Disjointed Thoughts on a Disjointed Team

There are no right answers. Not now, at least. 

There's a lot of study on the relative merit of favorite vs. underdog strategies in football. While there are various degrees of detail on what those strategies entail - and there's plenty of discussion on that - the general idea is simple: favorites need strategies that limit potential variance in performance. Underdogs need the exact opposite. It's a painful admission for us, but we're underdogs right now against most of our opponents. We need variance in performance on both sides to have a chance in most of our games.

This is why Justin Worley started. This is why we're attempting onside kicks. This is who we are, at least for now. It won't always be that way. Hopefully, it won't be that way next year, or two years from now, or three, four, and five years from now. Hopefully, we won't need to resort to those kind of tricks. We were transitioning from an underdog to a favorite before Justin Hunter got injured, before Tyler Bray got injured, before we faced the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide murderer's row.

The problem we're having now has propagated over a few seasons. The easy answer is depth; it started with the 2007 class and the lone shooting star in that group. 2008 wasn't any better, and we'll probably continue to write about the unholy massacre that was Kiffin's only class here. Last year and this year seem decent. By the numbers - and by the sight test - we have some key talent. We don't have enough yet, though. Doc Saturday had a great post this past Friday (that I can't seem to find now) about the relative attrition at Florida - among a potential 85 scholarships, only 60 guys were actively recruited - the rest were comprised off of walk-ons. Although I haven't seen a similar study for Tennessee, I can't imagine it's much different.

The hard answer is leadership. In soccer, the phrase "off form" is used to describe a striker that can't find goals. (Fernando Torres - until recently - was a textbook example of how to deploy this phrase.) After a while, it starts to propagate; the confidence to score has to come from somewhere, and the belief you can win has to come from somewhere. Who among the players has seen a big win? Do we count the Jonathan Crompton game? The 2009 Halloween-a-thon against South Carolina, where everything went right for long enough to put the game out of reach?

We need the coaching staff to provide leadership, the idea that you can indeed win the Big Game. The big three have done this, but not recently. Derek Dooley was on a championship winning-LSU coaching squad - in 2004. Jim Chaney's taken teams to the Rose Bowl - a decade ago. Justin Wilcox has led defenses to undefeated seasons - in Boise. It's not their fault that the previous regimes couldn't get the players the evidence that they can win a Big Game - any Big Game - but it falls to them to instill that belief. It has nothing to do with scheme, and it has everything to the nebulous mental characteristics that I hate because there's no easy way to quantify them or tell that they exist. We know they exist, or we at least would like to think they do.

The harder answer is coaching.  When mistakes are made with a team that has no margin for error, they're obvious. I don't begrudge making risky calls in this environment, but we're one smack to the face away from folding. It's a rough path to ask a coaching staff to not let that happen, but it's a path that we need to take. It won't fall on Dooley or Chaney or Wilcox yet, but a fanbase that wilts when we get down 7-3 needs a reason to believe. That reason should've come last year - twice - but it didn't. That reason should've come against Florida - one bad third down - but it didn't. That reason should've come against Georgia - one bad snap - but it didn't.

The hardest answer is in our head. At some point, the bandages don't work anymore. At some point, the problems have to be righted. This might not be solved by a QB change, or a RB change, or a WR change, or a CB change, or maybe even a coaching change. At some point, everyone needs to step up and show that there is a spine, there is a need, there is a desire. Until then?

There are no right answers.

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