Tennessee / Florida Thoughts and Analysis

"Thou pendulum betwixt a smile and tear"

   --  Lord Byron

"A pendulum always swings fastest through its point of stability; likewise, the pendulum dwells longest at the point of greatest stress."

  --  hooper

Love him or hate him, Lord Byron was undoubtedly a better poet than me.  That notwithstanding, each Vols football fan has found residence on a pendulum.  Swinging to and fro, this pendulum has carried us through the extremes of elation and sorrow.  May we never visit a psychiatrist, or we will all be diagnosed as manic-depressive.  Besides, that shrink would be a Florida alum, knowing our luck.

70589378_68a6939551_medium

Foucault's Pendulum (via sylvar)

Our pendulum does not swing gently in the soft breeze of an eternal summer (as does that of Southern Cal), nor does it hang limply with no energy or life (as does that of Syracuse).  Instead, we ride the waves back and forth as if it were the North Atlantic. 

Joy
 Sorrow
Triumph
   Defeat
Confidence
  Impotence
Life
Death

Where did we come from, where are we now, and where will the pendulum carry us next?  Let us take another look at the Florida game (shudder) and see what we can see of this ride we're on.

Where We Came From

Look backwards along the trail of the pendulum and see where we were before the season started:

  • New Offense
    •  
      • The Clawfense.  West-Coastish.  Wingish.  Tough to defend.  Masterful at playcalling.  New life to break the monotony of the 5-yard out pattern. 
      • The Mountain Cannon.  Crompton.  The change-up from the 1-2-3-throwaway.  Guts.  Enthusiasm.
      • The G-Gun.  Rarely seen before.  New life.  New plays.
  • Clean Schedule
    •  
      • UCLA.  Weak.  Revamped across the board.  Lack of talent.  Injuries.  No QB.
      • UAB.  Spread - like Florida.  No defense.  Sure win.  Good for confidence of players and fans.
      • Florida.  At home.  Tough game.  Homefield advantage.  Improved schemes.  Stable of running backs to keep Tebow off the field.

At the beginning of the year, we had every reason to believe that this would be a magic year.  But perhaps we had too many reasons.  Perhaps we were riding the pendulum too far to elation, oblivious to the inevitable swing.

Where We Are

Standing at 1-2, we have endured a cold dose of reality to our pipe dreams of the unstoppable monolith.  We were upset by UCLA.  UAB wasn't as big of a blowout as expected.  Florida was Florida.  Look around from the pendulum, and our perspective yields:

  • Bad Coaching
    •  
      • Fulmer.  Unable to adjust.  Coaching past his prime.  Made a living off talent, but the pool is stagnant.  The game has passed him by.  Fire Fulmer.
      • Chavis.  Mustang.  Mustang.  Mustang.  Graciously offers the box as a defender-free passing zone.  Avoids the long pass by allowing a dozen easy short passes.  Unable to adjust.  Fire Chavis.
      • Clawson.  So that's the Clawfense.  Nothing special.  Passes when the running backs are the strong hand.  Doesn't use his talent.  Fire Clawson.
      • Hamilton.  Accepts mediocrity.  Won't hold Fulmer accountable.  8 wins is enough.  No chance for change.  Fire Hamilton.
  • Bad Play
    •  
      • Crompton.  Can't throw accurately anymore.  Holds the ball too long.  Doesn't scan the field.  Telegraphs his passes.  Replace Crompton.
      • O-line.  Can't protect.  Can't run block.  5 veterans and nothing special.  Would call for replacements, but none to be found.
      • Foster.  Can't run inside.  Too slow.  Can't hold onto the ball.  Replace Foster.
      • Defense.  Can't pass rush.  Can't cover.  Too slow.  If it weren't for Saint Berry, we'd have an unmitigated disaster.  Can't replace - no depth.
      • Special teams.  Can't punt block.  Refuse to punt away from a hot returner.  Can't make long field goals.  Can't spring Rogan loose.  Hire a special teams coach.

Not a pretty picture, that.  In the span of a few very fast weeks, we rode the pendulum from the heights of elation to the utter depths of despair.  Hopeful to Hopeless.

It was the best of times.  It is the worst of times.

  --  adapted from Dickens

What Does it Mean?

Before declaring UT football dead, let us at least recognize the severity of the swing we are on.  With such a dichotomy of perception, the most likely scenario is that we have swung through the center of the pendulum's swing and are now residing somewhere near the extreme.  Let's take a look at the Florida game and see if we can gain some insight to this pendulum of ours.  Where exactly is the center?  How long until we pass through it again?  Do we even get there, or is the pendulum destined to fly apart at the extreme, never to return?

What is the Difference?

To understand the Florida game, let's take a look this year's game as compared to last year's game:

Play_and_drive_table_medium

Last year's game was a disaster for UT; a year of cooling off has only confirmed that feeling.  This year's game, however, shows very significant improvements:

  • Play Balance  Even considering the late hole, UT didn't end up as a pass-only team.
  • Plays/Drive  Largely due to the balanced playcalling, UT managed 2 plays per drive more.  Florida also managed an extra play per drive, but a large part of that was not allowing the 1-play TD type drives.  In both regards, UT actually did better.
  • Yards/Drive  UT improved their average drive distance by a full ten yards.  Much of that was from the two drives with turnovers within 10 yards of the end zone.  Florida's distance was actually decreased.  Much of that decrease was due to some short-field plays and a rather bad UT punting game.  But the defense performed much, much better.

The game also showed some retrograde:

  • Punts  Florida punted only once.  Combine that with zero turnovers, and that's not a good mark for UT.
  • Kickoffs  This is a backward step, but only because of the lack of scoring.

And some oddities:

  • Total Plays  UT had more plays in both games, but the total number was markedly down.  Thank the new clock rules for killing the game.
  • Total Drives  If ever there was any doubt about the difficulty of coming from behind with the new clock rules, doubt no more.  UT had only 9 drives.  Florida had one more due to kneeldown drives to the both halves.  But this is the new reality:  your offense gets very few opportunities to score.  There is very little room for error.

Taking a closer look at the yardage gained by both teams, here are some pretty graphs:


Utuf_2007_yards_medium

Egad.  Outgained on the ground by a serious margin.  Passing is roughly equal, but remember that UT passed a kajillion times.  UT had more kickoff yards by virtue of receiving a lot more kicks.  Note the Punt Return Yardage.  Did you remember that UT has zero punt return yards last year?  Punt return yards act much like rushing yards; they move the offense closer to the end zone without the risk of an interception.  Florida gained an additional 91 "rushing" yards in the punting game.

2008?

Utuf_2008_yards_medium

This chart is scaled identically to the 2007 chart.  Note that the yardage totals are much lower.  Again, part of this is the lack of plays due to new clock rules.  Part is also due to better defensive play.  UT was still significantly behind Florida in rushing yards, but also significantly outgained Florida in passing.  Again, UT had more kickoff return yards by virtue of receiving more kickoffs.  (Ugh.)  Note again the Punt Return Yardage.  UT's 3 Punt Return Yards do not show up enough to make a visible mark.  Meanwhile, Florida gained 91 Punt Return Yards - an additional net 88 "rushing" yards in Florida's favor.  Ummm, yeah.  No need to belabor this point.

TURNOVERS

The effect of turnovers in 2007 is easy to explain: after the Ainge reverse-handoff-fumble-fiasco play, UT deflated.  The comeback-in-progress left the building, never to return.  It was from that point that the rout was on.  In 2008, the effect was different.  UT fumbled twice and was intercepted once - two of those within 5 yards of the end zone.  Unlike last year, turnovers did not cause the team to collapse.  Turnovers did prevent UT from scoring and allowed for some easy Florida points, but UT didn't collapse into the shell they inhabited last year.  Turnovers caused a 17-point swing in a 24-point game.  An ill-advised punt caused another 7 point swing.  Here's the breakdown:

Utuf_affected_points_medium

This is a "what-if" question: what if the turnover and punt return points did not happen, but nothing else was affected?  Extrapolated a little further:  what if UT had also scored touchdowns on the two goal-line turnovers?  Removing the effects of single drive-altering plays from the scoreboard is an attempt to see how closely the game was played outside of the one-shot plays.  Here, the "Unaffected" score tells the same story as the stats:  the game was played very closely; a very small number of plays greatly affected the final score.  UT effectively gave away 10 points on 2 plays, and effectively lost 14 points on 2 other plays. 

This is not reality; nor is this meant to displace reality.  Punt returns and turnovers are a part of the game, and their contribution is just as valid as any touchdown drive.  We can't know whether Florida would have scored if James hadn't returned the punt for a touchdown, but we can see how the play on the field compared for the drives other than that punt return.  Florida deserves credit for having all those plays in their favor; nothing discredits that.  But UT deserves credit for playing much better than the scoreboard generally suggests.

Summary

Despite our initial read, UT played a much better football game than appearances would indicate.  Florida deserved the win because they (a) have vastly superior special teams play (b) didn't have fatal miscommunications in their playcalling, and (c) effectively used the new clock rules to eliminate any possibility of a comeback.  UT does deserve a lot of credit, though, for playing a hard-fought game and not giving up.  Everything broke against them, but they did not "quit".

Reality exists somewhere between the extremes: neither the preseason hype nor the post-Florida abyss define the UT football team.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Clock Rules 1:  There were only 2.5 drives in the second quarter: a continuation of a drive for UT (fumble at the end zone), a long scoring drive for Florida, and a long drive for UT (INT in the end zone).  A Florida kneeldown ended the half.
  • Clock Rules 2:  UT had a drive in the 3rd quarter of 3 plays that took 2:55 off the clock.  Yes, that's one play per minute.  And that's from the team trying to preserve the clock.  4th-quarter drama just became an endangered species in NCAA play.
  • Clock Rules 3:  Urban Meyer knows that the clock can be killed in record fashion.  Mr. "Run It Up" played nearly the entire second half to drain the clock out rather than to add to the score.  This is the new rule of college football:  if a team trails by 2 touchdowns at the start of the 4th quarter, their odds of coming back are very slim.  Punting may not be an option if the other team can run the ball.
  • Eyes of the Observer:  One insightful prospect noted the following about the game:  "They could have won the game.  I see they have the pieces to do that.  Just some costly turnovers and mistakes cost them a chance to battle for the game."  If you don't believe me about this point, at least believe the recruit who hasn't been in the middle of the Knoxville firestorm for the last three weeks.
  • Crowd Effect:  The home crowd had a definite impact on the game.  Have you ever seen Fulmer so agitated?  Did you see the looks in the players' eyes when a mistake was made?  Without a doubt, they knew what everybody was thinking, and it mattered very much to them.  More on this later.

“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong”

  --  Carl Gustav Jung

 

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