The Big Orange Roundtable - Week Three

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YMSWWC has the honors in Week Three, and we get right to it...as always, we invite your responses as well in the comments.

1. Now that we have covered the receivers & QB’s, let’s get to the running game. Just how much improved do you think the running game will be?

I hesistate here because I've liked our running game in late July pretty much every year of my life.  I'm always convinced that whoever's coming back is due for a breakout season, and whoever's coming in is going to be the next name in our pantheon of great Vol RBs.

And we were spoiled, really, for about a dozen years.  When your starting tailbacks are Reggie Cobb, Chuck Webb, Tony Thompson, James "Little Man" Stewart, Charlie Garner, Jay Graham, Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry and Travis Stephens ('89-'01), you get used to greatness.

But since then, we've had Cedric Houston, Gerald Riggs, and Arian Foster.  Houston is an NFL backup and did combine with Riggs for over 2,000 yards in '04...but those names aren't inspiring the same level of confidence.  Montario Hardesty's name has to go in that same group - for now - where again you have to like some of the flashes that you've seen, but you've never seen any consistency.

I think as much as we're going to have to rely on the run this year - not because the coaches promise we will, but because really, we have to - Hardesty has a shot to put together a very solid season.  I'm just interested to see what he can do if he stays healthy all year, really. 

And then there's Bryce Brown.  Kiffin made the comment in an interview or press conference that (paraphrasing) David Oku looked like your average skinny freshman, and BBrown looked like a guy who'd been in the NFL a couple years.  Which one do you think is going to get carries?

I think it's unfair to expect Brown to be Jamal Lewis '97 and run for 200 yards in his second start.  And I'm still so accustomed to Fulmer that most of me expects Hardesty to be the feature back this year and Brown to take over in 2010.  Phil Steele has Brown as a second team All-SEC pick...I'll go as far as to say that if the Vols are going to be successful this year, it's through the run, and if so I wouldn't be surprised to find Brown or Hardesty in that slot.  We're going to be better because we have to be, which always makes sense to me this time of year.

2. During the SEC media days, Kiffin made the comment "Do I love every single thing I’ve done my (first) seven months? No, I haven’t loved having to do it. But it needed to be done, in my opinion, for us to get where we needed to be." What do you think he was talking about? 

This is a great question.  Kiffin has been all about getting Tennessee's name out there, so you know that the things he's said and done have been, for the most part, calculated moves in an effort to do just that.  And he's succeeded.

Which part of that didn't he enjoy?  Well, I think for him to have done something he didn't enjoy then it was intentional, which to me rules out the Urban Meyer/Nu'Keese Richardson comments, because I still truly believe he wasn't fully aware of how quickly those comments were going to get out of that closed room.

YMSWWC mentions him letting go of players and recruits because they didn't fit the system, and I agree that could be part of it.  I said in last week's edition that I might've handled the Tajh Boyd situation differently in hindsight, and likewise I wonder if Kiffin would've handled BJ Coleman a little differently as well.

If Kiffin quits talking if the Vols start winning, you'll get a better idea of how much of what we've seen and heard in the last seven months is truly his character or the on-stage performance meant to get the Vols in the national consciousness.  Until then, a comment like that at media days makes me remember that we're still, in a lot of ways, getting to know this guy.

3. Do you think giving Mike Hamilton a big raise and extension is a mistake before seeing how Kiffin performs as a head coach?

Yes, and I'd be willing to bet we're unanimous on this one.  As others have said, this is an example of not learing from your own mistakes in giving Fulmer a big raise and extension before the 2008 season.  If Hamilton and Kiffin ultimately have their fates tied together, you're rewarding one before you've seen anything tangible from the other.  And regardless of anything the new guy has done, why does the AD get a raise when the football coach gets fired?

4. What is the one game Tennessee needs to win this season? 

UCLA, and I'm a firm believer in this.

Let's forget about the last two season openers and the fact that we got beat by Wyoming and shouldn't take anyone for granted...but I'm gonna give us Western Kentucky, alright?  All things being equal, the one game Tennessee needs to win every season is Florida...but things aren't equal when it comes to the Gators this year, and I think we all understand that.

This thing is about progress and momentum for Kiffin.  The Vols can maintain both even with a loss to Florida, because everybody is going to lose to Florida.  But for that momentum to even have a chance to get out of the gate, the Vols have to beat UCLA.  They have to.

Should the Bruins beat Tennessee again this year, all the positive energy Kiffin has built up will fizzle.  Thousands who remain unconvinced that the Tennessee program needs a complete rebuilding overhaul would suddenly realize it, and expectations and energy would be massively lowered in only the second week of the season.  Fans would resign themselves to 6-6.

But if the Vols beat UCLA, they'll almost certainly start 3-1 with a great chance to be 4-1 if they can beat Auburn in Knoxville (which I think is the second most important game of the year).  If the Vols can build that sort of momentum, a loss later in the season would be easier to handle and wouldn't be so devastating to momentum.  No one is rationally expecting us to go 12-0...but of whatever losses we're allowing for in our heads, none of us are pictuing UCLA being one of them.  An SEC loss later in the year is one thing.  A September home loss to a team we all believe we should've manhandled last year is quite different.

We're used to bouncing back immediately from down years.  When the Vols went 8-5 in 2002, they beat Florida in The Swamp in 2003.  When the Vols went 5-6 in 2005, they ambushed Cal in 2006.  Those big moments helped the losses later in those years be more bearable.  Tennessee needs the same thing this year.  We need momentum as long as we can keep it...and nothing would kill it faster than a home loss to UCLA.

It will be Kiffin's first real test...and for no other reason than that, the Vols need to pass. 

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