Dear Derek, Keep Doolin' What You're Doolin'

That was fun, wasn't it? Finally? But it's time to move on to Saturday, where the Tennessee Volunteers have a chance to clinch a bowl berth in Lexington against the Kentucky Wildcats. And to do that, the Vols need to do two things they haven't done this season: win on the road and take care of business against a clearly inferior SEC opponent. Both failings are forgivable--the Vols' only road dates have come in Gainesville, Tuscaloosa, and Fayetteville, and they haven't played an inferior SEC opponent yet--but failing this weekend is not. 

It's time to focus and get the job done. Come out strong, and don't let Kentucky go into the second half thinking they have a chance. These Cats know how to fold if given the opportunity, and Tennessee must leave no doubt about said opportunity. And on a comforting note, Tennessee has actually been pretty good about this under Derek Dooley. He's had a clearly superior team seven times before, and he hasn't had a slow start in the bunch. And yes, because seven is a small number, we get to look at all of them after the jump.

 

  • September 4th, 2010. UT-Martin came to town, and Tennessee jumped out to a 13-0 first quarter lead and 20-0 halftime lead on the way to a 50-0 victory. This is perhaps the best candidate for slow starts against bad teams, as the Vols were forced into short field goals twice in the first quarter and didn't extend the lead past two scores until a Tauren Poole touchdown run with just 104 seconds to play in the first half. That said, 20-0 is 20-0. 
  • September 25th, 2010. The infamous UAB game. Vol fans remember being outplayed all afternoon and barely escaping with the win, but most have forgotten how the game started. The Vols opened with a 59 yard drive, capped off with a 13 yard touchdown pass from Matt Simms to Denarious Moore, and after UAB tied the game, Simms completed a 72 yard touchdown to Zach Rogers. The Vols held the Blazers scoreless in the second quarter, and a Prentiss Waggner pick six made it 23-7 at the break, with only a Daniel Lincoln missed extra point keeping the game within two scores. Tennessee gave UAB belief in that game, but it wasn't in the first half, and "outplayed all afternoon" is an exaggeration. Additionally, it's not at all clear that this year's Kentucky team has the resilience of last year's UAB team, who made a habit out of fantastic finishes
  • November 6th, 2010. A road game in Memphis after a long October. Tennessee actually turned the ball over on downs to begin this game and allowed Memphis to march down the field to take a 7-0 lead. But that was all the Tigers would get until the 4th quarter, and Tennessee scored 40 before the break to take a 33-point lead into halftime in Tyler Bray's coming out party. 
  • November 20th, 2010. Another road game against Vanderbilt is probably the most comparable situation to what the Vols face this weekend. And Tennessee, perhaps distracted by Emma Watson, struggled to maintain focus for 60 minutes, but a strong first half kept those second half slips from being too terribly scary. Tennessee made it inside the Vandy 30 on each of their first two drives, with the second resulting in a 15 yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bray to Justin Hunter and a 7-0 lead. The Vols would be back inside the Vandy 35 twice in the second quarter, with a 20 yard Bray touchdown pass to Denarius Moore and an ill-advised interception at the 5. Still, the Vols led 14-3 at halftime and would not relinquish it on the way to a 24-10 victory. 
  • September 3rd, 2011. Montana came to town, and the start was delayed due to a fantastic thunderstorm, but it didn't affect the Vols start. A 47 yard flea-flicker from Bray to Da'Rick Rogers and an 81 yard pass to Hunter got the Vols off on the right foot, and they would score four times before allowing a late Montana score to make it 28-7 at the break. Tennessee would win handily, 42-16. 
  • October 1st, 2011. Buffalo visited Neyland with Tennessee fans wondering what the offense would look like without Justin Hunter. Against Buffalo, it looked good. Tennessee scored three times in the first quarter, starting with a 20 yard end-around by Rajion Neal, and took a 31-7 lead into halftime on their way to a 41-10 victory. 
  • November 5th, 2011. With Tennessee off four straight losses, MTSU provided a much needed respite. After stalling on the first possession, Tennessee got an INT and a short touchdown drive, capped off by a 1 yard Tauren Poole plunge, to take the lead. The Vols went 89 yards on their next possession, with a 47 yard Justin Worley pass to Da'Rick Rogers putting Tennessee up 14-0. The Vols would take a 24-0 lead into halftime before taking the air out of the ball in the second half and going home to watch The Game of the Century (TM).
Of course, this doesn't mean Tennessee will follow this script on Saturday. Regularities, consistencies, even streaks, are sometimes broken. But it does mean that Tennessee knows how to handle this type of game. They just need to keep focused, take care of business, and never allow Kentucky a breath of hope. Which is to say, keep doing what they've been doing. 

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