Posts Tagged ‘Dave Clawson’

Vols 63, Western Kentucky 7: The Day After

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

It was Western Kentucky and lawvol did an excellent job with his version of this post (as in better than mine’s going to be), so I’ll keep this relatively brief.

Judging by the atmosphere on campus before the game and during the game in the student section, you would in no way have thought Tennessee’s opponent was possibly the worst Division I-A team in the country. I found this out on the long walk from my apartment down the Cumberland Avenue “Strip” and through the heart of campus on my way to the Vol Walk. I managed to get an up-close spot fort the spectacle, and I’ll have a video from it at the end of this.

The new JumboTron is awesome, especially when they take the ads off and make it full screen (click to enlarge)

As for the game, I’ll start with Jonathan Crompton. Sure, the tipped balls are worrisome and the first interception he threw – though not his fault, said Lane Kiffin – was the awful kind of pass he would have made last year. Other than that, he really didn’t have that many incompletions.

He looked confident. He looked poised. He managed the offense very well (I can only remember one substitution penalty and procedure penalty). He was 21-of-28 and threw five touchdowns for goodness sakes. Sure, it was mostly the short passing game.

But if your quarterback struggles with making multiple reads (as Crompton did in 2008), you don’t make him do that. You let him take the snap and throw it to a wideout against a corner playing off the line and let the playmaker get some yards in space. You throw the short hitch. You get Crompton rolling out with options short, medium and long. Heck, Crompton even slid when he had to scramble.

The receivers played well enough to make you forget the injuries. Luke Stocker caught two scores. Marsalis Teague led the way as a freshmen and is going to be a great player. Quintin Hancock deserves a shout-out.

But this day belonged to the offensive line. Crompton had time to throw and that only helps him. And the line opened enormous holes and got great push on just about every play, as was evidenced in the stats. Hopefully they stay healthy throughout the year, because watching them open lanes for Hardesty, Bryce, Oku and Poole (let’s not forget about Toney WIlliams, either) could be really fun to watch if they are able to keep it up.

The defense was swarming and Western Kentucky had no time to do anything – at all. I thought the linebackers played pretty well, but we’ll have to see how they go up against stronger, faster opponents in the future. Janzen Jackson was the first freshman to see the field defensively, and, like Teague, he’s going to be a great player. I thought Wes Brown also played very well: well as in fresh, considering everything we’d heard about him all preseason were the bad condition of both of his knees.

To conclude, anytime you dominate a team 63-7 and outgain them by the margin Tennessee did, you feel good about it. But if nothing else, it’s a game where you get some confidence, especially on offense where those guys are trying to make us all forget last year’s atrocities. It’s a chance for the freshmen and new players to get some game action, as every little bit of experience helps. Western Kentucky was the perfect opponent for Lane and Company to open up with.

My view from Section F (click to enlarge)

Looking ahead, I think this team could be pretty tough to beat in Neyland Stadium this year. If the crowd was like it was for Western Kentucky – and those of you who were there hopefully agree with me on this – how will it be when Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina come to visit?

Which leads me to my next bold statement: I see absolutely no way UCLA comes into Knoxville next week and beats Tennessee.

There, I said it. First off, anytime you travel across the country to play, you’re at a disadvantage. See LSU last night at Washington, Maryland getting rocked at Cal, our own Vols the past two seasons and Cal coming here in 2006. Kevin Prince is UCLA’s starting QB. He was 18-of-29 for 176 yards, and threw two picks against one touchdown. That was at home, against San Diego State.

Next week he’ll be dealing with the Tennessee defense. In Tennessee’s stadium. Against a group of players and coaches and fans that want to right the wrong of last year’s embarrassing loss. And do it emphatically in front of a national TV audience on ESPN.

Yes, yes, I know we all said the same exact thing last year. But if not for horribly inept coaching (throwing 41 passes Dave Clawson and letting Kevin Craft dink-and-dunk you down the field John Chavis), Tennessee wins that game. UCLA has certainly improved, but this time they get the dubious honor of making the long trip. We all already are aware (boom, alliteration!) of the importance of this game to the rest of the Vols’ season. Tennessee absolutely has to beat UCLA next Saturday.

As soon as the Vols had the first couple of touchdowns yesterday and settled into the complete domination they displayed, my thoughts were already on UCLA. Hence why I’ve spent the last half of this post talking about next Saturday.

Anyways, here’s the video I took of the Vol Walk from yesterday (please know it’s long and my camera steadiness was lacking…you try holding your arm up that high for that long):

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About Home Sweet Home... … to me.

2009 Big Orange Roundtable: Week 1 – the “Welcome Back” Edition

This Week’s Roundtable is hosted by: MoonDog

Once more unto the breach, dear friend…

This week marks the return of the Big Orange Roundtable and is hosted by MoonDog over at MoonDog

Given the fact that I have been tied up with re-modeling and am just generally incompetent, HSH and I have decided to both jump in on the Roundtable and offer our points as a team.  In the event we disagree, I’m wrong…

Here are our thoughts for the week:

Week 1

1)  In my mind, this season’s success—or failure—centers around one man, Jonathan Crompton.  What is your opinion of Crompton’s ability to run Lane Kiffin‘s pro style offense?  Can Crompton overcome his miserable 2008 season and lead the Vols to a winning record?

HSH: Crompton absolutely cannot be much worse, right?  A common theme in the answers you’re likely going to see here will say something along the lines of Crompton’s main responsibility of managing the game—and doing quite a bit of handing the rock off.  You would think that in Lane Kiffin’s offense he won’t be throwing the ball too much, assuming the Vols are able to run the ball well.  Obviously the running game can help make Crompton’s job easier, although the WR injuries this week aren’t helping his Heisman hopes.

The optimist in me says that most of Crompton’s issues last season were due to the overall overwhelming ineptitude of Dave Clawson‘s offense.  However, the Auburn debacle, which I placed almost direct blame on Crompton, has me hesitant.  Tennessee wasn’t too far away from being at worst 8-4 last year , so even marginal improvement by #8 should get the Vols above 6 wins.  I’m willing to give him another chance, but hopefully for everyone’s sake he doesn’t throw a pick or botch a handoff in the first series at Western Kentucky come September 5…

Lawvol: It’s a funny thing.  Last year—based solely upon his performance while filling in for the injured Eric Ainge in 2006—I was expecting great things from Crompton.  In fact, I was actually convinced that the Crompton would wow the Vol faithful with a new look as a mobile quarterback who is not afraid to make contact with defenders.  At one point last year I actually predicted that, after an 8 or 9 win season in 2008, the Vols would potentially contend for a national championship in 2009 behind Crompton and the much vaunted Clawfense.

This proves two things.  First, it shows that rising to the occasion in a moment of need—which I think Crompton did admirably while standing in for Ainge—is not the same thing as being a starter.  The second thing it proves is that I am a moron.

All that said, I too agree that Crompton’s biggest goal is to just play cleanly.  In 2008, there were times when it seemed likely that he might trip over the yardlines or deliver a handoff to a blitzing linebacker.  Personally, I think that much of this owed to a fundamental lack of understanding of the Clawfense by the offense as a whole—which pretty much just peed down its leg for the entirety of the 2008 season.  This is not to say that Dave Clawson was not a good coach or that the Clawfense could not work, it simply did not work in 2008 for the Vols.

Not to be overly critical, but Crompton does not (or at least has never shown) that he has the mental game of Eric Ainge or any of the other quarterbacks that preceded him in Orange.  Crompton likes to play loose and makes plays based purely upon athletic ability and less upon great decision-making ability.  As he made clear when filling in for Ainge (famously dropping his head and planting a “T” in the chest of an LSU defender), Crompton is an instinct guy.  I don’t think he cares much for his mind getting in the way of him playing football.  Perhaps that is why he often seemed to have the deer in the headlights look when trying to work through the permutations of the offense last year on the field.  As a result he made bad decisions, held the ball for what seemed like ten minutes in the pocket, and generally failed to meet expectations.  I just do not believe that he “got it.”  Thus, I suppose the 2008 season was the proverbial “Perfect Storm” that was destined for disaster from an offensive perspective.  On one hand there was an offense inspired by the theories of Niels Bohr and Stephen Hawking and on the other a quarterback who is not exactly known for his mental toughness.

If Kiffin and Jim Cheney can keep it simple, allowing Crompton to simply play, I continue to believe that he has the ability to be a decent quarterback.  I actually think he has the ability to be a competent passer (that is if there are any receivers left for him to throw to), so long as the system is simple.  For Crompton, I think it is all about just letting him play.  Hopefully that is what they will let him do.

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Headlines, Links, & Lies: Post-BCS Hangover Vitriol Edition

Headlines, Links & Lies | Gate 21

Well, I am—quite obviously—running behind.  I have yet to get my thoughts together on the BCS Championship Game—which President-elect Obama still thinks needs to be sacked in favor of a playoff—and the conclusion of the 2008-09 football season.

I’m going to blame it on the uncontrollable projectile vomiting that accompanied the realization that the Florida Gators had been crowned national champions…

I know, I know, I am supposed to pull for the SEC, and as a general rule I always do.  Had the Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs, or any other member of the SEC won, then I would be overflowing with my congratulations to the team in representing the conference on the most visible stage in the country.  There’s only one problem with this general rule of mine, it has one exception:

I have never and will never pull for the Florida Gators in any sporting event.  No way, no how, no sir.

Without re-hashing what I have already said, I hate to lose to many of the SEC schools (most notably Alabama) but I don’t “hate” those schools.  With Florida it is different.  I realize this will label me as a sour-grapes sort of poor sport who blames Tennessee’s poor performance this year on every one but the Vols.  It is petty, it is juvenile, it is silly.

Frankly, I don’t care…

Furthermore, had the thousands of classless thugs folks that I had to deal with during my three trips to Gainesville for games shown a little more class, then this wouldn’t be the case.  Of course I doubt the Gators care what I think either.  Thus, I’ll congratulate the LSU Tigers for a nice win against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Georgia Bulldogs for their besting of the Michigan State Spartans, the Ole Miss Rebels for up-ending the Texas Tech Red Raiders, The Vanderbilt Commodores and Kentucky Wildcats for managing to win their bowl game when few gave them much of a chance.  To all of you, congratulations.  As for Alabama, well, thank you for representing the conference in the BCS, despite losing to a tough Utah Utes squad.  The Utes are a solid team and there is no shame in the loss.

Florida, however, can suck it…

Alrighty, I suppose that’s enough venom for the moment.  Then again, maybe not.

You’d have to be out of your friggin’ mind not to want to play for the Gators,

Urban Meyer commenting after the Gators victory over the Oklahoma Sooners

Via Go Vols Xtra: Meyer sees no end to Florida’s reign

Nice to see that Meyer isn’t smug about it all.

Fortunately, Lane Kiffin doesn’t seem to be the type of guy who really cares about impressions and opinions.  He spent his week giving the current members of Vols football squad the proverbial “Come to Jesus” experience as he has made it clear that he expects a lot from his players not just on the field, but in the classroom as well.  He drove this point home by showing up unannounced in a few classrooms around the Hill and by dismissing Darius Meyers and giving Brent Vinson one chance to straighten-up.  Other sources indicate that, in addition to these “visible” actions by the Blackjack General, there have been other disciplinary actions taken to shore-up various shortcomings by players.  Both Ramone Johnson and Demetrius Morely have also been mentioned as having been “encouraged” to find more focus.  I have a feeling that there will be more heard on this subject in the coming months leading up to the Orange and White game this spring.

All of this is fine by me.  Sometimes you have to do a little housekeeping when you are trying to make changes.

Speaking of changes, Mike Griffith posted a particularly interesting piece on the perceptions of various members of the national sports media on Kiffin’s selection as the new head coach at Tennessee.  The general consensus is that no one really knows how things will turn out.

I found the response of’s Gene Wojciechowski to be particularly insightful:

“I don’t know what to think. I know he’s hiring a great NFL staff – his dad from Tampa and Orgeron from the Saints. He’s going into one of the most impatient places there is. The whole thing is a chemistry experiment to me. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out. It’s one of the few hires where most people don’t have a feel for how it will work out. It’s one of the greatest calculated gambles I’ve seen in a while. If it works, Mike Hamilton looks like a genius. If it doesn’t, they fired a pretty good coach.”

Via Go Vols Xtra: National Media sounds off on Kiffin hire

Personally, I find the reactions in Griffith’s piece refreshing for two reasons.  First, it is nice for once to hear the media talking-heads admit that they don’t know everything about everything—I guess they all forgot to pay the bill on their crystal balls due to the economic downturn.  Second, and most importantly, I like the fact that Kiffin represents a paradigm shift for Tennessee.  When given a choice between a hamburger or pizza, Smiling Mike appears to have chosen the Billy Barou (Nachos) with extra queso and hot sauce.

Thus far, when it comes to staff selections, Kiffin has been keeping up his end of the bargain.

As a result, the Vols are seeing a serious up-swing in their recruiting fortunes as National Signing Day approaches.  According to’s Jeffrey Stewart*, it appears he has the right people out in the field knocking on doors—giving Tennessee a chance at a fabulous finish which seemed unlikely not long ago.  At present the Vols have 17 commitments, but the No. 4 wide receiver, No. 4 running back, No. 4 tight end and No. 2 offensive tackle in the nation are all making visits in the coming days.  At worst, it’s now looking like a top 20 class.  Basilio has a nice breakdown (courtesy of “X”) for those interested.

Oh, and despite the fact that Mike Hamilton’s little chemistry experiment is not a cheap one, UT announced that ticket prices will not be going up in Neyland Stadium this fall.

Note to self “Butts in the seats = Good”

Fulmer in the ACC?

Meanwhile, rumors are flying all over the place about the possibility of the Great Punkin being considered for the head coaching job at Boston College, after coach Jeff Jagodzinski was fired on Wednesday for interviewing with the New York Jets.  Fulmer has been a good friend of Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo from their time together as grad assistants on the Tennessee staff in the early 1970’s.  DeFilippo was instrumental in Fulmer’s decision to hire Dave Clawson prior to the 2008 season:

Ultimately, Fulmer settled on Clawson, who had interviewed the year before for the Boston College head coaching job. BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo was a graduate assistant at Tennessee in the early 1970s when Fulmer was getting his coaching start, and the two have continued to talk over the years.

DeFilippo’s endorsement of Clawson carried a lot of weight with Fulmer, who was even more intrigued after he met and talked football with Clawson. A dandy playcaller himself when he performed those duties under John Majors from 1989-92, Fulmer liked the idea of bringing some new blood into the program. And that’s not a knock against Cutcliffe, either.

Via Clawson, Volunteers planning to beef up running game

Many fans and media observers feel that Fulmer would be near the top of possible candidates outside of the existing Eagles staff members, especially considering the importance of loyalty in the mind of DeFilippo who has no problem following his instincts.  There has been no official word at present, but the possibility has begun to gain some traction in the press and the Blogosphere.  Whether anything comes of these rumors remains to be seen.

Oh, and the BasketVols lost to Gonzaga in overtime, snapping the Vols’ 37-game winning streak.  That pretty much sucked.

Up next, the Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday at noon—likely without Tyler Smith (sigh…).  As is my usual practice (and time permitting), I plan on jumping in the game open thread over at Rocky Top Talk—if you haven’t participated in one in the past, they are fun and you should give it a try.  Tell Joel I sent you.

I should post more on Bruce and the Barbarians (as well as the fact that Pat Summitt is only five games away from her 1,000th win), but—as I said from the outset—I’m still in catch-up mode.  We should be in full basketball mode here at the Gate by sometime next week.

Until then…

Go Vols, Beat the Bulldogs!

– Go Figure …

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Yes, I’m Still Here

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

Miss Me?

Those of you who normally visit us here at the Gate will obviously noticed that, well, I have been non-existent since Thanksgiving. No lawvol did not ban me, change my password and lock me out of WordPress, and I have not quit blogging or anything else.

Simply put, I’ve had to finish up this semester with finals and studying and all that nonsense. Then there was the painting of our apartment, which is more than likely what I was doing when I wasn’t studying. As it is, I’m back in Memphis for the between-semester break.

Quite a bit has gone on since my last posting, and I’m sure I’ll have more on these things and others as they come about over the next however long. As it is here’s what I’ll touch on right here and right now with Vols football and hoops:

1. Farewill Philip Fulmer and hello Lane (and Monte) Kiffin.

Some Vol fan might have shed a tear or two, but I was all smiles of happiness watching Fulmer go out the way he did and the way he should be remembered: a winner

First off, an absolutely great performance in the season finale for the Vols as they beat Kentucky 28-10. The defense finished off an excellent season and the offense actually scored four touchdowns, running left, right, up the middle, around the end, all over the Cats. Even Jonathan Crompton completed that beautiful touchdown pass to Denarius Moore.

If there was a way for Coach Fulmer to go out, that might have been it: being carried off the field by a pair of seniors going out as a winner.

Honestly, that seems like a distant memory now, because these last two weeks have been all about new head coach Lane Kiffin and (a) the speculation of the staff he might/is assemble/ing and (b) the Sherman like march of recruiting. I think the guy finally returned to Knoxville a couple of days ago after tearing through the state, the West Coast, Ohio, and who knows where else. He’s gotten a commitment from Eric Gordon, some visits from guys who weren’t probably planning on it, and consideration from guys who might have had Tennessee out of the picture.

I am convinced Lane Kiffin did not sleep during his two week recruiting tear...

It’s obviously been two weeks as Tennessee’s coach, but so far so good if you ask me. He said at his press conference that he was going to try and outwork other coaches, and so far you can’t really say he hasn’t done that. And we’re still waiting on the completion of his staff, which won’t happen until after the NFL season most likely. Of the last regime coaches who are still in limbo, I would expect Latrell Scott to be the most likely to stay. And of course I think it’s all-but-official on Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator, which is great. Still awaiting word on Ed Orgeron and the rest of the staff. Lane was given an extra million for staff salaries, and Tennessee fans are being kept waiting on the potentially all-star staff Tennessee could have next year.

Finally, as fans, let’s give this guy a chance. If you watched the SEC Championship game, you realize we are quite a bit behind Florida. In fact, I firmly believe that the SEC going forward will be an Urban-Saban world that the rest of us will be living in. To be competitive, Tennessee was going to have to hire someone who could compete with those two guys in recruiting and X’s and O’s. Is Lane Kiffin that guy? Only time will tell. Some are skeptical (you know who you are), but I’m not. He’s young, he’s energetic, and I think he has a chance to be great.

Also, a shout-out to former offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, now the new head man at Bowling Green. Seriously, I wish him much success at his new place, and I’m glad he landed very much on his feet. Now I just hope he doesn’t take Latrell Scott with him…

2. Eric Berry gets Manninged

Someone explain to me how Eric Berry didn’t win the Thorpe award over Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins. I know Jenkins is like a no-brainer first round NFL pick and whatever and it’s harder to make a statistical impact at corner because you don’t get thrown to blah blah blah but that’s pure robbery.

It’s crap like that gives me plenty of reason to not care about any of the postseason awards, including and especially the Heisman. Call me a homer, bitter, whatever, but just like much of the rest of college football, it’s quite political.

Playing a DECEMBER road game against a team with a guy named Christmas: bad idea

3. Not sure any of us expected that

My last basketball related words were of the high-praise variety, following the Vols win over Georgetown in the Old Spice Classic semifinals. Since then, Tennessee lost to a good Gonzaga team, sleep-walked by UNC-Asheville (mad props to Tyler Smith for turning the first triple-double in Tennessee hoops history), and got smoked by a Temple team playing at a high level at home.

Now I’m an optimistic guy, so here’s why Vols fans shouldn’t be totally freaking out: first, J.P. Prince was out and, though he gets a bad rap at times, he is quite a valuable guy for Tennessee. In addition, this was Tennessee’s first true road game with a number of new guys, Temple is no slouch, it’s still December, and Bruce Pearl is the coach. Remember two years ago when Tennessee went to South Carolina in mid-February and got run out of the gym similar to Saturday? Yeah, that team had less athleticism and they reached the Sweet 16. Let’s not get too bent out of shape here…

That said, things aren’t all hunky-dory. Defense is an issue. The press has been for the most part ineffective especially against Gonzaga and Temple, both of whom have experienced guards. Wayne Chism has yet to continue the growth and progress he made last year, and the platoon of him and Brian Williams have struggled the last couple of games. The three-point shooting has also been inconsistent.

It doesn’t get easier, as Tennessee faces off against Marquette in Nashville Tuesday night. The Eagles also have experienced guards in Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. It will be interesting to see how Tennessee will bounce back from Saturday’s loss.

I will be in the house for that game, and if for no other reason, Tennessee should win because I’ve seen Tennessee lose in person all of twice in my most immediate past: LSU in the SEC Tournament two years ago and the loss at Memphis State in Bruce’s first year. I’ll have my camera, so hopefully I’ll get some quality photos and/or video and get to share them with you, the wonderful readers of Gate 21 (no guarantees, however…)

As it is, I’m glad to be back posting again and lawvol and I should have some good stuff going this month.

Images Courtesy of: Michael Patrick / KNSMichael Patrick / KNSH. Rumph Jr. / AP (

Postgame Thoughts: Northern Illinois 9 — Tennessee 13

You know, improvement is a funny thing…

Sometimes you have to take a step or two backwards before you can begin moving forwards.  This weekend we saw a little of both—improvement and stepping backwards.  Either way, it was a win—a really, really, ugly win, but a win nonetheless.

Now that I am finally feeling a bit better physically—having shucked the plague I had for the better part of last week—here are a few random thoughts on the Vols’ play against Northern Illinois.

Nick Stephens:

Stephens looked capable in his first start.

Well, Nick Stephens isn’t going to win All-America or All-SEC honors this year, but what he showed as the starting quarterback this weekend was heartening.  First, he showed focus at all times.  While he did make a few first-start gaffs, on the whole his head was in the game the entire time.  Second, he showed heart and determination.  There was never a moment when he seemed to simply be going through the motions.  In short, this game really mattered to him.

Stephens will only improve as he starts getting all of snaps in practice with the first team.  So long as he does not become complacent, he can really help improve the offense.  Fundamentals are the key to success and it seemed Stephens was focusing on the basics in his play versus the Huskies—nothing flashy, nothing unusual, just clean snaps, clean handoffs, clean passes.  He also showed something that has not been seen since Erik Ainge played his last down in January—a long-ball threat with reliable accuracy.  That could really come in handy down the road.

In summary, Stephens did not wow me with his playmaking abilities—which is good.  He did his job, played his role, played within his abilities, and apparently impressed some of his teammates with his focus and determination.  He smartly decided to save the swagger until he has earned the right to strut.  More importantly, he showed that he deserves to be the one and only quarterback for the foreseeable future.  Nice game, Nick, keep up the good work.

Now why is it again he didn’t come in against Auburn?  Never mind, don’t answer that question…

The Defense:

Well, from a “style” perspective, it was hardly their best game of the season, but it was by no means a poor showing by the Tennessee defensive unit.  In fact, as has been the case in every game this season—the defense did enough to win the game.  While the Northern Illinois receivers did seem to find more room for catches than they should have, and the defensive line was not dominated by the Vols, in the end they did what they had to do.  They did not allow a touchdown—and have only allowed a single touchdown in two games.  They held Northern Illinois to 190 total yards (72 rushing / 118 passing) and they did their job.

Again, Nevin McKenzie, Rico McCoy, and Eric Berry seemed to be everywhere on the field on defense combining for 23 tackles (McKenzie-9, McCoy-8, Berry-6), and Berry made another gamebreaking play with a 48 yard interception return which put the Vols in position to score a field goal in the second quarter.

The defense has proven that it can be depended upon…

The Offense:

The offensive line continues to leave me scratching my head…

The offensive line continues to allow penetration far more often than they should.  I realize that Erik Ainge—who was more than willing to dump the ball into the seats if he felt pressure—is no longer calling the signals, but this offensive line should not be allowing defenders to harass the quarterback the way they do.  This line is too strong, too fast, too talented, and too experienced for this sort play.  I understand that this is not the same team as last year, but the level of play from this squad has been severely lacking this year.  Their poor play allowed the sack and fumble at just under 4:00 mark in the third quarter.

If Nick Stephens is going to have a chance to get the offense going, then the offensive line is going to have to do their jobs and protect the quarterback…

The running game—which looked so promising earlier in the season—apparently did not dress out for this weekend’s game.  Tennessee racked up a net of 69 yards on 32 rushing attempts (2.15 avg per carry).  While Arian Foster managed 76 total yards, neither he nor Montario Hardesty really managed to run the ball effectively.  It was disappointing that Lennon Creer did not get any carries.

The receiving corps did enough to win, but not much more.  Denarius Moore, however, had a nice showing with 3 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.  As with the running backs, this unit needs to work a little harder to give their new quarterback some bigger more effective targets throughout the game.

More importantly, when the ball gets thrown to them, it would be most helpful if they would catch it…


I’ll give the coaching staff—most notably the Great Punkin and Dave Clawson—a little credit for making the call to give Stephens the start.  I just wish they had reached this decision a little sooner.  To the extent that Mike Hamilton had anything to do with this, I’ll give him credit too.  Still, the offense continues to look ragged, even with the quarterback change.  This unit simply has to improve or the upcoming contests against the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide are going to be long, hateful, and humiliating experiences.

Furthermore, it is high time for every position to be up for grabs…

On the defensive side of the ball, while—like many—I do not always agree with some of the defensive play calling, it is hard to criticize a unit which seems to play together as well as the defensive squad does, especially in the face of such poor performances by the offense.

Final Thoughts:

This game was not pretty.  It was ugly.  It was much closer than it should have been.  It was a nail-biter that never should have been.  That said, it is a win.  It is a step forward toward improvement.  I personally think that the decision to give Stephens the start was what made that happen.  Hopefully, that is not the only change the we on-lookers will see going forward.  While this game is hardly one for the ages, it is a building block which can serve as a step toward salvaging the remainder of the season.

Oh yeah, and in case you didn’t notice, none of the remaining games look the slightest bit easy…

If this team and this coaching staff are going to try and make something of this season, then they are going to have to earn it.  With an undefeated Vanderbilt, a Kentucky team that lost to Alabama by three points, and a South Carolina team which won a tough game versus Ole Miss, there are no sure-thing wins left in this season.  Of course, I am ignoring Georgia and Alabama because … well … I think those sort of speak for themselves.  Unlike some, I am not ready to say this team is doomed, but I will say it will be an uphill battle.  I have no doubt that this team has the skills and the players to win, I simply do not know if they will manage to do it.  I hope so.

All I can say is that, after this weekend and the performance of the new starting quarterback, at least I believe it is possible—probably not likely, but possible—which is an improvement over last week.  It’s not much, but at least it’s something…

» Updated: 6 October 2008 –9:53am

There’s a great piece on the Vols continuing woes by Joel, which is worth looking at, along with a similar piece by Holly at Snarktastic.

Check them out…

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

Images Courtesy of: Go Vols Xtra / Saul Young

Will Northern Illinois be a Lesson in Leadership?

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

Running a little behind, still hacking up a lung and sputtering, but moving purposefully…

As I mentioned earlier, the Northern Illinois game will be a watershed event.  That is especially true considering the news coming from the football program today.  Contrary to what most fans and prognosticators may have believed pre-season, this weekend’s game may be the single most important game of the season for the Tennessee Volunteers.

First, if the Tennessee Volunteers are going to turn this season around, it starts this weekend.  On one level, there is the obvious goal of getting another win in a season where those have been increasingly difficult to come by—thereby closing the win/loss gap for the season.  This helps on paper and in terms of respectability, but that sort of thing means nothing unless the team also progresses.

More importantly—in a fundamental sense—this team needs to find its identity, to find its leader…

This team has yet to “find” itself and to define its persona as a team.  At present it has two distinct and different identities, reflective of the fact that it is essentially two different teams.  On one hand, the defense—though not perfect—has shown its mettle as a hard-knocks, full-tilt, never quit squad of young men.  This is especially true in the case of Eric Berry and Rico McCoy—two of the more visible leaders for the defensive unit, which has been solid since the start.  This defensive unit has has refused to concede anything, even when facing near-impossible odds.  The defense has come ready to play.

The old adage is that “offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.”  I believe this to be true, but there are always extremes which serve as exceptions to the rule.  Thus far, the 2008 Vols are such an exception.  Actually, that is not entirely true.  When the offense takes care of its business, then defense wins games.  Some semblance of an offense is required if a team is going to succeed.  The defense, to its credit, has not engaged in finger-pointing, but must be getting tired of making excuses for the lack of offensive production.

In my opinion (which mean nothing) the defense has done enough to win all of the games this year—especially versus the UCLA Bruins and Auburn Tigers…

The offense, however, has really failed to do its part from the very start.  The offense does not seem to have improved at all as the season has progressed and a fair argument can be made that it has actually gotten worse.  For the record, I do not blame Offensive Coordinator Dave Clawson for this.  While I am hardly an authority, I do not think we have even begun to see the real face of the “Clawfense.”  I simply do not feel that he has had a chance, or the players, needed to give his changes “legs” on which to run.

No, the reason for this lack of leadership on offense is not due to coaching, but in the lack of players stepping forward to lead the team.  While I agree that coaches can and should help mold leaders, I do not believe that they can simply create them out of nothing.  Real leadership ability comes from within.  Thus far, it seems that the Tennessee coaching staff has found no one who has both the desire and the ability to lead on offense.

It is obvious that Jonathan Crompton wants to be a leader—or that he believes himself to be one—but the fact is that he has yet to show the ability lead.  Does he have what it takes?  Perhaps, but I am not going to pretend that I actually know.  What I will say is that, based upon his performance on the field he has not yet shown it.

To be effective, those being “led” must believe that their leader will help propel them to victory—this is true in any endeavor, football or otherwise.  Part for showing that ability is shouldering the load, part is walking the talk, part is putting team before self.  So far, Crompton has seemed more focused on “being the guy” in title, than he has been on “being the guy” in fact.  That is not to say he cannot rise to the occasion, just a recognition that so fare he has not.  In fairness to Crompton, no one else on offense has exactly stepped-up either.

Given the fact that, it has been announced that sophomore Nick Stephens will start this weekend at quarterback, it seems apparent that the Great Punkin agrees…

Traditionally, leadership comes through experience.  This year, however, sophomore Eric Berry has shown that is not always true, as he has grabbed hold of the mantle of leadership for the defense.  Perhaps, another sophomore—Stephens—will do the same for the offense.  While this season will likely not be a championship year for the Vols, it has yet to be determined what the ultimate legacy is for this team.  Could this season be the start of the next era of Tennessee football—albeit a bit bumpy from the outset—or will it devolve into a disaster on the order of “The Season of Which we do not Speak (2005).

Is Stephens ready to lead?

Is Stephens ready to lead?

For my part, I am not looking for the Vols to be world-beaters this year.  I am, however, looking for improvement each week.  I am looking for this team to take steps toward the future.  I am looking for purpose.

More importantly, I am looking for this team to actually become a team—not simply a defense and an offense who happen to wear the same color jerseys…

The defense is doing its part.  It is now up to the offense to “find itself,” for its leader to step forward and meet the defense half way.  Either way, this week’s game against the Huskies will like be either one more step toward failure or the first game of a new season.  I hope the orange-clad faithful will put their issues with the coaches aside and support this team—and its new quarterback—fully.  Though I understand the frustrations that Vol fans are feeling, I personally believe the fans owe that to this team and Nick Stephens.

This season is not over—not by a long shot.  For Nick Stephens, the season is only just starting.  For the rest of Orange Nation, this season officially starts over on Saturday night.

Sometimes in life we learn by trial and error—this can be true in any setting.  Sometimes we learn as much from failure—sometimes more—than we do from success.  I have a feeling that Nick Stephens will be focused, first and foremost, on doing what he needs to do to win.  Succeed in mastering the basics, and Stephens will have taken a huge step toward showing everyone that he is ready.  For Nick Stephens’ sake, for Phillip Fulmer, Dave Clawson, Eric Berry, for this team, for each and every person who wears the orange and wears it proudly, I hope we discover who is ready to lead.

I also hope we learn from the mistakes of those who were not…

Go Vols, Beat the Huskies!!!

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

Image Courtesy of: UT / the University of Tennessee

That Makes Two

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

Post-Auburn Thoughts: Coming Upon the Unknown

The view from Section 37, Row 62 of Jordan-Hare Stadium

I honestly think a blow out would have been a better way to lose.

Going into this game, I had very low expectations for the Vols. With all the negativity and Auburn coming off a home loss, I wasn’t liking to Vols’ chances Saturday afternoon. A number of really good friends of mine from high school go to Auburn, so I was more or less looking forward to that aspect of my trip down to The Plains, and not-so-much to the game. However…

To be blunt, this loss really really hurt(s).

More than UCLA. Probably even more than Florida to be honest. I can’t really explain why, either. A road win at a place like Auburn – no matter how ugly – could have potentially changed some things. And you can’t tell me Tennessee should NOT have won that game. Matter of fact, the Vols did everything BUT win the damn thing. Maybe that’s why.

A first down would have done it. Hell, eight yards on a couple drives would have gotten Tennessee into Daniel Lincoln‘s range. Does Auburn’s defense deserve credit? Sure, but it’s no secret as to why Tennessee lost Saturday.

I’m not the type that likes to single out players, but you almost have to pin Saturday’s loss on Jonathan Crompton. A botched handoff (he’s GOT to put the ball in Arian Foster’s chest). Throws 15 yards out-of-bounds when he’s got time to find somebody open. Missed receivers (hello, Josh Briscoe in the corner of the end zone on the two-point conversion). High throws to guys that are open. Miscommunications with receivers. Utter incompetence.

The offensive struggles for Tennessee are no fault of the dangerous Jones

OK, I’ve criticized Crompton. Now for the only positive I can see that he brings – the guy can take a hit or twenty and he always pops right back up. That run on third-and-long on the TD drive comes to mind. He gets hit a lot, but the guy ain’t afraid of getting the crap knocked out of him. That doesn’t help your team win ballgames though, apparently.

Once again, the offense has enough talent to win games – especially one in which the defense and special teams played out of their minds (more on them coming). Dave Clawson isn’t an idiot. This loss? I’m putting it all on Crompton. I don’t dislike the guy as much as Ghost over at 3SIB, but it’s getting closer.

The “receivers aren’t getting separation” argument is garbage. We know Gerald Jones is a stud. You can’t tell me Lucas Taylor isn’t an SEC receiver. Josh Briscoe is a very good slot-type receiver.

The coaches said afterwards they discussed putting Nick Stephens in – THEY SHOULD HAVE. Average QB play wins that game Saturday – likely by a couple scores as well, to be honest. Stephens now gets his chance, and honestly Coach Fulmer would be continuing to dig his own grave if Crompton starts/gets many snaps Saturday night against Northern Illinois.

The only other offensive change that needs to be made for me? Montario Hardesty and Lennon Creer need to get more touches. I like Arian Foster and he’s had a great career, but I don’t hold my breath that he’s going to break a long one. With #2 and #3, I do, simply because they have that ability. We know about Hardesty’s power, and we saw his speed on the sweep he scored on. Creer doesn’t fear hitting the hole. He don’t dance. On one play in the fourth quarter, he dragged four Auburn players about four yards. GET THESE GUYS THE BALL!

Give Hardesty and Creer more touches PLEASE

One word describes the defensive effort Saturday: swarming. Granted Auburn’s offense is terribly bad and obviously predictable, but the defense dominated. Dan Williams was huge. The young DEs Chris Walker and Ben Martin played very, very well. Ellix Wilson may be the most important player to this defense, including Eric Berry. Wilson’s injury status is still up-in-the-air as far as I know, but the play didn’t look so good on TV when I watched the game replay. We even adjusted to Kodi Burns when Auburn foolishly threw him out there (everyone and their mother knew he wasn’t throwing).

Gerald Williams finally saw the field and made his presence known. I know he had a personal foul penalty, but the guy needs to be out there. You can in no way blame the defense at all for Saturday’s loss. Much like ’05, you give up 7 points, you should win that game. I know that one last stop on third down would have been ideal, but seriously, they did that all day and the offense blew it over and over again.

No, Adam Myers-White, there is nothing more you and the Tennessee defense could have done for a W...

Even our special teams won the day. Chad Cunningham must have been threatened with death at halftime, because he was ridiculously good in the second half, after a pitiful first half. As I’ve said before, Gerald Jones has big-play ability and almost took one back for six.

Honestly, I’m more optimistic now than I was this time last week, even after this hurtful loss. Tennessee could very, VERY easily be 3-1. For some reason, Nick Stephens gives me hope. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s because there isn’t any with Jonathan Crompton running this offense. He may not even start, but the unknown he brings and the possibility he even might has me hopeful. Do I think Tennessee beats Georgia and/or Alabama? Not really, but that potential unknown with Stephens/no more Crompton makes me wonder. I don’t expect Stephens to be the next Peyton Manning or anything remotely close, but can anybody really be worse than what Tennessee has had now?

The past two Auburn games I’ve attended have been wins for the Warring TigerEagles (Tennessee in ’03 and Florida in ’06), so I’ve seen that campus after a W. No I didn’t go to Toomer’s Corner to see them roll a tree, but you would not have thought the Tigers had won Saturday. The mood was somber (I heard almost no “War Eagle!”s). Whether it was because they knew Tennessee should have won or that they have a plethora of issues themselves (or maybe they had just woken up from getting put to sleep…), I don’t know.

But walking around the campus after the game, I was proud to be a Vol fan Saturday night. Amidst all the negativity around Tennessee football, the players came out and played emotional, inspired football. They left it all out there. They played well enough to win – it just didn’t happen. As they headed to the tunnel to the locker room below me, I applauded them. Why? They deserved it. Hopefully they will be able to put it all together and win a big game or two and finish out the season respectfully. We all may want Coach Fulmer gone, but we certainly don’t want to see Tennessee lose.

Do I still think Tennessee needs a coaching change? Of course. But it wasn’t the coaching staff’s fault Saturday. I know you can say they should have benched Crompton, but honestly, you expect even him to be able to get you a first down when that’s about all you need to win the game. You could have put me at QB and even might have been to go through my progressions and make a throw on target to my receiver to get a first down

I say let the Nick Stephens era BEGIN!!

Images Courtesy of: Butch Dill / AP (Daylife)
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