Posts Tagged ‘Northern Illinois Huskies’

Big Orange Roundtable: Revived Edition

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

It’s Baaaaaaaaaacckkkkkk!!

As a result of the disappointing 2-3 start for our beloved Vols, the Roundtable for a week (and longer here ate Gate 21) sort of died, much like our hopes for a great season.

While our hopes are slim none, the Roundtable treads on, thanks to CincyVol over at 3SIB, who offers up a trio of questions this week for our reading and enjoyment. Perhaps we can inspire our Vols as they travel to Athens this weekend, where I don’t care how bad we we are, I hope we beat the snot out of UGA and their crap fans. More on that later today…

Anyways, here are the questions, and my answers (hopefully lawvol can stop by and leave his answers as well)…

Much has been made of Nick Stephens and his performance Saturday. Give your opinion on the job he did and what you think is in store for his future.

Improvement? Yes, but I will wait for the Georgia game to pass judgment on the play of Nick Stephens

I’ll go ahead and go on about my entire NIU thoughts while answering this question. OK, Nick Stephens was better, and you can’t deny that fact. However, the offense still scored just 13 points, but I attribute that to the poor offensive line play, which I attribute to Vlad Richard’s absence (we run well when he plays). With no running game and an iffy pass rush, Stephens did well, and lo and behold we threw the ball down the field. Hope there’s more of that…

Before we all get too excited, it was Northern Illinois. The rest of our schedule – save Wyoming – are much stiffer competition than the pesky Huskies. Stephens has been better than Jonathan Crompton, but we’ll see, starting in Athens this Saturday and the rest of October. The jury’s still out for me.

The other issues with our offense: Montario Hardesty and Lennon Creer need more touches. I said this last week. Problem is, so did the coaches. And Creer carried the ball as many times as I did, and I was on the front row (almost caught an errant Husky pass too).

I like Arian Foster. He’s just not our best option. Against NIU, he can get it done (he has scored 6 TDs on UGA the past two years…), but SEC defense are all over him. Hardesty is physical and doesn’t tip-toe. Creer has the scary good mix of power and speed. I’ve said this before as well, why not put two of them in at once? Novel concept…

People have said our WRs aren’t good enough/can’t get separation/blah blah blah, and that’s garbage. Do we have Plaxico Burresses (the top WR on my fantasy team) running around? No. But Lucas Taylor was a 1,000-yard guy. Briscoe works well in the slot. Denarius Moore needs more looks. He’s a deep threat, pretty much the only WR Tennessee has with that ability.

Defensively, I love the effort. I know NIU lost their starting QB and were limited, but this D is playing well. Hopefully Ellix Wilson will be 100% for this weekend…

As Eric Berry continues to impress what do you think is the greatest part of his game?

Eric Berry owns. He’s everywhere. You’ve seen my avatar. How he didn’t take that pick Saturday night to the house I’ll never know. He probably can’t believe he didn’t take it. Dude’s really, really good. I do wanna see him on offense, just once. Just once.

Like Tyler Donovan, I have no clue how UCLA WR Taylor Embree survived getting smacked by #14

To specifically answer the question, I love every aspect of his game. He just makes plays. When he does get his hands on the ball, my first thought every time is that he’s going to score. And it’s going to awesome. And make SportsCenter’s Top 10. He’s an incredible talent.

Britton Colquitt returns from suspension this week, so saying that, how big of a difference will he have on the special teams part of the game?

Finally, it won’t take 5 seconds for Tennessee to get a punt off. Chad Cunningham had some great kicks, but he was terribly slow. Hence the block at UCLA (though it doesn’t matter if you don’t block any rushers) and the partial block NIU had Saturday night. Also, I hope Britton kicks every kickoff – the few we have every game – into the tenth row in the endzones. Since we’re likely gonna be punting more than kicking off with our offensive deficiencies, he’s a potential game-changer in terms of reversing field position. Obviously that didn’t work (see Auburn), but I gotta think the offense is going to improve at some point.

Here’s the other participating members for the Roundtable this week. Enjoy!

- 3rd Saturday
- Curveballs For Jesus
- Losers With Socks

Images Courtesy of: Wade Payne / AP (Daylife)Harry How / Getty Images (Daylife)

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

On Remote: Slim Pickings…

The View From the Hill | Gate 21

And Last Week Was So Good Too…

Last week had everything that makes college football great: big-time matchups, conference rivalry games, upsets, and close games. As we enter the first week in October (already?!?), things slow down a bit before a big weekend next Saturday.

Simply put, when ESPN’s College GameDay is heading to Nashville, you know things aren’t so good elsewhere. Seriously, what is the world coming to??

September has been weird. Florida, USC, and Georgia – the summer media darlings – have lost already. Alabama is up to #-freakin’-2.  Five non-BCS teams – BYU, Utah, Boise State, Ball State, and Tulsa – are undefeated. Also unbeaten: Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Kentucky. Duke is 3-1.

Oh, and our beloved Vols are 1-3 with the Dawgs and Tide coming up in the next month…

This weekend lacks the big name games, but like I’ve said before weeks like this one in the past, it’s still college football. There’s always possibilities for upsets and anything can happen any given weekend.

Plenty enough reason for me to pay attention…

SEC Football | Gate 21
SEC Games

Florida at Arkansas (12:00, RayCom): Oops, Gators. You fail. Stunned at home by previously 0-9 in-their-last-nine-SEC-games Ole Miss last Saturday, the Gates pick up the pieces and head to Fayetteville to face easily the worst team in the league. For all the love Urban Meyer has been getting, he’s 6-4 in his last 10 SEC games. With Tim Tebow. With Percy Harvin. And I’m positive he still hasn’t thanked Ron Zook for that defensive line he was given to win the ’06 Title…

Gators = FAIL

The Gators still are the favorites to win the East by default (seriously, Vandy won’t last, Georgia’s banged-up something fierce with that schedule, and Tennessee, well…), so I seriously doubt Arkansas gets them.

South Carolina at Ole Miss (2:00): Believe it or not, this game is not on TV – at least that I can find. OK, Houston Nutt, you beat Florida in the Swamp. Be careful, Carolina’s capable of beating you in a slugfest. This should be the best front the Rebels have seen, so how effective will their “Wild Rebel” or whatever-it’s-called formation be? Still, with the issues on the Gamecock offensive line and with whoever the QB is (Smelley? Beecher? Garcia?), I think the Ole Miss D-line with Peria Jerry and Greg Hardy wreaks havoc. Two even teams, but I like Ole Miss.

Careful, Houston: a loss to struggling South Carolina would all but negate that win at Florida last Saturday

Kentucky at Alabama (3:30, CBS): Prepare to meet reality, Wildcats. You’re 4-0, but you’ve beaten two Sun Belt teams (including MTSU literally by a yard), a JV League team that lost to UConn, and Norfolk State. Safe to say, Tuscaloosa is a step-up, especially with the lack of an offense UK will bring. Kentucky’s defense could keep them in it because John Parker Wilson is always good for a bad game every now and then, but that still may not be enough.

Tide fans hope they get past UK to their bye week, where they will all be in burnt orange to cheer for Texas to beat Oklahoma so the Tide can move up to #1…VOMIT…

Auburn at Vanderbilt (6:00, ESPN2) Auburn could easily be 1-3 in the SEC, but their defense (and Jonathan Crompton) have bailed them out. Vanderbilt has been winning with defense and not making mistakes (novel concept, eh?). I still can’t believe GameDay is going to this game. Not only is it Vanderbilt, but it should the first to 14 points wins, which could still take til Sunday. Hello, low-scoring, defensive struggle…

I’m not sure who wins this game. I wanna say Vandy because Auburn’s offense straight-up sucks. I wanna say Auburn because Vandy is still Vandy. Both have been good in close games this year. Vandy’s playing at “home,” but I guess I’ll go with Auburn, though Vandy’s gonna get two wins elsewhere…

Northern Illinois at Tennessee (7:00): For a team trying out a new QB (or at least I hope and pray that’s what we’re doing), this game sets up well before the three-week gauntlet that lies ahead. Most fans want to see Nick Stephens start and B.J. Coleman. Most fans don’t care who starts, they just want Jonathan Crompton on the bench with a clipboard. Many fans don’t even care enough to show up. Other than Stephens, what I’m most interested to see? The attendance. Me? I’ll be there in Neyland Stadium Saturday night. Abandoning one’s team is cowardly. I’m a student, I’m supposed to go to football games. This certainly doesn’t hurt…

Front row at Neyland Stadium is still front row at Neyland Stadium...

Those of you forking out the $$ to watch it on PPV, look for me! I’ll be in orange. Seriously though, this NIU team isn’t UAB. The Huskies got beat at Minnesota by a TD with 22 seconds left, lost by three at Western Michigan (ask Iowa about the Broncos), and have scored 85 points their last two games behind a pretty strong rushing attack. Just sayin’…


Tonight: Screw that JV League clash between Pitt and USF, the game to keep your eye on is Oregon State at Utah. The Utes try to keep their BCS hopes alive by hosting the team that beat USC last week. Methinks Utah wins…

The NEW Weekly Duke Update: Oh, what the hell. Duke is 3-1. Go Devils! Something positive for Vol fans: a former coach who’s done a great deal of things for Tennessee, gets his second head coaching chance at Duke, and has already having success (three wins at Duke = success). Why not pay attention? Coach Cut and Company play at Georgia Tech Saturday.

If you like Big Ten football: I feel sorry for you, er, I mean you can watch Illinois at Michigan (3:30, ABC) and later Ohio State at Wisconsin. Please Badgers, get the Buckeyes completely out of the picture…

You Pac-10 types: Arizona State is at Cal, USC tries their luck at home against Oregon’s other team (Go Ducks!), Stanford plays at Notre Dame, and UCLA might actually win another game – they play Washington State, who’s given up 66 and 63 points in their two league losses…

A pair of Big 12 games to eye: Texas Tech finally starts their season when they travel to play at Kansas State, who sucks because they lost to a JV League team (Louisville). Oklahoma State’s still undefeated, and they host Texas A&M. And Saturday night, Bo Pelini and Nebraska gets chance #2 at winning a big home game, when Missouri visits. My friends hate on me because I’m fully on the Tigers’ bandwagon (hey, I almost went there), but they’re really good. Chase Daniel is really good. Nebraska won’t stop that offense. Mizzou rolls.


Images Courtesy of: Phil Sandlin / AP (Daylife) John Raoux / AP (Daylife)

Big Orange Roundtable: Week 4

King for the week!  This week’s Roundtable is hosted here at Gate 21

Oh, to be in Camelot!!!

Having, as Joel put it, taken the the sword from Rocky Top Talk — pointy-end first — and due to a complete lack of standards, this week’s Big Orange Roundtable is being hosted here at Gate 21.

At present the roundtable includes: 3rd Saturday in Blogtober, Fulmer’s Belly, Gate 21, Rocky Top Talk, Loser With Socks, the World According to MoonDog (a/k/a MoonDog Sports), The Power T, Your Mother Slept With Wilt Chamberlain, and the SouthEastern Sports Blog. If you’d like to join, feel free to let us know.

In furtherance of our quest for the answers to life’s burning questions — at least respecting the Tennessee Volunteers, here are this week’s questions — courtesy of your truly — along with my particularly meaningless answers.

Week 4

(Questions in Sort-o-Teal-like color)

1) Thus far we’ve made a number of predictions for the 2008 Vols.  Now, let’s take the next step: What are your pre-season predictions for each of Tennessee’s regular season games this year (along with any explanations you feel are needed)?



(Home Games in Bold)

Win or Loss


1 Sept



Tennessee leads for majority of game.  Wins easily after Eric Berry shreds UCLA offensive threats.

Final Score:  28 – 7

13 Sept



UAB stays close until mid-way through 2nd Quarter.  Vols stretch their legs in 2nd half.

Final Score:  41 – 14

20 Sept



Florida scores early in the 1st and quiets the crowd.  Vols close the gap, but turnovers kill them in the 2nd half in a close game.

Final Score:  28 – 24

27 Sept



Teams stay close throughout first 3 quarters.  Auburn makes key stops in fourth and capitalizes to win in defensive struggle.

Final Score:  13 – 9

4 Oct

Northern Illinois


After 2 tough losses, Vols enjoy beating up on a less talented team.

Final Score:  38 – 3

11 Oct



Despite pre-season talk of national championship.  Vols “upset” Georgia.  It will not be the Dawg’s only loss.

Final Score:  21 -14

18 Oct

Mississippi State


Scrappy Miss. State team fights to the wire.  Vols come away with a victory — barely — thanks to Daniel Lincoln‘s foot.

Final Score:  20 – 17

25 Oct



Tide comes out raring to go, but so does Tennessee’s defense.  It is close at halftime, but not at the end of the 3rd quarter.

Final Score:  28 – 10

1 Nov

South Carolina


Vols use South Carolina’s lack of discipline on offense to kill the Gamecocks.  Spurrier wears a pink tu-tu in the 2nd half as a motivational tool — it fails.

Final Score:  35 – 17

8 Nov



Vols give Wyoming’s unconventional offense a lesson on why it’s called “unconventional” — because it only works on rare occasions.

Final Score:  31 – 7

22 Nov



At halftime, Tennessee leads by 3 points.  When Vols score in the 3rd period, both of Vandy’s fans leave.  From there the Vols widen the gap.

Final Score:  21 – 10

29 Nov



It’s cold and nasty as Kentucky takes one in the chops.  Unfortunately, their fans realize the whole “wait till basketball season” thing simply doesn’t work anymore.

Final Score:  28 – 7

Those are my pre-season thoughts, and like all pre-season predictions, they are utterly meaningless…

2) Gameday routines, we all have them.  What are your gameday rituals, especially those that are completely irrational, grounded in baseless superstition, or otherwise defy explanation?

Well, as I recounted in Week 2, my gameday ritual is one which includes a lot of driving, and little time for tailgating.  Thus, I suppose my gamedays are a little less “ritualistic” than some.  Still, I have my tried and tested routines which I tend to stick to closely.

Since Sam & Andy’s closed, I generally eat my pre-game meal at Smokey’s in the University Center — It’s not grand faire, but at least the lines aren’t that long.  As a general rule, I don’t eat much before a game — especially big games — due to the fact that I’d just as soon not end up spending my time in the Neyland Stadium bathrooms, remodeled or not.

As a general rule, I rarely drink any alcohol on gamedays — not because I’m a teetotaler, but because I find it is generally ill-advised to show up to the stadium “overcome by a multitude of circumstances.“  I have never favored drinking before a game — mainly because I want to be able to remember the game.  There have, however, been a few games which have made me wish I had gotten knee-crawlin’ drunk before kickoff, if only to dull the pain, and to encourage explosive projectile vomiting on opposing fans.

My biggest tradition is that I smoke a big nasty cigar before each game, and — if we win — one afterwards.  This is really the only time I smoke at all.  I do realize that they take years off your life, but they are the ones at the end, and they aren’t any good anyway.  Besides, people tend to get out of your way and run for cover when you have a flaming stick protruding from your mouth which smells like smoldering death.  I guess I blame Doctor Julian, and his constant cigar smoking for that one.

Oh!  What’s that Hell you’re playing?

Dr. W.J. Julian, Director of Bands Emeritus

After I have incinerated my taste buds, I usually wait for the Pride of the Southland to do their “Salute to the Hill” and enter the stadium.  I waited for the Vol Walk once — in 2002 — but after seeing Casey Clausen come pimp-strutting by wearing a suit the color of something that came out of a baby’s diaper, immediately before getting annihilated by Florida, I’ve skipped it.

Once inside the stadium, I loudly heckle Bobby Denton as he announces the line-ups.  It is interesting how skillfully he can butcher some of the names — despite the fact there are printed pronunciations in the media guide.

Then I settle back and enjoy watching inattentive fans take footballs in the head as the kicking team warms up, before settling in for a 4-hour battle — my lucky towel always tucked in my belt.

Since they added them to the concessions at the game, I usually eat a Petro at some point in the game, mainly because I love those things…

Hmmm, now that I think about it, I’m pretty white-bread…

3) Crompton vs. Tebow?   Discuss…

This is naturally one of the hot topics this year as the “Straight Outta Crompton” era begins.  The similarities between these two quarterbacks are striking — both have the ability to throw on you, and both have the willingness and the skills to run straight at opposing defenses.  Obviously, Tim Tebow has experience on his side, and a trophy which — according to some — has elevated him to the status of deity.  By the same token, Jonathan Crompton has a fearlessness which Tebow has never really seemed to demonstrate.

Tebow managed 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in 2007, and broke pretty much every record for running quarterbacks.  I question, however, whether that was as much a function of his innate abilities as it was Florida’s willingness to sellout on a new offensive scheme which, at the time, was somewhat unconventional.  As their final 9-4 record for 2007 shows, the Florida Gators were very beatable (apparently just not by Tennessee).  The biggest weakness for the Florida offense last year was the running backs — they really didn’t have one.  Tebow, who runs like a fullback, is at his best running when in close quarters, either up the middle, or on sweeps and draws.  As we all know he has exhibited great speed and elusive moves, and is a serious threat on any play.  Still, at times his decision making has essentially rendered Florida’s offense one-dimensional.  Saint Tebow versus the world.  Furthermore, while Tebow ran like a madman throughout the season, he did so at a price — suffering several injuries which hampered his production.

Crompton, on the other hand, is still somewhat of an unknown.  As he made clear while filling in for Erik Ainge in 2006, he has a cannon of an arm.  Like a cannon, however, sometimes his aim is … well … not what it could be.  That said, with an extra year of experience under his belt, it would seem likely that his throwing abilities could have only improved.  As I said previously, I have some concerns about his mental game — whether he has the discipline to make smart decisions in choosing his receivers and his routes.  By the same token, Crompton has a running style which really defies explanation when it comes to running quarterback.  at 6’4″, 220″, he has the size of Fullback, but runs more like a traditional running back.  His absolute lack of fear while running — including his complete willingness to drop his head and plant a helmet in the chest of tacklers, makes him seem more threatening in the open field than Tebow.  The speed and agility he has shown in the past makes him a serious threat in the open field, albeit less so between the tackles.  If, Crompton has stepped up to the next level and is mentally prepared, he could be an absolute terror this season — especially under the tuteledge of new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.  Furthermore, thus far it has seemed that Crompton has a greater potential to burn defenses with the long ball while passing than Tebow, but — again — his track record is limited and it is hard to say for certain.

In the end, we probably don’t have enough information to make a fair comparison between the two … yet.  Hopefully, Crompton will come out full force from the start.  That said with both a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator, it is likely that there will be some miscues in the early games.  By the midpoint of the season, however, I strongly believe that Crompton has the potential to be every bit as good as Tebow.

Needless to say, I am seriously looking forward to seeing them go head-to-head when they meet on 20 September.

4) Will the Vols manage to make it to the SEC Championship Game again this season — either outright, or through the backdoor?  Why or why not?

Well, in all honesty, the Vols probably never should have been anywhere near Atlanta for the SEC Championship game last year.  Still, when it came down to it, they earned the trip and were one boneheaded pass away from potentially beating the LSU Tigers.  Thus, I guess they were better than most gave them credit for.

Be that as it may, I think it is highly unlikely that the Vols make the return trip this year.  Though it pains me to say it, I have Florida picked to go to the Championship from the SEC East to play either LSU or Auburn.  I believe that Tennessee — being the perpetual bridesmaid — will finish second, just ahead of a 2-conference loss Georgia (with the tie going to Tennessee due to a head-to-head win).  If the Vols manage to somehow beat Florida or Auburn — or miraculously both of them — then that would change things dramatically (as if that were not self-evident).

In the end, I simply think that the offense will be too new this year, and thus will have a difficult time during September.  With new starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton, and a new offensive scheme under Dave Clawson, I simply think it will take the Vols at least half the season to find offensive consistency.  Unfortunately, the Vols schedule (as always) is heavily weighted to the front end.  That means the chance of two early-season conference losses which will effectively knock them out of contention for the SEC East.

That said, they could be hell-on-wheels by 2009…

5) Of all the coaches in the SEC who do you currently consider to be the best?  Why?

I know a lot of folks will say Les Miles, Tommy Tubberville, or maybe even Urban Meyer.  For me, however, I have got to go with Sylvester Croom who has coached the Mississippi State Bulldogs for the last 5 years.  When Croom took over, the Bulldogs were awful — they just plain sucked.  After 3 years of winning only 3 games, however, Croom finally seemed to turn the corner in Starkville in 2007 finishing 8-5 (4-4 SEC) for the season — the first winning season for Miss. State since 2000.

While I realize his win / loss record is not what it could be (17-30 overall) managing to bring the Bulldogs back to respectability is, in my book, a major accomplishment.  Let’s be frank here, it’s called “Stark“ville for a reason.  Recruiting for the Bulldogs is probably as challenging as any other school in the SEC, perhaps with the exception of Vanderbilt.  Yet, somehow, Croom has managed to right the ship and bring the program back from the bowels of football hell.

What’s more, this year’s team returns 14 starters — all of whom were recruited by Croom — and looks to be set to make another strong showing this year.  They should be even better than they were in 2007, and I’d be highly surprised if the Bulldogs don’t end up in a bowl this year.  I have real fear when it comes to the Vols game against the Bulldogs this year.  My only hope is that the boys in orange don’t “overlook” the cowbell clan — if they do, they will lose.

I sincerely hope that Croom keeps building on his successes from 2007 and continues to bring Miss. State back to the forefront of the SEC West.  It’s one thing to win at LSU, Florida, or Auburn — if you can win at Mississippi State, you can win anywhere.

The Rest of the Roundtable:

Having wasted your time on my largely meaningless and insignificant thoughts for this week, go check out what the other roundtablers (who actually know what they are talking about) have to say.  I’ll be updating the links as each new post comes up — that is, unless they all refuse to answer my asinine questions.  Assuming that they do answer the questions and that you do not value the lining of your stomach, feel free to come back on Friday to see the round-up of what everyone had say (In no particular order):

It’s nice to be king, well, at least until they behead you…

– Go Figure …Email lawvol

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