opinion among fans, media, and perhaps even players and staff changed the tone of the discussion this week. The focus seemed to shift from how much of a disaster Dooley has been as a football coach to the replacement that would surely be named soon, and when that replacement should be announced.
Jon Gruden. Al Golden. Charlie Strong. Kirby Smart. Bobby Petrino.
Those were the most popular names flying around in the Twitterverse and other venues. There were others of course.
And there was the comedy this week of supposed ‘sightings’ of Jon Gruden on campus, or at least sightings of ‘his people’.
All of this with a football game to be played Saturday night in Nashville against one of the most hated rivals of all of the VolNation.
Does anybody care? I can see how a fan might not, at least until kickoff, when the venom will kick in as a reflex to seeing those black and gold uniforms on the same field as the orange and white ones.
But I remember meeting George Cafego, the former all-time great college and pro football player who had played under Neyland during the General’s early days in Knoxville and who also had coached under Johnny Majors. I met him in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Nashville before a game against Vanderbilt. He addressed me and my friends as the ambassador of what it means to be a Tennessee Vol football fan: you HATE Vanderbilt.
He went off. After his soliliquy, we were all ready to strap it on and run across Dudley Field looking for somebody from New Jersey pretending to be a football player in the SEC.
Hyperbole, yes. But that moment many years ago kept reappearing in my memory bank all this week as the rest of the VolNation seemed distracted from the matter at hand — we are playing Vanderbilt.
That really meant a lot to George Cafego. And it still means alot to me.
Offensively, Vandy is a pretty medicore team as far as the FBS goes. But it is their defense that ranks on the stout side — they rank 15th nationally in points allowed (only 18 points per game). South Carolina scored only 17, and most of those were late. Missouri only 15. Auburn only 13. And Kentucky scored none. This is the main reason that the Commodores stand with a 6-4 record, looking at Tennessee as their obstacle to an earth-shattering 8-3 record (they close their season with Wake Forest).
But Vandy also gave up 48 to Georgia and 31 to Florida. So considering the dry powder that is the Vols’ offense, and the sieve that is the Volunteer defense, this is another game that looks to be a fairly high-scoring affair.
As Chris Low wrote this week, the last time Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in Nashville, Vandy’s head coach James Franklin was still in elementary school. It’s been 30 years.
But what is more relevant is the fact that Franklin and his players have been pointing to Saturday for the last 12 months. The video of the Tennessee celebration in the Vols’ lockeroom after last year’s Tennessee victory in overtime went viral on the internet. It was an unfortunate breach of etiquette regarding the sanctity of the lockeroom. But it got out. And it now looms as the big elephant in the room this Saturday, sitting right next to the hangman ready to pluck Derek Dooley from his position. Furthermore, as Tennessee began and continued to implode on a weekly basis this season, the Vanderbilt team surely took notice as they marked the days off their calendar toward the square with a ‘Sat 17’ inside of it.
Everything points to Vanderbilt as the likely victor in this game. But I believe that there is a strong possibility that the players on this Tennessee team no longer feel any pressure. They all now know the fate of their coach. And they just might see this contest as a final chance to give something to their to-be-fallen leader that they haven’t in a very long time: an SEC win on the road.
Tennessee 41 Vanderbilt 34