Posts Tagged ‘Robert Neyland’

Introducing “Marching Orders From the General“: 2008 — Week 4

General Robert R. Neyland is perhaps the single most important person in the evolution of Tennessee Football.  His legacy is forever intertwined with the university, the teams, and the fans.  In recognition of his immeasurable contribution, I am pleased to introduce a new feature here at the Gate, “Marching Orders From the General.”  Without further adieu, here is the first installment:


Okay, I have had my day to be negative—to brood and stew over the Tennessee Volunteers' loss to the Florida Gators.

It's now time to be constructive, to analyze, and to look ahead. I know that a lot of the members of the Orange Nation are ready to write this season off.  I am not.  Be that as it may, I cannot ignore what  I witnessed at Neyland Stadium this past weekend.  I have a feeling that, as MoonDog noted, General Neyland would have been sick to his stomach over the Vols performance.

The General, however, was accustomed to adversity, and understood that sometimes you have to modify your plan to make sure that you attain your goal.  Complaining accomplishes nothing—the only thing that matters is what you do going forward.

One of the grand traditions of the Tennessee football program is the constant re-commitment of the team to General Neyland's 7 Game Maxims. These are the foundation upon which the entire ethos of the program are based. Using these fundamental concepts as a lens, let's look at how the Vols did this weekend, and what they need to do going forward to achieve the level of excellence that the General called for both on the playing field and the battlefield.

Maxim 1: “The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.

The inability of the Vols to honor this truth is ultimately what led to their defeat…

Ball Protection

Tennessee’s three turnovers—two of which came inside the 3-yard line—absolutely killed the Vols on offense.  One of these came in the form of an interception, the other two in the form of fumbles.

The first fumble (1st Quarter 8:55, on the Tennessee 23), this was credited as a fumble by Montario Hardesty, which is accurate.  Hardesty should have been able to hold onto the 4-yard pass from Crompton, and picked up a gain.  The fact remains, however, that Hardesty was in double-coverage with a safety collapsing quickly.  The pass—which came on 3rd and 15 and would have done little to move the ball toward the 1st Down—was floated to a clearly off-balance Hardesty and effectively left him strung-out.  This pass invited a fumble-jarring hit, which it received.  While I am not exonerating Hardesty, Crompton should have simply thrown the ball away.

The second fumble (3rd Quarter 13:00, on the Florida 2) was simply a bad exchange, but not in the traditional sense.  This was not the tailback failing to get a handle on the ball when receiving the handoff.  This was the ball hitting the fullback in the hip as the quarterback rolled to his right—in other words, the quarterback didn’t have a handle on the ball after the snap, and thus had the ball in an unprotected position, resulting in a fumble.  Those things happen from time to time, but you cannot let them happen at critical turning-point moments in the game.  It is a question of focus, and you must be focused when you are trying to push in a score.

The interception (2nd Quarter 00:02, on the Florida 2) in the endzone  immediately before halftime was simply a bad throw into coverage, there really isn’t anything else to be said.  Jonathan Crompton’s willingness to heave the ball into 2 or 3-man press coverage has become as worrying as it has routine.  Jonathan Compton must start making better decisions, and start looking to other receivers, tuck and run, or throw the ball away.  Crompton cannot continue to to simply throw the ball into the crowd and hope that the receiver makes a play.  I will be the first to admit that there are times when this sort of approach can work—as it did for Crompton versus LSU in 2006, or as it did for Tee Martin versus pretty much anyone when Peerless Price was the receiver—but those are the exception, not the rule.  Crompton must begin to look for other outlets and if none exists, throw the ball away.

[caption id="attachment_1169" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Crompton's ill-fated pass into the endzone as seen from Sec. Y7"][/caption]

That said, Tennessee should have scored on one of the preceding three plays (all of which occurred inside the Florida 5-yard line), which would have prevented the pass ever being thrown.

Clock Management

Tennessee’s final three offensive plays of the first half were one of the worst examples of clock management that Tennessee has shown in a very long time.  With 1:13 to go in the half, Tennessee had the ball on the Florida 5-yard line—it was Tennessee’s chance to potentially get itself back in the ballgame.  At that point, the score was 20-0.  20-7 would have given the Vols a chance to enter the locker room with momentum and a chance to comeback in the second half.  What ensued was a play calling disaster. With 30 seconds remaining in the half, Tennessee had the ball on the 2-yard line, and still had one timeout.  Rather than immediately stop the clock, however, the Vols let 14 seconds tick off of the clock before signaling the timeout.  I was sitting approximately 50 feet from this display in Section Y7.  With 29 ticks remaining, I clearly saw Crompton make a time out signal toward the referee, but the referee was screened and could not see Crompton.  No whistle blew, and the clock continued to run.  For the next 14 seconds neither Crompton, one of his teammates, nor the coaching staff called a timeout.  In then end the Vols finally stopped the clock with 16 seconds remaining.  This is unbelievable.

The old adage is that “you play until the whistle is blown.”  That is just as true in timeout-calling as it is in downfield blocking.  Someone, whether player or coach, should have had their wits about them enough to reach out grab the ref and make the timeout signal.  No one did.  With those seconds gone, Tennessee had almost no time left with which to try and punch the ball into the endzone.  When they did get it in the endzone, it was an interception.

With that interception, the game was over…

The mental game is just as important as the physical side of the game.   Tennessee simply did not have their heads in the game on offense.

Maxim 2: “Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way—SCORE.

Well, to a large degree, there were few breaks to be had in the game.  The bulk of those breaks came in the form of Florida capitalizing on Tennessee’s errors.  That said, there were several times when key players made big plays which—for the briefest of moments—gave the Orange and White a chance to gain the upper hand.  One good example was Dennis Rogan’s 43 yard runback on the opening kickoff of the second half.  Another was the first quarter defensive stop on the Tennessee 22-yard line which led to a Florida field goal, but prevented a touchdown.  These two breaks—along with numerous other small swings in the game--led to nothing for the Vols.

Though the opportunities were real, the Vols simply never took advantage of them…

Maxim 3: “If at first the game—or the breaks—go against you, don't let up... put on more steam.

When it comes to effort, there are actually a few bright spots…

Rico McCoy and Eric Berry both gave a supreme effort.  There is nothing more that this tandem could have done to try and push the Vols to victory.  Even late in the fourth quarter, they were both running at full speed and giving 100% effort on every single play.  I never once saw them let up or slow down.  They had a combined 18 tackles (including a sack for Berry).  In all honesty, I’d have to say that the defensive unit as a whole left everything on the field.  After stumbling on the opening drive by Florida, and allowing a touchdown, I felt that the defense came to play.  They were hardly perfect—especially when it came to penalties—but they tried their hardest and game their all for Tennessee.  There was no quit in this unit.

The offense, while not as marked as the defense, also gave great effort.  In particular, Jonathan Crompton exhibited more drive and grit than I have seen from him this year.  He refused to give up, despite all of the miscues, bobbles, and mistakes.  This was best exemplified by Crompton’s unwillingness to slide late in the game when fronted by a Florida defender.  Rather than make the safe play, Crompton lowered his head and ran straight at him.  It was probably not the smartest decision on his part, given the fact he was completely flat-backed, but his heart was obviously still in it.

The coaching staff obviously wanted this game—for reasons which I will go into in greater detail in a follow-up post to this one.  Their effort during the game was admirable.  I saw more fire on the sidelines from the coaches than I have seen in years past.  That said, coaching is one area where your best effort can sometimes be demonstrated by not needing to be animated or excited.

The fans are also a part of this analysis.  I will give the fans a split-analysis in this area.  At the start of the game, regardless of what they may have thought the likely outcome of the game might be, the fans were ready to go.  When the “T” opened and the players came out on the field it was white-noise and hysteria.  That held true throughout the first quarter.  After Tennessee’s repeated self-destruction on offense, however, the fans went cold; many went home.  I am not going to criticize the fans for their decisions in this regard, though I want to on some level.  I travel a long way to the games, and it costs a great deal of money to do so.  I stayed until the last second and watched the Vols play to the end.  Does that make me a better fan?  Probably not.  Does it give me the right to criticize those who left early?  Probably so.  As a personal matter, I strongly believe that if you don’t have the guts and composure to stay to the end and take the cheers of your opponent, then you don’t have the right to bask in the glory when your team wins.  The fact of the matter is, however, I understand their frustrations.

[caption id="attachment_1170" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="If, as the scoreboard says, "This is Tennessee Football," then the empty seats in the stands speak of serious problems."]If, as the scoreboard says [/caption]

On a more basic level, however, as both HSH and I have said in the last few days, if you are going to boo your own players, then just stay home.  The players on the team do not need your validation to prove that they work hard and make sacrifices to be the best that they can be.  They also don’t need your booing when they fall short of the goal they strive for.  Booing the coaching staff, or the decision to punt rather than go for it on fourth down is one thing, booing the players is another.  I understand your frustrations, but just like the team on the field, if you cannot retain your composure and lose with some integrity and class then do not come to the game.  If you cannot act like a good sport, then there is no place for you in the stadium—no matter what team you follow.  Period.

If you booed the team this past weekend, you should be ashamed of yourself…

Maxim 4: “Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead, and our ball game.

Well, in this regard the Vols were decent, not outstanding, but decent.  The offensive live really never created much in terms of a push off the line for the running backs, and the penalties for false starts and holding were particularly costly.  Still, the line did a pretty good job of protecting Crompton.  The same would be true for the kick protection.  They were average, but if the teams gels and makes the scores, then it is probably enough to win.

As for protecting the ball game, well there really is not much that can be said there…

Maxim 5: “Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue, and gang tackle... for this is the WINNING EDGE.

As I said above under the Third Maxim, I was happy with the defense.  Could they have done some things better?  Absolutely.  Is there room to improve?  You better believe it.

Did the defense do enough to win?  You’re damn right they did, just as they did versus UCLA.

Until the offense finds itself, I am not going to be overly critical of a defense that has fought as hard as any I’ve seen in a while.

Maxim 6: “Press the kicking game.  Here is where the breaks are made.

Once again, the General’s insight is telling.  Florida’s Brandon James returned the opening kickoff 52 yards.  Last year he ran a kick back for a touchdown only to have it negated by a penalty.  Ignoring this experience, and James’ ability to be a gamebreaker, the Vols kick it back to him on the very next series setting up a 78 yard run back for a touchdown.  You don’t have to be a genius to realize that you can kick it away from him, as Florida did by kicking it to Brandon Warren in the third quarter.

Still, the kick coverage team showed a lack of cohesiveness in over-pursuing, blocking one another, and failing to contain the run backs.

While Dennis Rogan did his best to make things happen on Tennessee’s kick returns, costly penalties killed the momentum he earned with his speed and field awareness.

Maxim 7: “Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.

As I said under the Third Maxim, both the offense and the defense did everything they could in terms of effort.  The fact of the matter was, however, there was never any real “fight” put to Florida.  In the end, the Vols put on one of the worst displays I have seen in Neyland Stadium in a very long time.  I would put this game in the same class as the 1996 loss to Memphis at the Liberty Bowl and the 1994 loss to the Gators in Knoxville.  The difference is that in 1994, the Vols had a true-freshman quarterback who never expected to be playing that early in the season, whie the '94 Gators were absolute terrors.  In 1996, the Vols simply had a bad game versus a motivated opponent—though inexcusable--that team was otherwise solid across the board.

This game was one the Vols were “supposed” to lose.  It was not one where they were supposed to get blown-out.  I realize that there is a new quarterback calling the signals this year, but he is a fourth-year junior who had considerable experience in 2006.  This is not an inexperienced team which lacks a fundamental understanding of what it is supposed to do in game situations.

I will be going into some other thoughts on this game and the big picture for Tennessee in the next day or so, but until then, I will sum up my thoughts with this:

There was no commander to be found on the field this weekend, and the troops had no leader…

My, how we could have used a little help from the General.

-- Go Figure …Email lawvol


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The State of Hate: Football Rivalries at Tennessee

No Pass Out Checks | Gate21

Tennessee FootballRivalries are the essence of college football.

Rivalries -- and I mean "real" rivalries, not just the "Oh, I really hope we beat Team X" sort of competition -- are what drives so much of the passion that comes with college football season and what compels so many of us to travel great distances, expend huge sums of money, lose sleep, risk personal injury, get arrested for disorderly conduct, and the like for the sole purpose of seeing our team play against our fiercest rival. It is the fire-in-the-belly that keeps us coming back for more. It is a question of pride, of respect, of tradition, and (sometimes) insanity.

The funny thing about rivalries is that they are not always two-way streets. That is, just because Kentucky Wildcats fans feel in their heart that the New England Patriots are their most intense and hated rival, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the Patriots care about Kentucky at all (except to the extent that Bill Bellichick is willing to rent a helicopter and hire some off-duty FBI agents to tape the Kentucky practices, but that’s really nothing the slightest bit out of the ordinary).

My point is this: rivalries are special and they require ... the only word I can think of is "maintenance." As the old axiom goes, "there is a thin line between love and hate" -- they are opposite ends of the same consuming emotion. In our "real" lives -- independent of the sports world -- strong relationships or aversions require something to keep them going. Anyone who is married (or perhaps used to be) knows this is true. By the same token, for most people, the same is true for hateful relationships (the exception to this being people like Adolph Hitler, members of the KKK, and the like -- they simply enjoy hatred too much, which is why they have special condos reserved for them at the warmer end of Hell). For most of us, however, it is hard to continue truly despising someone, unless they give us a reason to do so. The fundamental point here is that, over time, both good and bad emotions cool and fade.

The same is true for college football rivalries. The peculiar thing is that, unlike personal relationships, a heaping helping of animus and acid can be a good thing when it comes to football. Thus, keeping the flames of animosity burning is very important. Thus, I pose a simple question:

What is the "state" of football rivalry at Tennessee?

As a general rule, I think that the core rivalries between Tennessee and others are healthy and hateful. Then again, precisely who is Tennessee’s biggest rival?

Throughout the history of the Tennessee Football program, rivalries have often been heated, but not always lasting. For orange-blooded fans who came of age at any time during the period spanning from the late 1950s up until the early 1990s, there really was little question about who the Vols’ most despised rival is and always will be. Falling within this era, it is easy for me to give rivalry a face...

I know the true colors of mine enemy, and he is as crimson as blood in the vein.

Alabama FootballYes, for me Tennessee’s greatest rival will always be the Alabama Crimson Tide -- there is no other rivalry in my mind which even comes close. It is a rivalry which spans decades -- beginning in the late 1930s and the era of General Neyland, flowing into the late 1950s and 60s and the emergence of the man known as "Bear," and continuing up to the present. To me, the truest rivalry for Tennessee is its blood-feud with the Tide. The Tennessee / Alabama series is Dixie’s great football war. To me, the most important game of the season will always be known not by its participants, but by its date...

...The Third Saturday in October.

This is what I have always known, this is what resonates with me. For some followers of the Big Orange, however, the face of rivalry takes on a decidedly different hue. Most notably, Vol fans who cemented their bonds in the 1990s -- in many instances -- consider not the Tide, but the Florida Gators to be the most fearsome rivalry for Tennessee. Given the course of SEC football history for the last 15 years or so, this is understandable.

Still others -- due to location, personal experience, perceived slights, the balance of power, where their ex-spouses went to school, how much they've had to drink, or whether it is a Tuesday -- consider other teams to be Tennessee’s greatest rival, such as the Georgia Bulldogs or the Memphis Tigers (which I simply don’t get).

Thus, I suppose it is fair to ask who is Tennessee’s greatest rival?

If you look at rivalries in terms of tradition and history, I really think it is hard to argue with the notion that Tennessee and Alabama have fought one another doggedly for a longer period of time than any of the other schools in the SEC. My blood still simmers at the thought that Alabama is one of only a handful of schools against whom Tennessee has an all-time losing record. In 89 contests since 1901, Tennessee is 38-44-7 all-time against the Tide. Even more bothersome for me were the two noteworthy streaks by Alabama during my lifetime: 1971-1981 and 1986-94. During those 20 seasons, Tennessee’s record against the Tide was an abysmal 0-19-1.

Statistics like that make you wake up at 3:00 am and retch your guts out -- therein lies the birth of rivalry.

Florida FootballThen, of course there are the Florida Gators. Surprisingly to some, Tennessee and Florida have only played 36 times in the schools’ collective histories. Tennessee clings to a lead in the series at 19-17-0. That statistic, however, is really a tale of two different eras. From 1916 until 1990, Tennessee was 14-6-0 versus the Gators, but from 1991 to the present, Tennessee is only 5-11-0. Those numbers speak volumes about the way that series has changed since the day a guy named Steve Spurrier walked into Gainesville and -- for the first time in the history of the University of Florida -- made the Gators respectable. From there it was a short way to making them winners. It is easy to understand why many modern fans of the Vols seethe with venom at the mention of the U of F.

Of course mere competition and loathing is not the only thing that goes into a rivalry -- there are a lot of  other elements to a rivalry, including that little thing called "respect." Even though I consider Alabama and Florida to be Tennessee's two main rivals in the modern era, the "faces" of those rivalries in my eyes are decidedly different.

I hate to lose to Alabama. Hate it, hate it, hate it with a passion -- with all that I am,  I hate to lose to those people.  Man, do I hate it!  I do not, however, hate Alabama -- I respect them.  No, that does not mean I want Phil Fulmer to start emulating Nick Saban, or anything like that, but as a program -- taking all of the history, tradition, fans, and other intangibles into account -- I do respect the Crimson Tide. I have often described Tennessee’s rivalry with the Tide as a "classic" or "gentlemen’s" rivalry (and, no, that doesn’t mean that there are pole dancers involved). Speaking from my own experience, I would sum it up like this:

When it comes to the Tennessee / Alabama game, you pull like hell for your team in the stadium, and then you drink a beer with one another after it is over...

My point is that while the Vols and the Tide may declare war on the field -- for me -- it stays on the field. I can honestly say that any time Alabama is playing a non-conference opponent I pull for the Tide without reservation. The rivalry is one grounded in mutual respect (after all, I think Johnny Majors in his prime could drink just as much bourbon as the Bear -- which is pretty cool, if you ask me). I know there are those who will disagree with me on this, but that’s what the rivalry "feels" like to me.

When it comes to Florida, on the other hand, I cannot stand one single thing about that school, and having attended games in Gainesville on multiple occasions, I can honestly say that I’d rather have my intestines removed through my nose ... with a spoon ... than go back. That would be true regardless of whether Tennessee won the game or not. I am not going to use this article as a flame-fest and just talk about how much I hate Florida, and I’m trying very hard not to let my personal thoughts and bad experiences seep into this too much -- there’s no point or value in that. Thus, in the interest of avoiding a slanging match, I will use an example.

As many Tennessee fans can doubtless recall, on several occasions there have been instances where, Florida winning against another team (most notably Georgia) would help Tennessee in terms of the Vols' ranking in the SEC East.  I remember being asked at the time, whether I would pull for Florida if it would help the Vols. My response to that question is as simple as it is heartfelt:

I hate Florida more than I love the Vols...

I will never pull for Florida under any circumstance, no matter how much it might hurt the Vols. Suffice it to say, based on my personal experience I have no respect for the Gators. Not a drop.

That is but one more reason Alabama ranks first in my book...

Thus, the team which I rank as Tennessee’s greatest rival is not the team I hate most -- which I suppose is inherently inconsistent. For me, however, a rivalry is something more than unabashed hatred -- though it does go a long way toward starting a rivalry. Ultimately, I feel that a true rivalry requires more. For me, that will always mean Alabama. Quite frankly, I don’t think Florida is worth elevating to that status (yep, that one’s gonna get me some hate mail).

Of course, another thing that must be considered if assessing these rivalries is what the rival thinks of Tennessee. For any rivalry to be maintained, the feelings of animosity must be mutual. Let me give you an example.

Vanderbilt FootballThe reality is that most fans of the Vanderbilt Commodores probably consider the Vols to be their biggest rival. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are only about 3 hours apart, and they both call the same state home. It is easy for Vanderbilt to hate Tennessee. If you ask the average Vol fan, however, it is doubtful that Vanderbilt is anywhere near the top of their list of Tennessee’s rivals in terms of significance. While Vol fans tend to take Vanderbilt more seriously than they used to since Vanderbilt’s 2005 victory against the Vols -- snapping Tennessee’s 22-game win streak -- with an overall series record of 68-27-5 in Tennessee’s favor, it is doubtful most orange-clad faithful truly despise Vanderbilt. Having been present at Vanderbilt’s 2005 win, there were more than a few Vol fans (already disgusted with Tennessee’s performance that year) who openly congratulated Vanderbilt, or -- at a minimum -- admitted that the ’Dores were due.

Still, it wasn’t always that way...

From 1892 until 1927, Vanderbilt dominated Tennessee, compiling a record of 18-2-3 against the hapless Vols. The rivalry between the two schools was so great that, in 1925, when it came time to hire a new football coach, Robert Neyland was told that the only requirement of his employment was that he beat Vanderbilt. Keen on maintaining his livelihood, Neyland completely reshaped the dynamic of the Tennessee / Vanderbilt rivalry. Under Neyland, Tennessee began establishing itself as a winning program and embarked on an 82 year stretch during which Vanderbilt would win a grand total of 9 games in 77 tries. With that change, the rivalry rapidly faded into memory -- at least for Tennessee fans.

So do Alabama and Florida consider Tennessee to be a true rival?

While I am not going to purport to speak for the Tide or the Gators (and I freely invite any comments from those out there who might actually stumble upon this article) I would imagine that the Vols are definitely an "honorable mention" in terms of rivalry for each. Still, given the fact that both Alabama and Florida have fierce in-state rivalries with the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles respectively, I doubt that -- if polled -- a majority at either school would place Tennessee at the top of the heap in terms of rivalry. In fact, at some level, I question whether any school in the SEC other than Vanderbilt would dub Tennessee as their most hated rival. The one other possible candidate might be the Georgia Bulldogs who -- for the better part of my lifetime -- have seemed utterly unable to consistently find a way to beat Tennessee no matter how heavily skewed the odds are in the Bulldogs’ favor.

I suppose, in the end, Tennessee is everyone’s second most hated team...

Either way, however, I do hope that these rivalries continue to exist and grow in terms or their intensity and fervor. While "true" hatred (and by that I mean real hatred of real people along the lines of the whackos noted at the top of this article) is a terribly ugly and reprehensible thing, I believe that a little faux-hatred directed at another team (not its individual fans) can be a very healthy thing for the game of college football -- if for no other reason than to drive those competitive instincts into a fury. While I feel Tennessee’s rivalries with Alabama and Florida are in good shape at present -- at least in terms of their staying power -- it is always possible that they could fizzle out.

Of course, each fan of each team has the ability to define rivalry in their own terms. So too, changes in the game constantly reshape the landscape of college football, creating new affection, enmity, and apathy. Thus, it is impossible for me to say who Tennessee’s biggest rival will be in 10 years, 20 years, or beyond. I will not try to tell anyone what team they should despise.

I just hope that they find that one team ... and keep those fires stoked for years to come.

-- Go Figure …Email lawvol


Big Orange Roundtable: Week 1

Be sure to check out the Roundtable Roundup for Week 1 over at 3SIB!

Vol for One! One for Vol!

Ah yes, the age-old cry of the roundtable ... well ... something like that. Not to be shown-up by the folks from Bama, or elsewhere, we happy few, we band of brothers making up the Vol Blogosphere have united under the "Seal of the T" and declared ourselves in one accord (and, no, not the car made by Honda). We have pledged our loyalty and publicly professed our oath of allegiance to the "Order of the Orange" at any cost. Simply awe inspiring isn’t it?

It’s a shame that it really didn’t happen like that, because that would be really cool -- I bet I’d get a sword, a helmet, a horse, or something...

Anyway, as you may have noticed, Ghost of Neyland over at 3SIB gathered all of us together and talked us into starting our own roundtable for the Vol fans of the blogosphere. Since I am all about the group mentality -- probably due to all the time I have spent in Neyland Stadium -- I said that sounded like a great idea.

The way this works is that each week one of the blogs in the roundtable posts a series of questions which each of the others answer. The weekly "hosting" blog then links all the responses and gives a nice and tidy little re-cap at the end of the week. This includes looks at the comments from those of you that actually read what we have to say. Furthermore, if there are any questions you’d like to see discussed, feel free to add them in the comments section on any of the roundtable blogs or via email to any of us blowhards writers.

At present the roundtable includes: 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, the UT Vols Football Blog, and the SouthEastern Sports Blog. If you’d like to join, feel free to let us know. If you want more information on how the roundtable works, you can check out Ghost of Neyland’s wonderful introduction over at 3SIB

Predictably, this is the first week and I am already running behind (sigh). I was supposed to post my answers yesterday, but -- alas -- here I am a day late and a dollar short. Be that as it may, I am always willing to pontificate, so here we go!

Week 1 (Questions in Sort-o-Teal-like color)

1) How good/bad do you think Jonathan Crompton will be in his first year as a Tennessee starting quarterback and what makes you think that?

I’m not quite sure what to think as we prepare to usher in the "Straight Outta Crompton" era. Based upon his performance when filling in for Erik Ainge in 2006, it is obvious that Crompton has some real skills, and is probably the most athletic starting quarterback we have had since Tee Martin. I have a feeling that new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson will find a way to help make Crompton productive. When you’re reassessing the entire offense, it’s no biggie to massage the system to meet the needs of the horses you have in the stable. It is possible, under Clawson’s more aggressive offensive system, that Crompton could come out of the gates blazing, and really put on a show for the Orange-clad faithful. He clearly has the ability to be the "guns and guts" sort of quarterback who can kill you both in the air with his passing ability, as well as by dropping his head and giving you a helmet in the solarplexus.

My real question when it comes to Crompton is not what he can do from a physical perspective, but rather what he can do from the mental side of the game. I realize that he came in under less-than ideal circumstances in 2006. He was a true freshman, and barely knew the offense. He was operating -- more or less -- on little more than pure instinct and ability. That said, I do worry a bit about whether he will try to be the maverick style player who has the ability to do amazing things on the field, and refuses to let the stuff between his ears get in the way -- thereby making colossal mistakes from a decision-making perspective. Again, I am not presuming this about Crompton, but it is a concern given his 2006 performance.

All that fretting aside, I am really excited about Crompton. He has serious talent, some real-game experience, and has to be chomping at the bit to have his day as the lead dog. Most importantly for me, however, I just like the fact that he represents something new for Tennessee Football -- a completely new offensive model. If he can get the mindgame down, I have a feeling that he is going to be one we will talk about for many years.

2) This question was posed on our site a few weeks ago by the Bama boys, and it brought some good discussion, so given UT’s rich history of scheduling home-and-homes with top-shelf BCS programs, what school would you most like for the Vols to play in the future and why?

Well, I have always been glad that the Vols avoid scheduling patsy’s like Tyrone’s North-Central Florida University of Animal Husbandry and Interior Design like some schools do (ahem ... Florida Gators ... cough, cough ... the entire ACC). Still there is one school which I so wish would make the jump to Division 1 - Bowl Series (formerly Div 1), and that is Appalachian State. Given App State’s proximity to Knoxville, I would think that would be a great series to begin -- I mean they have won three Division 1 - Championship Series (formerly Div 1-A) National Championships in a row, and knocked Meee-che-gun off in the Big House last year. That’s my atypical suggestion.

In terms of more traditional powers, I am a fan of keeping the West Coast schools on our schedule for recruiting purposes and national standing. Thus, I would favor having a regular series with any of UCLA, Cal, USC, and maybe even Washington. The other schools which immediately come to mind are some of the Big 10 schools. While I know we have heard the "SEC Speed kills Big 10 Strength" argument till we are blue in the face, I still believe that the Big 10 is the other "real" football conference in the country. I would try to set up a regular Big 10 opponent in most years -- my favorites in that regard would be Ohio State, Penn State, and maybe even a team like Purdue.

Under no circumstances should we ever waste our time on teams from the ACC, especially -- and I know there are those who disagree with me -- Virginia Tech. I would say the same for the Big East ... unless you just want some easy wins.

3) A lot has been made of our lack of depth at defensive tackle. With Demonte Bolden, Dan Williams and Walter Fisher pretty solid, what other player do you think makes a big move toward becoming dependable?

I’m probably not the best person to analyze this question, but I agree with the other round-tablers that Donald Langley looks awfully promising, but he is untested. There are a few others who have shown some promise (such as Chase Nelson as MoonDog pointed out). So I guess I am hopefully optimistic that Coach Chavis will find ways to effectively fill the defensive tackle slots. That is probably a lot of faith to put into the defensive staff, but Chief has always impressed me with his ability to be flexible and make something out of nothing.

4) Neyland Stadium has undergone some wholesale external and internal renovations during the offseason, updating and improving the overall appearance. If you could change one thing about Neyland, what would it be?

There have been some major improvements at Neyland in just the last few years under Mike Hamilton which are as welcome as they are overdue. Apparently, the Big Dickey didn’t really care whether fans actually enjoyed themselves at the game -- just whether they paid for tickets.

The main things I would like to see are, another Jumbotron at the opposite end, better parking (and parking allocation) for games, and a continued re-development of the concourses. I would also like to see a statue of General Neyland outside the stadium.

In terms of the seating, I would like to see more seating, but also better seating. This would mean not so much that the bleachers be replaced with chairback seats, but that the seats be widened so your butt can fit between the lines. All that said, I will mirror the sentiments of others that I would like to see the total seat-count exceed 109,000.

Other ideas I think could be cool would include:

  • I would can the fireworks after a touchdown or a win, and would instead light up the sky each time by setting off an atomic bomb over at the old US Department of Energy Proving Grounds in Oak Ridge -- trust me, you’ll see it.
  • In the interest of adding seats maybe the athletic department could consider doming the stadium and adding seats on chains hanging from the ceiling, or use EDSBS’s suggestion that Tennessee allow treestands in the lighting support structures.
  • In line with the old Mercedes Benz symbol at Legion Field (owing to the Mercedes plant in Alabama) I suppose we could put a great big Saturn sign over the Jumbotron to salute the Saturn plant in Spring Hill.  Neyland Stadium could be the "Saturn Vue of College Football" or something along those lines.  Of course, since they closed the plant in 2007, maybe we are a bit behind the curve.

Now those are some fireworks!!

Oh yeah, I also think the renovation of the real Gate 21 plaza outside the stadium should include paving the plaza with gold, platinum, and diamonds, and that the "21" sign should be approximately 100 feet across and illuminated 24 hours a day ... but that’s just me.

5) Different UT fans have different opinions on last season. Was it a success? Was it a failure? Why do you think so?

I would call the 2007 Season a successful failure. I say that because the Vols were not expected to be all that great last year. Based upon Tennessee’s performance versus both the Florida Gators and the Alabama Crimson Tide the Vols were not very good -- in fact they were lousy. That said, somehow the Vols managed to make it to the SEC Championship Game, and were one botched throw away from potentially defeating the LSU Tigers -- who won that whole National Championship thing.

The end result is that the 2007 Vols probably accomplished more than they should have. The question is whether the expectations should have been higher? From my perspective -- year-in-year-out -- I care less about winning championships than being consistent. In that regard the 2007 Vols fell far short.

Of course, hope springs eternal, and 2008 is a new year. As the addition of Dave Clawson makes clear, "times they are a changin’ " so at least I’m hopeful for the future.

So, those are my thoughts for this week, be sure to check out what the other roundtablers as well (in no particular order):

Oh yeah, next week I’ll try to be on time...

-- Go Figure …Email lawvol


Flashback: The Great Games — The All-Time Top 10

Flashback | Gate 21

Well, as Joel pointed out, the News Sentinel’s Dave Hooker recently came out with his Top 10 games in Tennessee football history. It is an interesting list, but (like Joel) I’m not so certain I agree with all of the games on Hooker's list.

Given the fact that I am still making my way through my "Great Games" series, it seems appropriate for me to chime in with my thoughts on this. At the risk of rendering some of my future posts in this series futile (not that they aren’t already), here is my top 10 games in Tennessee football history (with comparison to Dave Hooker’s ranking):


The Great Games | Gate21.net

Gate 21’s Top 10 All-Time

FB-00-Tennessee[1]

Tennessee Football Games


No. 10: 1989 - Tennessee vs. UCLA

The Rose Bowl | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

I know that some will question this one, but this game still stands out to me as one of the best. I toyed with ranking the 1985 Auburn win at No. 10, but I have to go with the Vols 1989 trip to Pasadena to take on the Bruins. This game was early in the season, and at that point UCLA was highly touted. Tennessee had been beaten in both their prior trips to the Rose Bowl to play the Bruins (1975 and 1967), and many thought they would repeat that trend as the Vols came off of their worst season in recent memory, and a close call in their season-opener versus Colorado State. The Vols, however, stepped-up to the challenge and proved that their 5 and 6 record for 1988 was only a bump in the road as they came out gunning for the No. 6-ranked Bruins. The Vols completely shutdown the UCLA offense with their own brand of SEC defense, en route to a 24 - 6 victory. That game set the stage for the rest of the season -- one which included 10 more wins and only a single loss. The Vols would go on to win an SEC Championship, beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl that year, and end with a No 5 ranking.

Still, by my mind, it all started in California...


No. 9: 1999 Fiesta Bowl - Florida State vs. Tennessee

Sun Devil Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 1

Dave Hooker had this game as No. 1, but I cannot in good conscience give it that distinction. While the 1999 Fiesta Bowl did give Tennessee its first Consensus National Championship since 1951, the game itself was not nearly as spectacular as others that season.

First of all, both Tennessee and Florida State played very sloppily throughout the game as a result of the more than 4-week layoff leading up to the contest. Second -- in fairness to Florida State -- they were playing with a back-up quarterback, Marcus Outzen, who (to my knowledge) never started another game after the championship, due to the injury to Chris Weinke.

Finally, the game was exciting, but probably only if you were a Tennessee or Florida State fan. The reason for this is that the two teams were extremely closely matched at most positions. All of that said, I have such amazing memories of this game and of finally seeing another championship for the Big Orange, that I have to include it in the Top 10, regardless of its flaws.

After all, a championship is a very special thing...


No. 8: 1939 - Alabama vs. Tennessee

Shields-Watkins Field | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

Obviously, I did not attend or watch this game. Still, the legendary status of this game lingers even today -- as does pretty much everything about the 1939 squad. I know this is hard to imagine in the modern era, but the 1939 squad not only went undefeated, but they also completed the entire regular season without being scored upon. Think about it this way, from the third game of the 1938 season until the conclusion of the 1939 season, Tennessee played 71 consecutive quarters without allowing a single point -- a record which stands to this day. The 1939 game against Alabama was but one of the legendary battles of this era between, then, Col. Robert Neyland’s (he would be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General during World War II) Vols and the Crimson Tide. In the minds of some, however, this is the game that truly cemented the rivalry and led to the designation "The Third Saturday in October."

Led by Johnny Butler and George Cafego, Neyland’s Vols managed to out-run, out-block, and out-wit the Tide in a 21-0 victory. The "feather in the cap" for the day came on Johnny Butler’s 56-yard run to the endzone in the 2nd-quarter. This was the last Tennessee-Alabama game that Neyland would coach until his return from military service in 1947.

Johnny Butler's Run

Click to view a RealMedia clip of Johnny Butler’s Run versus Alabama Courtesy of the VIB
An Oldie, but a Goodie...

No. 8: 1992 - Florida vs. Tennessee

Neyland Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

For all the reasons I described in my post on this game, I really feel this was an extremely important game in the history of the program. Ignoring all of the side issues surrounding this contest -- the Faxgate affair, Johnny Majors' heart problems, the deluge of water that fell during the game, etc., I really feel this was a watershed game (no pun intended). First of all, it was the first of real battles between Tennessee and Florida during the Steve Spurrier era. Second, it was the first conference home game ever coached by Phillip Fulmer.

By my mind, this is the game that ushered Tennessee football into the modern era, and set the stage for all of the excitement during the 1990’s.


No. 7: 1996 Comp USA Citrus Bowl - Tennessee vs. Ohio State

Citrus Bowl Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

Some might think this game an odd choice, but as I made clear in my article on this game, it really was one of the best games for Tennessee in the history of the program. Tennessee and Ohio State both came in ranked 4th (albeit in different polls) and both were disappointed that they did not manage to make it to a top-tier bowl. Both teams had a chip on their shoulder as they battled throughout a rain-soaked game. Tennessee held Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George to a season low, and fought to the end to win the day. This win, propelled Tennessee to a No. 3 final ranking -- putting them ahead of the Florida Gators who had given the Vols their only loss of the season.

This game established the momentum of the program for the seasons to follow. In my opinion, this game was a key step toward a national championship.


The Stop

No. 5: 1959 - LSU vs. Tennessee

Shields-Watkins Field | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 6

I agree with Dave Hooker that the win against Billy Cannon and the LSU Tigers ranks among the all-time greatest games. No one thought Tennessee really had a chance in that game, and -- on paper -- they were right. Billy Cannon was the man-beast running back of his day, and was fearsome for his ability to shred defenses. On most days, when the 1959 Tigers played they put on a clinic. The iron wall of orange-clad defenders , however, shut LSU down and did a little teaching of their own. After fumbling the ball on their own 2-yard line, and giving the Tigers an easy six points, the Vol defense found a way to save the game. Their goal-line stop as the Tigers tried for the 2-point conversion probably ranks as one of the all-time greatest defensive plays in Tennessee history (See stop-frame image, right).

Here’s former Voice of the Vols George Mooney with the call.

[audio:/LSU-1959-01-F.mp3]

(click play to hear audio)

When it was all said-and-done, the Vols came out on top in a 14-13 thriller.


No. 4: 1982 - Alabama vs. Tennessee

Neyland Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: Unranked

bama82ticket[1]This game was the final step in Johnny Majors’ rehabilitation of the Tennessee program from the doldrums of the late 1970’s. Before that win, the Vols had not beaten Alabama in 11 deplorably long years. After more than a decade, Tennessee finally managed to beat the Tide in the 35-28 Victory. The fact that it occurred during the waning days of the 1982 World’s Fair made it all the more special. This also marked then end of the Bear Bryant era, at least as far as Tennessee was concerned, as Bryant would never again coach a game in Neyland Stadium -- passing away in 1983.

majors82bama[2]

This game single-handedly returned Tennessee to its position as a year-in-year-out contender in the SEC, and re-asserted Tennessee’s tradition of winning.

Before this game, Tennessee was a second-tier team in the minds of most, that changed on "The Third Saturday in October," 1982.


sugarpgm86[1]

No. 3: 1986 Sugar Bowl - Tennessee vs. Miami

Louisiana Superdome | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 5

Ahh, the Sugar Vols. No one thought the 1985-86 Tennessee squad really had a chance against the No. 2 ranked Miami Hurricanes. The Vols, however, decided to make everyone remember them as they pounded Vinny Testaverde and the Hurricanes on both sides of the ball. While this game was played in a neutral venue -- the Superdome -- it really amounted to being played in "Neyland Stadium South" as the Big Orange faithful traveled by the thousands to cheer on their underdog Vols. This game single handedly elevated Tennessee to a "national" status as Tennessee destroyed Miami 35-7, in the Big Easy.

Here’s John Ward calling "yet another" great play by Tennessee -- namely Chris White’s 4th-quarter interception for a touchdown.

[audio:/Sugar Vols 01.mp3]

(click play to hear audio)


ND 1991

No. 2: 1991 - Tennessee vs. Notre Dame

Notre Dame Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 7

There really isn’t much that needs to be said the game referred to simply as "The Miracle at South Bend." It still stands as the single most significant non-conference regular-season game the Vols ever played. While some would point to the victories over Penn State in 1971 and 1972, those were played in Neyland Stadium, which gave the Vols the huge benefit of a home crowd. In 1991, however, the Vols had to go on the road and play the No. 5 team in the country. The reality is that Tennessee was beaten in this game by the end of the first-half. The fact that the team and the coaching staff never gave up and kept fighting stands as a testament to the 1991 squad’s character. It still stands as the greatest comeback in Tennessee football history, and serves as a monument to Winston Churchill’s adage "Never, Never, Never Give Up!"

Furthermore, the final play of the game as called by John Ward stands as one of the greatest (albeit somewhat botched) calls of his storied career.

[audio:/ND-1991 01.mp3]

(click play to hear audio)
Don't you just love John Ward?


No. 1: 1998 - Florida vs. Tennessee

Neyland Stadium | Dave Hooker Rank: No. 2

Having just written about this game (reliving it in my mind along with the voices in my head) I still come to the conclusion that there has never been a more exhilarating and exciting game played at Neyland Stadium -- at least not in the modern era. This game was an absolute defensive slugfest from start to finish, and after the game was over, I was physically and mentally exhausted -- I cannot imagine what the players felt like. While I do have the 1999 Fiesta Bowl listed in my Top 10 as well (No. 9) in my opinion this game was the high-water mark for the 1998 team. This was the game that defined the team and the season. Winning the game against Florida completely changed the mindset of everyone in Orange Nation -- suddenly we all believed that a championship was possible.

Thus, even though you don’t get a trophy for winning a home game during the regular season, in my opinion, this was the Vols’ finest hour.


Well, there’s my list. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong (as I so often am)...

-- Go Figure …Email lawvol


Images Courtesy of: The VIBKnoxville News Sentinel
Audio Clips Courtesy of: The Vol Network, Host Communications, and the University of Tennessee.
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