Tennessee-Vanderbilt: A Microcosm of the Macrocosm
The Ancient Greeks saw the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale all the way down to the smallest scale.
On Saturday night in Nashville, the Grecian Formula was in effect — the Volunteers exhibited the same deficiencies that we have seen all season long: (1) big plays/poor defense; (2) turnovers; and (3) coaching.
1. Big Plays / Poor Defense
As was summarized on this site a few weeks ago, big plays (>20 yards) have killed the Vols’ chances in several game. It was the same Saturday. And, through Saturday, Tennessee has the following team defense national rankings (out of 125 schools in the FBS):
- 110th in Total Defense
- 92nd in Rushing Defense
- 112th in Passing Defense
- 94th in Pass Efficiency Defense
- 111th in Scoring Defense
On Saturday night, Tennessee unveiled its Achilles Heel on the very first play from scrimmage. From the Vandy 23 yard line, QB Jordan Rogers hit RB Zac Stacy for a 72-yard gain to the Tennessee 5 yard line. The Vols defense held the Commodores to a field goal, but its weak underbelly had already exposed itself.
In their first series of the second half, Vandy, holding a slim 13-10 advantage, scored on only three plays, two of them classified as big ones. From their own 15 yard line, Rogers completed a pass to Jordan Matthews for a 9 yard gain. Then, Stacy ran for 29 yards to get into Tennessee territory. And then Matthews ran for the final 47 yards to give the Commodores a more comfortable 20-10 lead and opening the floodgates to the ultimate rout.
Late in the game, with Vanderbilt on the brink of a massive celebration holding a 34-10 lead, Stacy ran for 10 yards from his own 19 yard line, and then Rodgers hit Matthews for a 71 yard TD pass play to put the final gold nail in the orange coffin.
A team cannot turn the football over to its opponents on a consistent basis and have a successful season, no matter what conference they play in. But that is exactly what the Vols have done all season long.
Tennessee ranks 89th nationally in turnover margin: a minus-6 for the season (and a minus-9 in SEC games). This margin comes from 23 giveaways this season: 9 fumbles lost and 14 passes intercepted. And this minus-6 margin is a glaring symbol of how far the Vols’ fortunes have fallen. Last season’s margin was at an even zero, and was a plus-4 in 2010.
On Saturday night, Tennessee spit up the ball three times, all having a significant impact on the game.
Ahead 7-3 in the second quarter, after stopping Vandy on a three-and-out, Tyler Bray threw an INT on the second play of the possession that began with a 14 yard run. Noting that the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, Bray was up to that point having anything but a good game (and he ended up with a sub-standard 101 yards passing with 2 INTs). The turnover led to a Vandy field goal.
Then later in the second quarter, Tennessee was ahead 7-6, but that didn’t stop Derek Dooley from pulling Bray and inserting Justin Worley, who promptly threw another INT in Vandy territory which was run all the way back to the Tennessee 17 yard line. Vanderbilt scored a TD three plays later to go ahead 13-7. The substitution jolted the Tennessee sideline and the Vandy score changed the dynamic of the entire game.
Finally, with the starter back in the 3rd quarter, Bray threw another INT on the Vols’ 2nd possession on a 3rd and 14 at the Tennessee 21 yard line. The INT was run back to the Vols 4 yard line, setting up a Vandy TD just 2 plays later. The Vanderbilt lead was extended to 27-10, and the game was all but over.
The perceived failings of Dooley and his staff have been pointed out and discussed for the entirety of his three year stint. The main culprits have been in the areas of clock management, sideline management (too many or two few players on the field), playing too conservative at times, and penalties (especially the pre-snap variety). It got a bit more bizarre on Saturday night.
First there was the benching of Tyler Bray. Granted, Bray was having an off night at the time Dooley replaced him with Worley. But Tennessee had the lead (7-6) and it was only the second quarter when the substitution took place. It was a bizarre decision, and it showed Dooley reacting in what seemed to be a moment of desperation in a game he could not afford to lose.
And it was perhaps a delayed reaction to what has likely been simmering for months between Dooley and his quarterback.
Then there was the botched fake punt. In the third quarter, with Vandy just going ahead 27-10, Tennessee went three-and-out. Palardy, standing in punting formation, attempted a pass to the left side. The ball looked more like it was from the early days of the Jonathan Crompton era as it pounded the turf short of its intended target. It was Dooley’s last bullet. It misfired.
There were more penalties by Tennessee. Included were some of the most frustrating: the false starts that seemingly plague this squad like a virus. But the shining example of a completely unnecessary penalty was the showboating by Cordarrelle Patterson. In the first quarter, the Vols were driving deep into Vandy territory, down 3-0. On a 3rd and 7 at the Commodore 27 yard line, Bray hit Patterson at about the 10 yard line near the left sideline. Patterson cut in and then found space. At the five yard line, CP turned around and started running backwards. But before entering the end zone, he perhaps wished he hadn’t showboated and ran forward. Too late. A flag was thrown for taunting. It turned out that another flag had been thrown for an ineligible man downfield was the reason for the negated TD.
The issue is a lack of discipline and that is all on the coaches. Patterson was called for the same infraction last week against Missouri. But there is an apparent lack of accountability and repercussions for such actions. And there was also the joking around on the sideline late in the game, involving Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter. That is a manifestation of what has gone on for at least two seasons – a lack of acceptance and respect by a few members of the team. The fact that Bray was involved should come as no surprise to anyone that has followed Tennessee throughout the Dooley era.
On Saturday, all of these deficiencies led to one of the worst routs ever handed to Tennessee by Vanderbilt, and the first loss for the Vols at Dudley Field in 30 years. It was the largest margin of victory for Vandy over Tennessee since 1954.
All together throughout the 2012 season — the third consecutive losing season for only the second time in school history (1909-1911) — these deficiencies accumulated to the point of costing Derek Dooley his job.