I said IT'S GREAT. TO BE. A TENNESSEE VOL! I say IT'S GREAT. TO BE. A TENNESSEE VOL!
And, even when the world is turning to crap around us, it's always nice to be reminded that the world is still spinning on its axis, the sun still rises in the East and sets in the West and the only things certain in this world are death, taxes and UT wins over Vandy and Kentucky.
- Our Bowl Hopes. Nothing was going to be easy for this team, and beating Vanderbilt certainly wasn't. But the Vols took care of that, and now all that stands between them and another December date in Nashville is beating a Kentucky team that Vanderbilt -- and basically everybody else -- demolished. The Wildcats played about as well as they could against Georgia in a 19-10 loss Saturday, but they were banged up in the process. With another week for Tyler Bray to heal, UT has to like its chances to beat the Cats for the 27th consecutive season next week.
The Team Body Language With Bray. It's just different. Any Tennessee fan would tell you that. I know there's a difference in Vanderbilt and the teams we've been losing to, but VU is still a pretty good team this year. This is a quality win for this team. They impressed me. Even with Bray struggling and having his worst start as a Vol, just him being in the game, in the huddle, made a difference. There was a belief that they could win, and I believe Bray was a big part of that. This Vols team believes that Bray can lead them to wins with his talent, and he made big plays when it mattered most on Saturday.
- Game-Changers. Our defense finally made them. With Vanderbilt driving after the game's opening kickoff, a Malik Jackson-forced fumble was picked up by Rod Wilks and returned inside the VU 20 for what would eventually become the game's first touchdown. Austin Johnson got another interception. Then, with the game threatening to be won by Vanderbilt, Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon made gigantic interceptions that kept the Commodores from attempting a last-second field goal and one that won the game, respectively. Not only did Gordon end VU's first possession of overtime, he took it 93 yards to the house to win the game.
- No More Run "Retreat." I was dumbfounded when I saw JaRon Toney's rushing statistics against MTSU and realized he had less than 60 rushing yards. I was even more stunned to see UT had just 101 rushing yards as a team against Vanderbilt. That's not a good number, but it certainly felt like so much more. As it turns out, the Old Gray Mare -- aka Tauren Poole -- still had a little pep in the step prior to exiting stage right. Poole finished with more than 100 rushing yards and actually gave us a belief that we can move the ball against some teams on the ground at this point of the season. The offensive line blocked better, and the receivers did, too. I don't know if it was the pistol formation or what, but UT actually was able to get some tough yards at times on the ground.
- David Ricky. Maybe the rumors of his attitude issues is the reason, and maybe it has just gotten lost in all the losing, but Da'Rick Rogers is having one of the best seasons of any receiver in Wide Receiver U history. There's no doubt that Saturday was his best game as a Vol, too. He had two brilliant touchdown catches, and it's almost a foregone conclusion that he's going to hit the century mark every game now. He went over 1,000 on the year last night, too. Can you say first-team all-conference?
- My Opinion of James Franklin. It wasn't too high to start with after he continuously crows to anyone who'll listen about how he's turning around a once downtrodden program when VU still hasn't beaten anybody of any merit. He also has stolen two of the state's top prospects from the Vols, and that never sits well ... though that's just him doing his job. But the way he stomped, pouted and pranced around the sideline on Saturday was enough to make me bristle. Then, he was about as classless as you can get immediately following the game on the field, blowing by coaches offering handshakes. There were also twitter rumors he cussed the fans, and he certainly wasn't complementary of UT's team in the postgame press conference -- despite being complimentary of Neyland and the fans in that atmosphere. Finally, he creates a culture where his players believe it's OK to cheap-shot players, and that's just five of the many reasons why he's becoming one of my favorite people to hate in college football.
- Any Receiving Target Not Named Da'Rick. Alright guys, Bray's back. Time to show your development throughout the year has paid off, right? Well, moments after Zach Rogers caught a nice ball to sustain a drive in the fourth quarter, he dropped a crucial pass that could have given UT a first down. Mychal Rivera let a well-thrown touchdown pass glance off his fingertips when it needed to be caught. Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett combined for just one catch. We really need receiving targets to step up.
- Kicking Game. Michael Palardy had his only kick blocked, and after that was wiped from the slate, he followed it up by kicking the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Thankfully, the defense answered with a three-and-out, but it was still a humongous blunder. Maybe he was a bit gimpy after getting run into, but he certainly trotted off the field, disgusted with himself and looking like it was just a mis-hit ... one of many this year. As for Matt Darr, he is wildly inconsistent. After a nice punt to pin the Dores deep on his first attempt, he struggled the rest of the night.
- How the SEC Officiating Crew Originally Handled the Gordon Pick. The final result was the right one. As my Mamaw always says, "It all came out in the wash." But how we got there was ludicrous. There was initial belief that Gordon was ruled down when replays showed he balanced himself with his hand and stayed upright. Then, replays clearly showed the referee blew the whistle, which would have blown the play dead and not been reviewable. [This led to one of Dooley's more colorful implosions on the sideline, trying to not-so-gently explain to quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw that the play wasn't reviewable.] Then, after the officials met, they told the crowd that the ruling on the field was that it was a fumble and there was no blown whistle on the play. No. 1, Why even mention the blown whistle if it "didn't happen"? No. 2, this reeks of the head official getting with the other guys and basically saying, "You completely botched that. What can we call it so we can overrule it the right way?" I'm glad it wound up the way it did, but how we got there is a little embarrassing, right? SEC officials, ladies and gentlemen! Goulet!
- Austin Johnson and Malik Jackson have played their final game in Neyland Stadium. Man, how I'd love to have both those guys back another year. They finished their careers in that house with great games -- Johnson led the team with nine tackles, one TFL, a sack, an interception and a pass deflection. Jackson was all over Jordan Rodgers all night, finishing with six tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. Those guys will be sorely missed. Hope we can send them out bowl winners.