If you think I can find five positive things about a 49-7 loss to Arkansas, you've got a lot more faith in me than you should. You'll see in a moment that I'm truly stretching, searching to find something.
It has been that kind of season, when injuries, an awful schedule, suspect coaching and second-half collapses all clash at once and turn a once-promising season into one we all just want to end.
Anyway, I'm depressing myself. So, onto the trending report.
- Justin Worley's Arm Strength. The kid never should have been taken out of the game, but that's one of the many things I've questioned Derek Dooley on this year. Had DeAnthony Arnett fought for that ball [that never should have been thrown] at the goal line, Worley wouldn't have had a turnover there, either. It was by no means a perfect game for the true freshman, but he did improve a bit from the first time he played an SEC opponent. The thing I was most excited about was his arm strength, which, along with his mechanics, were worries entering this season. In due time, I think he'll be a fine SEC QB.
- Marlin Lane. Forget that he got dragged down from behind [more on that in a bit], the freshman broke UT's longest run of the season from the Wildcat package. There's really no reason he shouldn't have had more carries, either from that formation or more traditional sets.
- Da'Rick Rogers. I know he's not the world's greatest leader and he has too much of the "me first" mentality that is prevalent among wide receivers, but the sophomore from Calhoun, Ga., despite playing with three quarterbacks this season, is second in the SEC in catches and receiving yards. He had another 106 yards against Arkansas and has a legit shot to reach 1,000 yards in what has been a nice year on which to build.
- An Offensive Step Forward ... Kinda. Tennessee actually moved the football some against an SEC defense. Even though the Vols scored only seven points, they had 16 first downs, 238 passing yards and 138 rushing yards. There was enough complete and utter failure where you still knew it was Tennessee, but at least there was a pulse out there. It wasn't like watching stagnant water, so that's a bonus.
- The Meat of the Schedule Is Over. It was much worse than we expected it would be, and yeah, we're 0-6 for the first time ever. But we've got Vanderbilt and Kentucky coming up, and even though the Commodores are favored to win in Neyland, that's a winnable game for UT. There are still bowl hopes, and it appears that Tyler Bray will be back for the game against VU. Maybe we can put all this mess behind us and do whatever it takes to get to a bowl game. It would be nice to knock Vandy out of one at the same time.
Everything. No, seriously. Did you SEE the Trending Up? I'm reaching. Try to be more specific, you say? OK. Coaching. Talent. Competitiveness. Accountability. Depth. Embarrassment. Perhaps the worst ebb in the program's history. National perception. You name it. Be more specific? Here are the things from the Arkansas game...
- Playing Matt Simms AT ALL At This Point Of the Season. Really, Derek? Really? I know a lot of our readers do not see eye-to-eye with me that Dooley has made some quizzical [at best] decisions this year -- and he made about a hundred questionable ones in my mind last night -- but how can you justify playing Simms throughout the fourth quarter? Why not let Worley get some more reps against a top-10 team's defense? Why quit trying to score? I thought that was completely ridiculous and inexcusable.
- Team Speed. There is perhaps no bigger gulf between us and the top tier of the SEC than in this department. We witnessed it all over the field against Florida. Malcolm Mitchell made Marsalis Teague enjoy scorch marks against Georgia. LSU and even Alabama made the corner more often than not against us. And, last night, there was Marlin Lane breaking free on a Wildcat run, only to get dragged down by an Arkansas defensive back. Don't worry, if that Razorback wouldn't have gotten him, two others would have. We simply have no speed, and from an offensive skill position standpoint, the Vols don't really have a lot of it coming in this recruiting class, either. That's why finishing with guys like Coradelle Patterson, Pig Howard and Quenshaun Watson is necessary.
- Second Half Collapse .... Again. The Vols were outscored 28-0 against Arkansas after the offense held the ball for 21 minutes in the first half. UT hasn't scored a point in the second half since the Georgia game. When, oh when, are people going to acknowledge that this has at least something to do with coaching/motivation? It's not depth. It's not talent. It's this team quitting or just failing to respond. It's really one of those two, and I'm convinced of it.
- Just How Far We Are. Are we really going to compete with the upper tier in the SEC next year? I know some people believe that, and maybe Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter are that good. It's been so long since either has played with just sadness in the interim that I've forgotten. But right now, we're six touchdowns worse than the team we just played Saturday apparently, so I feel like there's a considerable gulf in where we are and where we want to be ... even with the insertion of a couple of stars. Right now, I just have no confidence. And that goes for this weekend's game against Vanderbilt, too.