All right. With some of the disappointment subsided (will it ever be completely gone?), let's slow down and see what positives we might be able to take from this game.
Special teams and Patrick Peterson. We held this guy in check. He averaged 21.3 and 10 yards on kick and punt returns respectively. Janzen Jackson most often somehow beat the ball to Peterson, so Peterson was covered up and was never able to get started.
Matt Simms. This guy is tough. He finished 12-23 for 121 yards, no interceptions, and one rushing TD. I can't find the sacks stats yet, but I think he was sacked at least five times, and many of them were quite brutal.
The offense. No turnovers for the second consecutive game. That's a very good thing.
The defense. As bad as the defense looked last week against UAB, they looked much improved this week. Perhaps LSU's offense had something to do with that, but they at least did what they had to do. LSU got over 200 yards both rushing and passing, but they only scored 16 points, and the Tennessee defense forced four turnovers, including one interception each from Janzen Jackson, Nick Reveiz, and LaMarcus Thompson.
Gerald Jones. Having this guy back is big. He had five catches for 46 yards, and, a fair conclusion or not, he may have been most of the reason the team was so much better converting third downs this week.
Speaking of third downs . . . Tennessee's offense converted 7-15. Much, much, much better.
Tauren Poole. The importance of Poole can't be overstated, either. His 24 carries for 109 yards was key to the near victory.
Justin Hunter. Hunter is going to be fantastic. Wait. He's already fantastic, and hopefully he'll be more utilized and more consistent. He was exceptionally well-covered on his clutch third down 37-yard catch in the fourth. He's one of those jump-ball guys. Just throw it in his direction, and he'll be the one to come down with it.
Eric Gordon. Gordon's definitely our punt and kick returner for the foreseeable future. He's reliable, fearless, and shifty. His only punt return went for 21 yards, and he averaged 30 yards on kickoff returns and often looked like he was close to breaking one open.
One final note on Dooley's comments about the last play of the game. He's been saying that he complained early in the game about losing a timeout because the officials are supposed to step over the ball and let defenses make their own substitutions and otherwise get set when the offense substitutes players, and that they should have done that on the last play but didn't. I wonder, though, how much other stuff might have changed had that actually happened.
Didn't we want the clock running? Did we want the officials intervening? Would LSU have flubbed the snap had the officials allowed Tennessee time to get set? Sure, LSU's confusion contributed to ours, and perhaps that's the rule, but who knows how it might have played out? What we do know is how it played out and that we lost on a technicality, a violation of a rule that gave us no advantage but cost us the game.
Anyway, Dooley says the team can mourn for 24 hours but also that their character is going to be tested more this week than any week to date, that they need to shake it off, and that they have another opportunity next week. Losing a game in this way is absolutely gut-wrenching, but there were many positives in this game on which the team can build.