There is nothing good about any loss to Alabama, especially not the second consecutive 31 point beating. It was almost exactly the same thing that happened last year, when the Vols trailed 13-10 at halftime and then got destroyed by big plays in the second half. The difference this time was the Vols didn't just break one big play in the first half, as Tauren Poole did in Knoxville last year. Tennessee wasn't tied with Bama at halftime because they were lucky. The Vols played toe-to-toe with Alabama for thirty minutes.
And then the second half came, and what everyone wearing orange was worried about came to life again in a real quick hurry.
Last year the Vols folded against superior competition outright. This year, Tennessee will battle until a break goes against them...and then it all falls apart. Whether it's been Justin Hunter's knee injury, or Marlin Lane's touchdown getting overturned, or a questionable spot on a 4th and 1 sneak tonight, you can pinpoint when these games change with alarming accuracy. When Tennessee didn't get that first down, the Crimson Tide rose and smashed through the defense that had been so strong in the first half. Meanwhile, the offense would come no closer to a first down the rest of the game. The end result: another 31 point loss to one of the two best teams in the nation. Only this time, the Vols were much more helpful with turnovers. And because the ground game - which ran for more yards (92) against Alabama than anyone so far this year - didn't appear out of thin air the way it did last week, there's far less to feel good about.
Instead, most of the conversation will center about the loss of Justin Worley's redshirt. The true freshman came in for Matt Simms - 8 of 17 for 58 yards with an interception and a fumble - and handed the ball off five times.
I don't know what's coming this week, but I know we'll talk about it. And look, we're a UT sports blog. We exist for commentary and conversation. It's what we do.
But the last thing on earth I want to do this week is talk about what impact playing our third string quarterback against the number one team in the nation will have on Derek Dooley's future.
The Worley conversation will dominate the week. So when it does, here's what's most important to remember:
- It's still irrational to judge Derek Dooley on last year's mess or this year's injuries
- It's still irrational to judge Matt Simms on what he does against the two best defenses in the country
You want to talk about Worley? Let's make sure we have the conversation within those contexts.
Is Worley better than Simms? We have no idea. None of us. Absolutely zero. And "he can't be worse!" is not an argument considering who Simms has faced. I'm not suggesting we should play Simms simply because it's fair. Football, like life, isn't fair. I'm saying those who know best about which quarterback is the best choice to give us a chance against South Carolina are the coaches who've seen Worley throw a football. That's more than any of us can say.
You can disagree with burning Worley's redshirt. Most of us do. But let's not lose our collective mind and make summary judgments about Derek Dooley based on what he does with his third string quarterback's redshirt. And let's not judge a team without four of its five best players too harshly based on what it does against LSU and Alabama.
Losing to the Tide by 31 points for the second year in a row is bad enough. Let's not make it worse on ourselves.
The Vols will go with whichever QB gives them the best chance to win next week. We'll discuss it and disagree and all of that. But don't forget the overall context.
We're not going to get an overall feel for this thing this season. Never were with all these injuries. The Vols can still move forward in small steps in what we hope is a similar process to the one that dominated us tonight. Getting bowl eligible still matters. And the Vols can put something together that's going to look better next week and give themselves a chance to win.
Whether that's through Simms or Worley or both, don't miss the forest for the trees. Because the forest needs our support right now.