I’ve seen some stuff, but I’ve never seen a team like Tennessee

He has no idea, either. (Clavin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

I saw my first SEC game in 1969. (Kentucky beat Archie Manning.) I covered my first SEC game in 1976. (Kentucky beat LSU.) My first SEC road assignment was a game in Birmingham in 1980. (Kentucky lost to Alabama 45-0.) I was by far the youngest among 40 or so semi-reputable journalists traversing the South via a plane of dubious provenance on the 1977 SEC Skywriters Tour. I interviewed Bryant. I saw Herschel as a freshman. I’ve had much fun with the Evil Genius. I’ve been around. I’ve seen stuff.

I’ve never seen a team like Tennessee.

I’ve seen good teams. I’ve seen bad teams. I’ve seen good teams that sometimes played bad and vice versa. I’d never seen one that, after multiple viewings, left me wondering which it is: Good? Bad? Neither? Both?

Here was the collective halftime score of the past three Tennessee games I’ve covered: Opponents 52, Volunteers 17. That aggregate even flattered the Orange, which scored last in two of those halves. It trailed Florida 21-0 last September and Georgia 17-0 the next week. On Labor Day night, the Vols trailed Georgia Tech 28-14 with 12 minutes remaining.

At some point in each of those games, the thought occurred: Tennessee is terrible. Except …

Tennessee won all three games.

I’ve not sure this comparison fits, but it’s all I’ve got: Tennessee reminds me of an unfettered basketball team. I’m thinking of the wild and woolly Philadelphia 76ers of Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, World B. Free and Darryl Dawkins – who weren’t coached much, but who had talent to burn, which they often did. They’d fool around and fall 20 points behind, whereupon they’d go, “Hmmm. Interesting.” Then they’d start to play, and when they got around to playing they were incredible. They reached the 1977 NBA finals and led Portland and Bill Walton 2-0. They lost the next four games. They came close to being champions, but they couldn’t be champions because they were unsound.

These Vols haven’t been and won’t be the champions of anything. (Except, maybe, life.) They beat Florida and Georgia last year and didn’t win the SEC East, which is hard to do. They’re 3-1 as we speak, but it’s a 3-1 that might be 1-3. Then again, they also could be 4-0. That’s the part of Tennessee that drives us, and I expect Butch Jones, nuts. When his team finally rouses itself, it looks like a team. It’s just that it takes so doggone long.

Football teams practice way more than they play. Their coaches watch film, chart tendencies, formulate a scheme. You know that trash can Tennessee has on the sideline to store footballs gained through turnovers? That same bin doubles as the receptacle for wadded-up game plans. Because Tennessee’s game plans NEVER WORK. The Vols scout and drill and cogitate, and nothing goes right until they’ve no choice but to wing it. If that’s not an indictment of coaching, my name’s not Pappy Waldorf.

Which, among many other things, is weird. Jones did nice work at Cincinnati, and he swapped out the unloved Mike DeBord for a new offensive coordinator (Larry Scott, who has been worse) and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is highly regarded. Given eight months to prepare for Tech, Shoop’s defenders yielded 655 yards, 535 on the ground. In the history of football, had any team surrendered 535 yards rushing and won?

In the span of 51 weeks, Shoop’s defense was breached for what should have been two game-losing touchdown passes of at least 47 yards inside the final 15 seconds – and neither was a throw-it-up-and-hope-for-a-tip Hail Mary. Last October, Georgia’s Riley Ridley ran through the Tennessee secondary, same as Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland did two weeks ago in Gainesville. In neither case was a Vol close enough to interfere with the receiver, which given the alternative (i.e., losing)  would have been the smart play. How does that happen?

And yet: Tennessee beat Georgia after the Ridley catch and beat Tech despite being outgained by 286 yards. As Paul Johnson said, “When they got rolling in the second half, there wasn’t much stopping them.” The same happened at Florida, where the Vols scored three points in the first 51 minutes and 17 – and it should have been 21 – in the next eight.

The temptation is great to say that Georgia, which is more talented and much better-coached, will win by two touchdowns in Knoxville. That said, Tech should have won by two touchdowns, and so should Florida. Just when you’ve decided the Vols can’t play a lick, they leave you wondering, “How’d they do that?” To paraphrase the lovely song by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter: Tennessee, Tennessee, craziest team I ever did see.

Reader Comments 0

61 comments
TideDawg
TideDawg

Georgia just dotted the Is and crossed the Ts in "This is it for Butch".

Karson
Karson

Butch Jones may not be a good coach but he damn sure looks like all the mean ones I used to remember with that crew cut, belly and red face. Scary....

dawg fan
dawg fan

@Karson  Scary coaches don't whine about the media.  Scary coaches don't give a flying crap about the media one way or the other.  Butch is a first rate clown. 

dawg fan
dawg fan

I wanna believe all this snowflake psychobabble about reading press clippings and just showing up thinking you'll get the W but when Roquan knocks somebody's effing block off I don't think all of that bull**** is going to matter.  Game over.  Dawgs roll. 

0H:I0
0H:I0

Ohio State will win easily. We run this state!!

YouLibs
YouLibs

@0H:I0 

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOIOOOOklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Forgot what handle you were under didn't ya gtcary?!?!?

Bawahwahwahwah

Hairy Dawg
Hairy Dawg

Dawgs will beat the Orange Pumkins bad. Butch Jones is bad coaching and why any talent should not want to be in Knox. Dawgs is building up big mo and now that we got defenses and with Eason coming back we start blowing out bad teams like Butch Jones and Pumkins deserves. Final score Dawgs 56 Tenn 12.

Go Dawgs!

TideDawg
TideDawg

Georgia really needs to win this game, and I think they will, but Tn. will make a game of it. If the Dawgs listen to sports writers and talk shows they may not even dress for the game.....they'll just throw their helmets on the field and come home with a W.

Dumbmick
Dumbmick

I can only hope that the 'dawgs' will jump on the Vols the same way they did 'Missy State' last week...Tennessee will get some serious 'payback' on Saturday for what happened in Athens last year...Final Score: UGA: 48 Vols: 17

MauryL
MauryL

Relax -- with butch coaching and Tennessee's bad defense , the dogs will roll -- 34-17 - kirby's on a mission to get to Atlanta

Gwinforfun
Gwinforfun

Could care less about the article. Butch Jones has been rendered fighting for his career and that to me will make Tennessee dangerous on Saturday

TOJacket
TOJacket

@Gwinforfun He'll cheat if he has to...Last years win over UGA got him this year probably.

Mulk
Mulk

@Gwinforfun If Jones was playing, I bet he would jump on a hand grenade. Just the opposite (in my opinion). Locker room is tight. Everybody is afraid of making mistakes. Coaches and players. Also, cannot stop the run.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Gwinforfun

Ditto!

Tennessee's always dangerous when they play UGA--especially up there.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Has anyone seen Kirby's Map!!

TOJacket
TOJacket

@twelveofthirteen Tenn. won the game dummy...didn't you watch?...but we made them look like Vandy....oh yea, Vandy beats them on a regular basis now...UGA too.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

You "made them look like Vandy"???

You LOST--just like Vandy usually does!

Vandy's beaten UGA six times in the past 56 years. That's your definition of "regular basis"???

Yet you call everyone else stupid?!

It's increasingly obvious why GT fans on these blogs are so embarrassed that you're one of them.

Mulk
Mulk

Did you say that UGAG has more talent? Wasn't it last week, that they were crying over how bare Richt left the cupboard? Which is it?

TOJacket
TOJacket

@Mulk They had to play with walk on's last year I think.

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Troll on trolls

Love how you just make this stuff up.

Want Kirby and company to show you the roadmap on how to beat this 2017 UT team? Something you couldn't and didn't do?

Mulk
Mulk

@twelveofthirteen I didn't make it up but maybe Smart did? The question was: Is the cupboard bare or are they talented? Which is it? Depends on if you ask Smart or Bradley? I am asking you, now. Which is it?

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Wrecker

Let's see now, which is a more accurate barometer--2 of 3 or 3 of 16? 

2-1 or 41-65-5?

Hello?

Mulk
Mulk

@DawgNole @Wrecker Are you sure that you are not Tom A$$ Brown? 2 out of 3 is way more accurate, relevant and a sore point for dog fans. And, 3 out of 5 is accurate for Criminole fans..

Mulk
Mulk

@twelveofthirteen I know the answer. They were more talented last November and really against every team they played last season. Still lost 5 games. At one time last season, were they not "ranked" in the top 10?


Just sayin.

tipstotips
tipstotips

Right over your head. Not surprising.