By now, you guys know the drill. It's post-game awards time, and I'm pinch-hitting for the bossman on this holiday weekend.
If I completely pull a Roger Clemens and "misremember" something, please hit me over the head in the comments and forgive me -- it's 2 a.m., I've been to two birthday parties for children under the age of 3 and I'm pretty close to mentally fried, caffeine-wired and cake-and-ice-cream stuffed. All this "getting-up-in-the-morning-and-drinking-coffee" crap is for the birds, though. I'm a late-night guy ... just not this late.
Onto the hardware:
Best play, offense. The flea-flicker for the first touchdown of the night. Tyler Bray hands off to Tauren Poole, who flips it back to Bray before getting just enough of the blitzing cornerback [vastly underrated part of the success of this play] to allow Bray to roll right, get enough on the throw to clear a defender into the hands of a wide-open Da'Rick Rogers for a 47-yard touchdown to take advantage of Anthony Anderson's muffed punt recovery. Really set the tone.
Best play, defense. Senior cornerback Art Evans stepping up in press man and waiting on the 847th Montana bubble screen of the night to be thrown right to him. He then raced untouched 37 yards for a touchdown that gave the Vols a 35-9 lead.
Best play, special teams. The Anderson fumble recovery was monstrous, but I have to go with "Three-Stack" fullback Channing Fugate taking the pooch kick as the upback, breaking a couple tackles and rambling 44 yards to the Grizzlies' 32. Love how Dooley said on the coach's show that he was showing you a little bit how he racked up more than 3,000 rushing yards during a high school season. Vintage Dools.
Worst way to start a game. With a nasty storm ripping through Knoxville that resulted in a 1:39 weather delay and led to the Vols not running through the T for just the second time since 1965. The entire night seemed discombobulated, and I think it at least played a small role in the sluggishness of some facets of the game. I know it certainly was a buzzkill for this fan.
Worst announcing job. Randy Smith is a super-nice guy, but he was simply atrocious on the Vol Network pay-per-view broadcast, and that's being friendly. It wasn't the mispronouncing of the names that did it for me [Lord knows I'm used to hearing that by now ...] but midway through the fourth quarter, he was still mixing up Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane. I mean, one wears 28 and the other wears 4. It's not hard to tell who is who. I've announced games in the past, and it's just not that difficult to know your personnel who's on the field pre-snap. I'm not going to pick scabs here, but Smith needs to put in better prep work. There are a lot of people who'd work hard to have an opportunity like his.
Best quote. All the Dooley orange pants quotes were gold, but these were my favorite two. Dooley said: "Everybody else wanted me to wear white shoes and a white belt. My wife intervened on that. There's some limits. That's why you never do something like that without asking your wife."Justin Hunter later added: "I ain’t trying to steal Coach Dooley’s style, but I might have to."
Best performance by a kid months removed from his prom. Marlin Lane had an electrifying move on a 9-yard touchdown catch, finished with two scores on the night and 74 all-purpose yards.
Worst performance by a kid months removed from his prom. You HAVE to love the way he came back and played aggressively [so the title is misleading because he didn't play badly], and everybody's excited about him, but Justin Coleman was torched on an 80-yard touchdown pass, getting beat then missing a tackle.
Worst play(s), offense. You can pick any number of run plays here, but fourth-and-goal from the 1 that lost yardage late in the fourth quarter was the microcosm of a frustrating night running the football. Tied was the safety, which was just a botched play all the way around.
Worst play, defense. Hands-down, this had to be Jordan Canada's 7-yard touchdown run for the Grizzlies' final score. Though the shotgun snap floated over the quarterback's head for an almost-certain busted play, Canada corralled it and virtually ran untouched into the end zone, anyway. "Embarrassing," was all I could mutter.
Best reminder that it's a new year. Tyler Bray-led Tennessee did something other than heave-and-hope downfield. The sophomore quarterback looked sharp shooting the ball around to his big two receivers, and the Vols looked explosive at times against an inferior opponent.
Worst reminder we're still not there. I'm not sure you guys have heard about it yet, but Tennessee didn't run the football very well, and Poole missed two or three big-play opportunities because he failed from a lateral-vision perspective at the line of scrimmage.
Best by-product of the delay. I try to keep a lot of the personal stuff out of this, but I've got to share a cool story. My dad and I watch about 90 percent of the UT games together, and I called him about 2 p.m. to make sure he was still rolling over to watch it streamed from ESPN3 onto my TV. With all the storms rolling in, he was trying to get a tin roof put onto his outdoor storage building, and a former student of his was coming over -- but he wasn't going to arrive until an hour before kickoff. I called dad again 15 minutes prior to kickoff, and the dude was just getting started on the roof. Dad was going to miss the game and was bummed out. Then came the delay. The guy worked on the roof and got it up. When the Vols were 10 minutes from kickoff, I called again to check Dad's status. He answered the phone and said he was on his way. He walked in less than a minute before kickoff. "I placed a call to Gus Manning," I told him. "They waited on you."
Best injury news of the night. Tom Smith trotting off the field unharmed after he was stood up at the goal line on fourth and goal in the fourth quarter, though he was bent backward in half and both legs were under him. Watching that play, I had flashbacks of Montario Hardesty's freshman injury. This was the worst-looking play since Bray crumbled when he had both legs taken from under him in last year's Alabama game. Neither player was hurt, though.
Worst no-call. Though Poole's no touchdown/touchdown run could have gone either way, one play that shouldn't have was the sideline hit on Rogers on an incomplete pass. Dooley alluded to thinking it was a helmet-to-helmet hit on his coach's show, and we certainly thought that while watching it live. Heck, Janzen's penalty last year cost us a bowl game, and it was nowhere near as malicious-looking. Still, no flag.
Best way to spend a rain delay. Apparently, Hunter spent the near two hours eating cookies and watching Year One.
Best sign that God was a Tennessee fan for a night. The Vols put eight balls on the ground and lost zero.
Worst decision by Dooley. I know he gave Poole one chance to punch it into the end zone after his 29-yard no touchdown/touchdown run, but when Poole failed to get in, Lane was brought in and scored. Don't read too much into this, but I'm just a big fan of rewarding players who do the dirty work with touchdowns. I thought Poole's initial run could have been called a touchdown and wanted to see him clean it up.
Best player reaction. Poole said on the top plays portion of the coach's show that it didn't matter to him who scored the touchdown as long as a touchdown was scored. Classy, quality kid.