Well, I'm sorry this is late. Not that there are a lot of positives to look at during a 37-6 loss to our biggest rival unless you only look at the first half -- which I'll essentially be doing during the "trending up" portion of this.
Oh, also, I got to watch the game in Savannah, Ga., with a room full of Alabama fans who just so happen to be my wife/in-laws. Shouting matches, passions and frustration ensued. Not good times. Also, I watched the game on a crappy standard-definition television, so my already spotty analysis will be even worse this week. Oh well, onto the trends.
- A.J. Johnson. The freshman outside linebacker is playing out of position and probably hasn't completely grasped the entire defensive scheme yet, and he's still tied for the team lead in tackles. In the two games against the best teams in the country the past two weeks, the freshman from Gainesville, Ga., has led the team in tackles. He was all over the field against Alabama, and is going to be the next great Tennessee linebacker. I am now convinced. Once we get him in the middle where he belongs, he is going to be a monster. If he stays outside, he'll still probably lead the team in tackles. He is a load, and I'm excited about him. You should be, too.
- The Vols' Rush Defense/Offense. Tennessee held Bama to 143 rushing yards and a 3.8 average. Not only that, but Heisman hopeful Trent Richardson didn't have any highlight-reel runs while getting 77 rushing yards. The Vols really hammered down against the run, especially in the first half, and they are looking better and better in that department. The Tide wore UT down late in the game as usual, but this team is making marked improvement in that department for sure. Even though I'm not giving him his own entry, Tauren Poole made our rush offense respectable for the second weekend in a row, and UT's offensive line is finally improving in that area as well to make us a little more balanced.
- The Much-Maligned Kicker Michael Palardy. Yeah, I'm creamed him on this site several times this year, but the sophomore from Florida finally looked like the top kicker in the country that he was coming out of high school. He nailed two field goals, including a career-long 52-yarder, was much more consistent kicking off [the few times he actually did] and had a 40 yard average in his five punts. Oh, and by the way, he also threw UT's best pass of the day on a fake punt. So, there's that.
- Alex Bullard Playing Center. No bad snaps. Excellent blocking for the most part. The Vols finally appear to have found their center. Unfortunately, it took Derek Dooley most of the season to do it, but the bottom line is he's in there with plenty of time to make an impact on the season.
- Tennessee's Ability To Play With the Top Level of Talent in the Country For a Half. Don't get too excited about this. All that really did was give us enough hope to get it all ripped away because of the first bullet in the downward trends.
- Tennessee's Apparent Inability To Make ANY Halftime Adjustments Against Anybody of Any Consequence. Yeah, that's a mouthful, but you know what I mean. I am putting this on the coaches this week along with inexperience, so I'm ready if you want to bash me. The third quarter cannot be blamed on depth. The Vols' defense was actually pretty rested heading into Bama's first possession of the third quarter -- a five-play drive that included four completed passes and A.J. McCarron's bootleg touchdown run. I've said it and I'll continue to say it -- there needs to be a point in Dooley's tenure where the team consistently plays at a high level for 60 minutes. Until they do, I will not have the faith that Dooley is the right man for the job. It's also obvious that Bama was sleep-walking to an extent, woke up and displayed its superior talent, but this team -- as Dooley said -- is "fragile." They just stand around waiting for the Bad Thing That's Going To Happen. When it does, the game is over. Part of that is inexperience, part of it is getting used to losing and part of the inability to move past that is coaching. It just is.
- Dooley's Decision To Tear Off Justin Worley's Redshirt. Again, this is something else that some of you guys won't agree with, but here is my reasoning: If Dooley had decided to do this today after a couple nights of sleeping on it and realizing that this is the only way we're going to win football games, I'd be 100 percent on board. To do it late in a blowout game just reeked of desperation. Worley didn't even throw a pass -- and I know it's because Marlin Lane fumbled, but still ... By doing it when he did it, Dooley essentially said, "Justin's our guy for the rest of the year." Does that mean Tyler Bray isn't coming back this season? Does it mean the coaches have the confidence that they can recruit a really good quarterback every year? Does it simply mean that this is really the only chance they think we have to win games? I hope that it's "C" because anything else is inexcusable. Listen: We don't know anything about how Worley will react to being thrown in the fire, and that goes for the coaches, too. What if he doesn't have as strong an arm as Simms, as has been reported? What if it's that COUPLED with him not being able to check us into good running situations as apparently Simms was able to do? I like Matt as a person, but I'm not on his bandwagon. He's not a good quarterback. But is he worse than Worley? Then, we're even worse. Does Worley give us the best chance to beat South Carolina and moving forward? I just don't know. I wish Dooley would have waited to make all these decisions leading into the South Carolina game. He didn't, and at least he's starting Worley against his homestate Gamecocks. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't really have a choice. I don't agree with the timing of the move. That is not to say I don't think Worley should be the guy now. I'm perfectly fine with it moving forward, but I just don't know if it's the right move at all. And neither does Dooley. In a year when he should be safe from judgement, he's putting himself in a position to draw immense criticism. I don't think he cares, but he should... Of course, if Worley leads us to a win against South Carolina, I'll be calling Dooley a genius next week. Fandom! Goulet.
- Our Secondary. Goodness, it's terrible. Marsalis Teague has looked terrible. Rod Wilks is pushing Brent Brewer for playing time [and we thought Brewer may go pro after this year, ha ha...], Justin Coleman is in over his head as a freshman, even Waggner got torched. The only bright spots are freshman Brian Randolph and sophomore Izaeua Lanier, and they're not elite talents. God, we miss Janzen.
- The Non-Existent Pass Rush And the Shell of A Player Jacques Smith Has Become. Seriously, Jaq?? We thought he'd be a monster, and he's getting pushed around every game doing too much "freelancing" as Dooley calls it. McCarron is not as good as I thought he was, yet we're giving him six seconds to throw the football, he's going to find open receivers all night. When you do that, the best secondary in the country will have problems, and we might have one of the two worst secondaries in the conference.
- Matt Simms And The Fact That It's Not His Fault He's a Bad Quarterback. For all I said above, the bottom line remains that Simms was worse than awful the past two weeks. Does some of that have to do with playing the best defenses in the country? Of course. But when you fail to hit a wide-open tight end on fourth-and-3 for a first down ... when you fail to get 6 inches on a quarterback sneak because you're holding the ball at your waist ... when you hang onto the ball too long only to throw an interception to an Alabama linebacker 4 yards in front of you, things have to change, I guess. The problem I have with this is we all felt like we knew what we'd get with Simms, and we got it. He has potentially cost us two redshirts the past two years, so not only can we thank Lane Kiffin for choosing him over Tahj Boyd and Cam Newton, we can thank him for costing us another year of AT LEAST Worley, if not Tyler Bray, too. Probably wouldn't have made a lot of difference the past two weeks, but I'd feel a lot better about burning Worley's shirt if he was going into Start No. 3 this weekend against South Carolina. Oh well. They don't pay me to coach, and I'm probably talking a little out of both sides of my mouth. But I'm angry. We just got demoralized by Alabama, after all. Don't know why I expected any differently.