Monday, January 06, 2003
Vols final report card
OK...the anger has been replaced with a sick feeling of frustration. Could the Peach Bowl have been ANY worse?
According to the local sports writers, it could have. I think these guys have been kissing the University's butts for so long, their heads are wedged firmly up Doug's Dickey, and they can no longer see straight.
A few examples:
from Mike Griffith's Peach Bowl report card
QUARTERBACK (C-): Casey Clausen had his moments, making some good throws and some productive scrambles, but he also made a costly mistake. Clausen overshot his receiver on a screen pass and it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Clausen completed 23 of 37 passes for 242 yards.
RUNNING BACKS (F): The longest run of the night was a 10-yarder. Troy Fleming's blocking was embarrassing. Cedric Houston's runs were average, and Jabari Davis (10 carries, 10 yards) was ineffective. Derrick Tinsley had a huge fumble at the Maryland 7. There were also protection breakdowns.
23 of 37 for 242 yards, no touchdowns (except for the INT for Maryland) and that gets a C-, when the running backs get an F for a similar performance? Give me a break Mike. Clausen stunk up the joint.
Again. Why didn't he throw to Fayton after the first half?
SECONDARY (D+) Maryland was an efficient 11 of 19 passing for 120 yards. Gibril Wilson had a team-high 12 tackles, and Rashad Baker had six tackles. Cornerback Julian Battle got beat deep once and had a personal foul. Corey Larkins missed two sack opportunities.
SPECIAL TEAMS (D) Punter Dustin Colquitt was the highlight, averaging 47.7 yards on six punts. The punt coverage broke down late when Steve Suter broke a 79-yard return. but was otherwise good. Alex Walls missed a 41-yard field goal. Larkins ran tentative on kick returns.
Lead the team in tackles, but grade out worse than Clausen? One breakdown on punt coverage (when the game was already out of hand), gets an otherwise good performance a D?
It gets worse. In Sunday's paper, Mike gives his season report card. Clausen grades out to a B. I'', sorry, but an 8-5 performance, and running dead last in the SEC for scoring offence isn't a B. Not for a team ranked in the top 5 at the beginning of the season.
Receivers graded out to a D. Well, if you aren't going to hold Clausen accountable, I guess you have to blame the receivers. Maybe if Clausen had thrown to the open man, instead of waiting for his favorites, another receiver could have emerged.
The defense, which statistically ranked as the 7th best in the nation, griffith gives a C-, a B and a B-. Let me get this straight; the unit which suffered the lion's share of injuries manages to maintain a top ten ranking, and only gets a C?
The funniest thing was pointed out by the Maryville paper's sports writer, who noticed that the overall grade, D+ was significantly lower than the individual positions average. I think that what Mike was accounting for was an important grade that he couldn't put on the report card.
I'll say what he couldn't.
Here are my grades:
Clausen gets a D-. His off the field comments coupled with his on the field actions contributed to tearing this team apart. He made poor throwing decisions, lost his composure during the Florida game, bad mouthed his team mates after the Georgia game, all while achieving the lowest scoring percentage of any quarterback at Tennessee that I can remember. James Banks may not know the schemes yet, but he showed a willingness to do whatever he could to win. He gets a C. We never got to see enough of Leak, so he gets an Incomplete.
Jabari Davis, Derrick Tinsley, and Cedric Housaton all gave it their best, but were hampered by injuries, both to them and to the offensive line. Troy Fleming was called on this year to fulfill the traditional fullbacks roll, and failed to answer the call. I can't count the number of times I saw him fall flat on his face after failing to pick up the blitzing end.
Kelley Washington gets a D-. He started off the season running his mouth, tearing up the team. Unfortunately all he could run was his mouth, unless he was dodging for the sidelines, where he was plenty quick. There's no denying his physical skills; the man has a spin move that virtually guarantees 10 yards after the catch. But he never fully realized those skills when it counted; when the game was on the line. He couldn't be counted on to block downfield, or to misdirect defenses when the play wasn't coming his way. He simply is not a team player. Countering his score was Jason Witten, who gets an A. Jason did all that was asked of him, and all I can say is that if he decides to stay another year, it would be a mistake. UT has nothing to offer him.
True, they were riddled with injuries, but started to pull together during the last couple of games. Then in the Peach Bowl, they couldn't handle two guys who weren't good enough to get scholarships, and walked on at Maryland. In a word, pathetic.
Defense alone kept us in the Georgia game. And the Bama game. And the Peach Bowl...at least until they were exhausted. Our number of interceptions skyrocketed from last year. Had we any kind of offense, we would have gone 10-2 in the regular season, and potentially 11-1. John Chavis deserves the raise that Fulmer is going to get.
I don't disagree too much with Griffith's assessment here.
You all know how I feel about Randy Sanders, so I won't rake him over the coals again. Besides, with the meltdown of the Peach Bowl, I now have to consider the possibility that he did the best he could with the cards he was dealt. It does say something when the Offensive co-ordinator, the guy in charge of devising the game plan, doesn't know until a few hours before a major game that his star receiver isn't going to play. Who was responsible for letting him know that this was a possibility? We'll get back to that. First, John Chavis grades oput to an A-. To accomplish what he did with the injuries he had to deal with is nothing short of amazing. The fact that he has decided to stay with UT is a blessing and the only mitigating factor I can find in Fulmer's performance. If Chavis wants to stay, Fulmer must be doing something right.
Coach Fulmer, on the other hand, gets an F. Befoer the season ever started, it was clear that he didn't have a handle on this team. There were no clear leaders; nobody to step up and take the place of the Al Wilsons, Leonard Littles, Peyton Mannings who led the team on and off the field. Instead we had Kelley Washington telling us he was playing for himself, not the team. We had Casey Clausen, badmouthing the performance of the team when he couldn't play. Instead of stepping on it early, telling Kelley Washington to pipe down, Fulmer allowed it to continue, and the worst fears of the fans were realized. We didn't have a team this year, we had a bunch of guys wearing a uniform, and it showed in their performance.
A lot of people want to know what the Head Coach's job is. There's an offensive coordinator who designs the offense and calls the plays; there's a defensive coordinator who designs the defensive schemes, and there are coaches for every position, ensuring their players know the right techniques for their position. So what is left for the head coach?
It's his job to build all of these positions, players and coaches into a team. He harnesses the egos, converting them into a cohesive unit that is greater than the sum of it's parts. A lot of years, it's an easy job; you have kids on the team who can do most of it for you. This year was a true test of Fulmer's coaching ability, because there were no real leaders on the team; nobody stepped up to bring the team together. The fact that we were still having trouble getting the right number of players on the field in our 13th game of the season demonstrates just how much control Fulmer lost.
Something Pat Summitt said comes to mind. She says that you can't coach intensity; your team either wants to win, or it doesn't. The 2002 Vols didn't want to win. Coach Fulmer takes the heat for that, because that is his job; at the same time, the players themselves have to take some of the heat. There were bad attitudes on the team starting in the spring. Rather than stamp them out, the players let them spread.
Should we fire some coaches? I don't believe in firing somebody just to make a change. We should ask the question, "Can we find somebody better to replace them?" I like Fulmer. He's an excellent recruiter and a good coach. There aren't many coaches with a National Championship under their belts. It'll take more than one season for me to say it's time for him to go. But he has a hard job ahead of him; he has to get his team back. The great coaches are able to rebound from a bad year; we should see marked improvement next year. Not necessarily in the record, since our schedule is much tougher next year. Buit we should see a team on the field, not just a bunch of guys.
We need to keep Chavis. Period.
Sanders, on the other hand, well, let's just say I wouldn't cry to see him pursue other opportunities. He hasn't demonstrated the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions, or the guts necessary to run a wide open offense, something that is at the heart of SEC football.
Monday, December 02, 2002
Vol’s final regular report card
Well, it was the last game of the season, and the Vols finally showed up. 14 weeks of practice games finally paid off as the Vols completely dominated a good Kentucky team. I wasn't impressed with the shutout over Vandy because, well, it was Vandy. But Kentucky is a good team this year, as they showed in several games. The combination of Lorenzen and Pinner made Kentucky the SEC's leading offense. Add in Abney with his NCAA record-tying 6 kicks returned for touchdowns, and Kentucky seemed ready to end 18 years of futility.
But, the Vols had other plans. The offensive line finally got enough playing time as a unit to gel; Derrick Tinsley had a breakout performance running and catching; The defense got enough time off the field to utterly destroy Kentucky's offense; and most amazingly, Randy Sanders discovered a new technique called the "forward pass." Mark my words; this could revolutionize Tennessee football.
Offensive line B
Clausen had plenty of time to throw; there were nice holes for the running backs. Easily their best performance all season
Running Backs B
Houston was ineffective, but Tinsley caught the Wildcats napping. Even Troy Fleming managed the throw a good block or two.
The sole disappointing performance for the Vol offense were the receivers, who dropped several balls. Maybe they were surprised by the tight spirals coming from Clausen. Jason Whitten had another fine game, including a crushing stop on the punt coverage team.
I don't particularly like Clausen (could you tell?) but Saturday, he played the game and lived up to his billing. His fakes were sharp; his passes were tight and on target, and he even managed to run for positive yards.
No need to break this one down into sub groups. Pinner was limited to just 51 yards. Lorenzen was harried all day long, going 9 of 23 for 59 yards. Kentucky failed to score for the first time this season. There were only four shutouts in the SEC this year, and the Vol defense owns two of them. It was a long time coming, but once the offense started pulling their weight, the defense came through.
Randy Sanders called an effective game, including trick plays, misdirection, and passing down field, as well as his favored power football. For the first time in a couple of months, the Vols looked prepared for the game. In another rare occurence, Tennessee was penalized less than their opponent.
Tennessee finally was the beneficiary of questionable calls, instead of the victim. In a flashback to the Florida game 2 years ago, the ball came loose just as Jabari Davis was crossing the goal line. It was ruled a touchdown, just like the catch in the Florida game was. At least they were consistent.
A good all around effort by the team, the first of the season. And our reward? Atlanta and the Peach bowl against Maryland. Too early for a line, but I'm picking Tennessee.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Vols report card
We beat Vandy!
But we kept them from scoring!
Vandy just doesn't provide decent competition for the Vols, even in a bad year. The emergence of the running game spelled doom for Vandy, and our dependable defense was more than a match for Vandy's suspect offense.
Kentucky is another story. Lorenzen will provide a stern test to UT's big play secondary. Our coverage is soft, but quick, which means we make a lot of interceptions, but also that we give up a lot of big plays. Lorenzen will have a field day, unless our defensive line can put pressure on him. Unfortunately, our defense will have all they can handle trying to contain Pinner. The combination will likely overwhelm the Vol defense, and put up 35 points.
Which brings us to our offense, which is beginning to show signs of life behind an improved offensive line, and the running of Cedric Houston. For the Vols to have a chance to win this game, they must launch several long drives, each resulting in scores, keeping Lorenzen and Pinner off of the field. Sadly, every coach in the nation knows that UT can't pass effectively, and Kentucky will stack up to stop the run, with a double team on Whitten. Look for Kentucky to end one more UT streak: KY 35 UT 24
I would so love to be wrong on this one...
A study in sportsmanship
Sunday, Warren Sapp put Chad Clifton out of the game
, and possibly the rest of the season with a vicious hit after an interception. Although the hit was clean, it was well away from the play, and probably unnecessary. After the hit, Sapp celebrated the hit, while Clifton writhed in pain on the turf, and continued to do so even as the trainers went out to take Clifton off of the field.. But this is football, and as Sapp said, it's a contact sport. There will be no penalties of fines for Sapp.
After the game, Packers coach Mike Sherman confronted Sapp, who launched into an obscenity laden tirade, shoved a Packers staffer, and challenged Sherman to "put on a jersey if you think you're so tough."
Last night, Coy Detmer had the game of his career
, throwing for two touchdowns while running the Eagles offense to perfection. Then in the third quarter, he dislocated his left elbow while being tackled by Chiki Okeafor. He was brought off the field on a cart, but before the cart could clear the field, he was surrounded by his teammates, and most of the 49ers, who wanted to wish him well.
Again, this is football, and it's a contact sport; injuries will happen. But do you celebrate ending a guy's year? Do you relish seeing your opponent carried off on a cart? Or do you play the game hard, but clean? Do you try to win, or try to hurt the other guy?
Warren Sapp has one answer; I like the 49ers answer better.
Monday, November 18, 2002
I have to apologize to Randy Sanders. I've been giving him a hard time during the season, blaming him for the lackluster Vol offense. After last Saturday, I have to take my hat off to the man and admit I was wrong. I'm here today to tell you that Randy Sanders is an offensive genius.
All year he has been sandbagging opponents, laying back, not showing all of his cards, just so he could unleash two surprise throwback passes against our hated and feared arch rival, Mississippi State. So what if it cost us wins against Florida, Georgia and Alabama; nobody cares about those teams. Randy picked out the key game on our schedule months in advance, and made sure we were ready.
Here's to you Mr. Sanders; you have my most humble apologies.
I spent Saturday out in the cold and the rain helping remove air handlers, support beans and other stuff from the roof at work. I didn't get to see the game, although I did see the highlights the next morning. 3 pass attempts in the first half?
Prediction for Vandy game: There will be more players on the field than 'dore fans in the stands.
UT 35 Vandy 24
Sunday, November 10, 2002
Vols and Miami
This isn't a report card; it's an autopsy. The Vol offense was pronounced dead shortly after 5PM Saturday evening.
"I'm obviously very disappointed,'' Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We played against a really good team. Defensively, we probably played well enough, but offensively we did nothing.''
Insight like that is why he gets paid the big bucks.
The Vol offense managed 218 yards, 74 on the second play of the game. The rest of the stats are here
if you're interested.
The offensive line was so outclassed that I can't blame the quarterbacks too much. Clausen performed at about the same level he has all year, which is to say, barely adequate. Banks wasn't allowed to throw much by Sanders, or the Miami defensive line for that matter, and spent most of his snaps running for his life. CJ Leak didn't get enough time to really show us anything.
Couldn't get open, and couldn't hold onto the ball when they did get open. Witten was limited to one catch, two if you count the miscall by the ref.
It's hard to run when you don't get a hole. But when you have a 10 yard lead on the nearest defensder, you really should make it into the end zone.
Last week the offensive line played their best game all season. This week they were completely outclassed and outmanned. I'm not going to credit the play of Miami's defense, since Big East powerhouse Rutgers was able to stand up to them for three quarters
The Vol defense bent but rarely broke, limiting Miami to a single touchdown in the second half.
Once again, Julian Battle seemed to be everywhere. The secondary played soft as usual, but only got burned badly twice. Against Miami, that is an accomplishment.
Colquitt shanked a couple punts, but to be fair, his leg was probably getting pretty tired. MArk Jones grabbed a punt on the one inch line, rather than let it go into the end zone for a touch back. Kick and punt overage, usually a strength for the Vols this season, was sub par.
How much of the team's lack of character can be laid at the coaches' feet? The players have to take part of the blame, but at the same time, Fulmer's continued reliance on the obviously ineffective Clausen has got to put a strain on the rest of the team. Maybe we ran up the middle all day because that's all Sanders believes his offense can do. But when it doesn't work, how can trying something else be worse?
Not worth worrying about. Yes there were bad calls, like ruling Witten out of bounds when he was clearly in bounds, but that wouldn't have made a difference today.
Next we face a Mississippi State team that is 0-5 in the SEC, and maybe the only offense in the SEC worse than UT's. They look to break into the win column against UT, but as long as our defense continues to play wth a little pride, that won't happen. There are rumors that Clausen is out for the season. This can only help the Vols.
Tennessee 27 Mississippi St. 6
UPDATE: SKBubba expected me to be harsher than I was. Well, I probably would have been, except Miami really is a great team, despite a couple of lack luster performances. I'm not surprised we looked as bad as we did.
Sunday, November 03, 2002
A win is a win.
It's a measure of how bad this season has been that Phillip Fulmer referred to yesterday's game as a "big win." It's a measure of the fans' enthusiasm that we are now saying we have a good chance to beat Miami. It's a measure of this weird season that we actually do have a chance to beat Miami. Just ask Georgia, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, or NC State.
This still was not the breakout game the Vols were looking for, although they did take a big step forward. 2 fumbles, multiple penalties, a missed PAT, substitution problems, all continuing problems with the Vol offense. This time, however, they played well enough to overcome the miscues.
Clausen generally played well, despite a couple of problems handing the ball off early in the game, which may have been the tailbacks fault. 17-23 for 175 yards is respectable. Add in a bootleg run for a touchdown, particularly on a bum ankle, and you get a winning effort. IOf only we could teach him not to spit on camera...
Witten had a good day, as did the rest of the Vol receivers. Without Washington to throw to, Clausen had to look for alternate receivers, and they came through.
This would have been an A, except for Gerald Riggs' fumble. Cedric Houston showed why he won the starting job this spring. On one particularly gruesome play, a Gamecock defensive player grabbed Cedric's injured thumb in an attempt to strip the ball. I saw his thumb, despite being wrapped and taped, get yanked backwards, yet Cedric held onto the ball. Excellent effort.
What a remarkable change from last game. There were holes for the running backs, but none for the defensive backs. The two groups, offensive line and running backs, worked together fed off of each other's improved play. The offensive line made some beautiful holes for Houston and Davis, who hit them cleanly, resulting in the Vols best rushing performance to date. Yes, it was just South Carolina, who ranks 9th in the SEC in rushing defense, but it was still a good performance by a line that hasn't lived up to it's preseason promise. UT is averaging
just under 143 yards per game while giving up 21 sacks, a total second only to Kentucky. Yesterday, the line began to redeem themselves. Miami's rushing defense is suspect. We'll see if our O line will continue their comeback.
South Carolina had some success running the ball, but couldn't mount a sustained drive. They chalked up 3 sacks, and pressured the quarterback all afternoon.
3 picks, and only one pass over 10 yards adds up to excellent play by the secondary. Julian Battle played very well, racking up 8 tackles, despite being disappointed that he was the only starter not to get a pick yesterday.
Too many men on the field cost us a timeout, even though the end result was an improvement
. A poor snap cost us points, as did a Mark Jones' fumble, and the usually reliable Dustin Colquitt shanked a punt. Not a good day for the special teams.
I liked Fulmer's call to go for it on 4th and 1. The players said after the game that the coach's confidence in making that call gave them a spark, and it showed in their performance; the Vols held the ball for 13 minutes in the 4th quarter.
I still have a problem with the screen passes, though. Until the offensive line shows that they can block it effectively, we need to retire that play. Also, I still think we need to get Banks involved in the game. Clausen is one good hit from going out for the season. In a game where the defense is dominating and we have a lead, if Clausen is getting banged up, get him out of there, and get Banks some game time.
Multiple missed calls yet again. Both teams were getting away with holding, and there were at least two blatant block in the backs that went uncalled. Add in the mystery personal foul against South Carolina, and once again I understand why Joe Pa is getting ornery.
Bouyed by a marked inprovement in the offensive line and the running backs, UT played it's best game of the season. Granted, it wasn't against a team like Miami, but we looked better than we did against Rutgers, Wyoming, or MTSU. Miami is another story altogether. Yes, they've suffered let downs, and had to win in the 4th, but the fact is they have won in the 4th, every time they needed to. Does anybody think they will take Tennessee as lightly as they took Rutgers? How many times do you think they will watch the '85 Sugar Bowl?
Tennessee will need their best game, a flat Miami, and a few calls going their way to come out on top next weekend. Early prediction:
Miami 31 Tennessee 24
Friday, November 01, 2002
“The Future” is over.
Kelley Washington is out indefinately
, possibly for the season, and according to some rumors, for ever.
Oddly enough, he no longer wants to talk to the media, preferring to preserve his privacy
Looking ahead to tomorrow's game, I predict a low scoring affair, with Tennessee's defense keeping us in the game. 13-10 with the Vols on top, scoring a defensive touchdown and two field goals.
Monday, October 28, 2002
Rudy! vs. Hillary! for all the marbles
I'll put a dime on Rudy. He can pull both the red and the blue zones. Hillary's demographic will look just like Gore's, if she did that well.
to that estimate:
Senator Hillary Clinton was facing the destruction of her New York power base yesterday as her Democratic Party headed for humiliation in the state gubernatorial election on November 5.
In an extraordinary upset, a traditionally Democratic state appears poised not only to re-elect a Republican governor, but to force the Democrat challenger into third place behind a pro-business Independence Party candidate with no record of public service.
Political analysts predict that such a humiliation could damage the former First Lady's credibility as a New York senator and a much-touted future potential presidential candidate.
Double my bet....
Friday, October 11, 2002
And now for sports
And now for sports
All right all you rabid UT Vol fans, you might want to look away for a bit: This is going to get ugly.
I'll start by saying that I am a Volunteer fan, and have been for 20 years or more. I've stuck with them through the bad times, as well as the good. I've cruised with the Vol Navy, sat in the student section when we beat Bama for the first time in 11 years, brought my kids to the Orange and White games, taken my boys to see the whole package, from the Vol walk before the game to the endless tailgate parties afterward. I went to the National championship celebration in Neyland Stadium, and heard the crowd roar for each play on the Jumbotron, just like it was live, instead of taped.
I've watched the Vols all over the country, while I was in the Navy.
I watched the 'Miracle at South Bend' from a ship in San Diego. Some folks wanted to change the channel after the first half, but they couldn't get past me, anymore than Notre Dame could get past our defense during the second half.
I watched a Vol team with a 5th year senior second string quarterback wipe out what was billed to be the best team in the land.
I watched a good Vol team get wiped out by a better Nebraska team. Twice.
I watched us lose to Penn State. Twice.
I've seen them play so far above themselves that it seemed like God Himself must be a Vol fan. I've also seen them play so far beneath their abilities that I had to wonder why they bothered showing up at all.
My car, a white Tracker, is adorned with Vol Magnets and insignia.
I have two vintage 1970 UT helmet lamps that I completely rebuilt.
I'm designing a mural to go on my living room wall that will include Neyland Stadium, the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, the Vol Walk, and Smokey.
But I'm not a fanatic, and I have eyes.
This team has no heart. I know, we just one a 6 overtime game. Doesn't that show they have heart?
Those 6 overtimes remind me of the worst boxing match I ever watched, between Leon Spinks and Randall "Tex" Cobb. Both men were completely out of shape, and neither could hurt the other. The fight turned into two fat men shambling around in the ring, waiting for the other to fall down under the inexorable pull of gravity. Arkansas and Tennessee were like that last Saturday. It didn't come down to who wanted to win the most, but who cared the least.
So, who do I blame, the coaches or the players?
Will Ofenheusle cried for a week because fans booed during the Rutgers game. Hey Will, y'all allowed the worst rushing team in the Big east to run all over you, while your offensive line, ranked as one of the best in the nation during the preseason, couldn't tear open a hole in a wet paper bag. I think that kind of performance deserves a boo or two. I don't believe in booing poor performance if the effort is there, but when the entire team just lays down and quits, then the gloves come off.
The bottom line is this: the team was not ready to play this season. You can put part of that off on the coaches, and I do, but the players have to bear the brunt of the blame. Like Pat Summit always says, you can't coach intensity; that comes from within the player. Either you have it as a team, or you don't. This team doesn't.
There are individual exceptions of course. Jason Whitten works every minute he is on the field. He blocks well, and catches everything that comes his way. Colquitt has been kicking the leather off the ball this season, which has been the only thing that kept us in the game several times this season. Tony Brown can be counted on not to drop the ball, should Clausen ever look off of Washington. But they are the exceptions, rather than the rule. The team lacks leadership. They certainly don't get any from their quarterback, that aptly nicknamed "Iceman." He melts whenever the heat is on. Nor is there anybody on the defense standing up and taking charge.
All right, enough of this ranting. Maybe they will turn it around this week. AMybe they will pull it all together, and play like we know they can. Maybe Sanders will wake up and remember that to make first downs, you occasionally have to throw the ball vertically, instad of sideways. Maybe Chavis will convince his DBs to play a little less than 20 yards off of their receivers. Maybe the offensive line will gel, and start opening holes for Davis, Housten and the rest. Maybe Fulmer will put Riggs into the game when it still means something. If he can't pass block, that's OK, just put the ball in his hands and let him do what he does best. MAybe CJ leak will present some problems for a defense prepared for a stationary Clausen.
Then again, maybe not.
Georgia 35 Tennessee 17
Y'all feel free to write in and rag the hell out of me if we win. I promise I'll take it like a man, smiling the whole time. I hate Georgia.