Questions about what it will take for the Vols to keep winning and earn bowl eligibility will be answered in the coming weeks. Questions about whether this was the night that the Vols stopped going downhill as a program and started climbing the mountain again will take years to resolve. For now, we're just going to enjoy winning. Remember winning? It's awesome.
We were looking for it coming into the Liberty Bowl, but somewhere in the back of our minds was the memory of the UAB game, and the possibility that the depleted, downtrodden Vols might once again struggle. The first two drives of the game brought that possibility uncomfortably close to reality, as the Vols were stopped on 4th and 2 and Memphis responded with a quick strike touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead.
We also came to Memphis with our hopes on the tattooed back of freshman Tyler Bray, who sparked the Vol offense in the second half at South Carolina. But somewhere in the back of our minds was the reality that he was and is a 180 pound true freshman playing behind an offensive line that starts three additional freshmen...and nothing was certain.
But after those first two drives, both Bray and the Vols put all fears to bed.
Tyler tied the four-quarter school record for touchdown passes...in the first half, with five. He finished 19 of 32 for 325 yards, 5 TDs and 0 INTs. He (and Matt Simms in backup duty) spread the ball to eight different receivers, a group again led by experience (Denarius Moore 6 for 103, Gerald Jones 5 for 66) featuring one spectacular touchdown catch by Justin Hunter. Add in Tauren Poole's 101 yards on 16 carries, and Tennessee finished with 510 yards of total offense to go with 50 points.
The most telling picture of the Vol defense might be the fact that Eric Gordon had to play the whole game, because we literally don't have four other guys to comprise a second team secondary. But those that did play held Memphis to 308 yards and forced 5 turnovers, and made sure the outcome wasn't in doubt after that first drive.
The result is a 50-14 win, Tennessee's first since late September. Yeah, it was Memphis. But for one, this is what Tennessee is supposed to do to Tiger High. And two...this season can be made or broken next week. We'll take a look at Ole Miss and figure out how the Vols can earn their first SEC victory and stay in the hunt for bowl eligiblity and, more importantly, forward progress, on Monday. And make no mistake: it will be the most important game of Derek Dooley's young career.
But for now...it's been six weeks. I don't care that it was Memphis. Winning is fun. We should try it more often...and hopefully, we're about to.