A New Familiarity


Tennessee's team buses pulled up to The Torchbearer at 10:40 AM, and we the people were waiting.

It's a slightly different experience with the Vol Walk this year, with the team busing in just past Circle Park, and everyone disembarking from there.  We waited for our first glimpse of our new head coach, while we watched the Vols literally rock the bus as they prepared to file out behind him.

And then the doors opened, and Kiffin stepped out to a welcome that belongs to rock stars and caesars.

Now, if it was me, I would've eaten that moment alive.  I would've done my best wrestling heel impersonation and channeled Shawn Michaels or Razor Ramon, and pretended to be above it all while playing to all of it at the same time.  Either that, or I would've grinned from ear to ear like a little kid who couldn't believe it.

But not Kiffin.

Kiffin met the crowd of new devotees, and whatever he was thinking behind those sunglasses, we couldn't tell.  Because Lane Kiffin was all business.

And an hour and forty-one minutes later, the Vols returned the favor.   

Don't get me wrong:  the Vols certainly looked like they enjoyed every minute of today's 63-7 win over Western Kentucky, as Hooper already pointed out.  But when you pile up 657 yards of offense while allowing only 83 on defense, you're not screwing around.

When Jonathan Crompton threw that first interception, what were you thinking?

Was it"I bet he goes 12 of his next 14 for 3 TDs"?  Because that's what he did.

When Montario Hardesty fumbled, did you have flashbacks to Arian Foster and wasted opportunities?  Or were you thinking that the Vols would ultimately run for 380 yards at an equally staggering 8.6 yards per carry?  Because that's what happened.

In responding to adversity with success - especially from Crompton - the Vols buried every possibility of the ghosts of 2008 coming back to haunt them today, and instead resurrected the memories of Tennessee Football at its finest:  a dominant running game, a defensive line that lives in the opposing team's backfield, and a big, big win.

It was familiar from the back of our minds, the good ol' days.  But it was also new.

New when Marsalis Teaguestepped in and looked nothing like a freshman, with 6 catches for 86 yards.  New when Quintin Hancock caught 5 passes for 65 yards, which is 5 passes and 65 yards more than he had last year.  New when Brandon Warren finally, finally caught a touchdown pass.  New when eleven different Vols caught passes.

The defensive line was almost entirely new though no freshmen started.  But with Wes Brown at tackle, Chris Walker and Gerald Williams at end, and the old reliable with Dan Williams at the other tackle spot, the Vols enjoyed their most destructive day in years from the d-line:  4 sacks and 5.5 TFLs.  Along with the rest of the defense, they did their part in holding WKU to under 100 yards of total offense.

But the deepest breaths of fresh air came from the two men we were watching the most:  Jonathan Crompton and Lane Kiffin.

It'll take more time and a better opponent to determine if #8 has truly put childish ways behind him and become a man.  But if Crompton was the poster boy for the disastrous 2008 season, he's equally eligible for a return appearance as the face of resurrection in 2009.  Because the man out there today was not the boy out there last season.  Crompton looked familiar in appearance only - in play, he was something different, and something very welcome.  When the offense is ripping off first downs on the ground no matter which tailback is in, Crompton merely needs to manage, and manage he did.  I think we'll take 21 of 28 straight to the bank.

And you know what?  I'm really happy for him.  Today was what Crompton had to be envisioning from childhood just across the border.  And after four different offensive coordinators and five long years, Crompton played a great game as the quarterback of the University of Tennessee.  So today, we tip our caps to our senior quarterback.

And next week, we'll be looking for the man and not the boy again.

Lane Kiffin was all new.  The preparation and the approach leading up to the game were well documented.  He said he would play freshmen, and he did.  He said he would stick with one quarterback, and he did.

But on the field today, we got even more than what we bargained for.

Up 28-0 and on defense in the final minute of the first half?  We're burning all three of our timeouts, because yes, we want the ball back, because yes, we think we're going to score.

4th and 4 near midfield in the 3rd quarter?  No discussions, no alternatives:  we're going for it.  And if we don't make it, you can't score on our defense anyway.

Nick Stephens comes in with the Vols up 35 in the 4th quarter?  He's throwing.

Lane Kiffin knows only acceleration. 

Late in the game, my Dad, who's been doing this a lot longer than me, sent me a text mentioning that Kiffin's got some mid-90s Spurrier in him, running up the score.

You know what?  I think we'll take some of that around here. 

I mean really, did you think you'd be discussing the all-time scoring mark (70 points) in today's game?

And when asked about the Vols' jaw-dropping numbers and sensational execution?  "This is the way we expect to play," he says.

Really, say something negative about what you saw out there today.  Go ahead, I'll wait.

 

...

 

It reminded you of the best of times, today.  You remembered that yes, people can leave Neyland Stadium with the same smile they were wearing when they walked in.  That we don't have to sweat it out against a lesser opponent (see Wyoming/NIU '08, Vanderbilt '07, Air Force '06, UAB '05, etc).  That football is still fun in Knoxville.

It looks different.  And it is new.  But in one game, we caught a glimpse of how this new staff can take this old program to the best of times again.  And as we take them one game at a time...today's one game was the best of times.

The bar gets raised in seven days.  And I cannot wait to see this team clear it.

Go Vols.

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