Very few of you likely want to hear how I feel about all this, so we'll keep today brief. No real intro from me other than to say that I love the University of Tennessee, and I'll never turn my back on this football program, the people running it or the players who wear the Power T.
That said, Saturday night's 41-31 loss to Mississippi State -- and what we've come to expect from this Volunteers football program -- is unacceptable to me. This is not the football I grew up watching. It's not the football that I enjoy watching. It's not the football that can win games in this elite conference.
As much as I believe it's time for athletic director Dave Hart to put out feelers for Derek Dooley's successor, I don't believe he should make a hire unless we can lure a can't-miss coach. As long as Dooley is our coach, he has my support. On one hand, he has done a pretty good job of leading us from an unenviable position to a place where we can be an attractive program for players [and perhaps the next coach] again. On the other, I don't trust him to win football games, and I don't believe this team is well-coached or motivated enough to succeed.
I feel horrible for players like Herman Lathers, who leave every inch of his heart out there on that football field though he isn't the player he once was. I feel for A.J. Johnson, who is an All-American playing on a defense that's probably the worst UT unit of my lifetime. I feel for a kid like Devrin Young, who ran his guts out and made a crucial error that went a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
They deserve better. And we're not better. I'm not sure we ever will be under this coaching regime.
I support these coaches still, but it's only because I support the University of Tennessee, come what may. They are my coaches. This is my team. Till the bitter end and through these seemingly never ending hard times. I am a Tennessee Volunteer. But this should not continue.
Onto the Trending Report.
- Tennessee's Running Game. I don't care who you're playing -- 213 yard and a 6.3 yard-per-carry average are good numbers. So, why didn't we trust the running game in crucial situations? More on that in a bit. Sure, Devrin Young -- not an every-down SEC back -- made a crucial fumble when Johnathan Banks made a brilliant play, but he ran with a purpose. He had 13 carries for 58 yards -- a 4.5 average. Cordarrelle Patterson had three for 57 yards. Rajion Neal had nine for 40 before hurting an ankle. Marlin Lane had two for 9 before suffering a concussion. Alton Howard had four for 30, and Quenshaun Watson had two for 14. Everybody had success. We would have run it more probably if the game dictated it.
- Cordarrelle Patterson. He had the ridiculous 98-yard kickoff return, the unreal run amid his three-carry, 57-yard performance and caught a touchdown pass. He doesn't get the ball enough. First-rounder. And we're wasting him.
- A.J. Johnson. 21 tackles. 1.5 tackles for loss. He's unreal. He isn't going to out-run anybody, and he really can't cover anybody, but he's the best run-stopping linebacker in the SEC. Again, we're wasting him on losing teams. So depressing.
- Three Future Key Players. Alton "Pig" Howard had a really impressive performance with limited touches. He had five touches for 35 yards and showed some burst in space. LaDarrell McNeil is going to be an excellent player -- maybe even a star -- in the future. He wound up with eight tackles and really performed well in his first start. Watson is another young guy who really plays hard and will have a role on future teams no matter what coaching staff is here.
- Third-Quarter Response. Down 27-14 at halftime, the team didn't quit. The offense came out and controlled the line of scrimmage on an impressive 15-play drive, and the defense made adjustments. The Vols won that quarter 10-0 to get back in the football game, but like always, they invented another way to lose.
- Coaching, Motivation, Leadership. Don't ask me why, but this team cannot break through. It took too long to get going and too long to make adjustments. When the Vols closed the gap enough to get into the lead, they couldn't make the plays to do it. Call it execution if you want, but this team isn't disciplined and it isn't driven to succeed. Whether that's a reflection on coaches or lack of senior leadership, I don't know. But it's been that way far too long to let it slide. Then, when we had all the momentum, Young makes a critical error that can't be blamed on coaching. It's just everything trending against this team right now.
- The Defense-less. The Vols could not stop anybody. You can credit the poised leadership of MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell if you want -- he certainly deserves some -- but the Bulldogs totally out-coached UT on that side of the ball. We call blitz? They hit a streaking running back. We pull in rushers? They hit us with a draw. We force a third-and-long? Vols get no pressure and Russell hits a big strike downfield. Too many big plays, too many conversions. NO idea why Dooley decided a scheme change at this point of his tenure was warranted, but it's killing us and robbing us of any opportunity to win.
- Timeout Management. With Mississippi State facing a third-and-7 with more than 3 minutes left, the Vols used their first timeout. If anything, that gave the Bulldogs a chance to think it over and determine that a draw was the right call. That new set of downs -- and one fewer timeout -- enabled MSU to whittle down the clock. Yet another time management issue by Dooley.
- Matt Darr. A 14-yard punt. Bench him for the rest of the season.
- Team Support. The Rock on campus reads "Fire Fooley" with orange pants crossed out and reasons for the negative message. Tyler Bray criticized "bandwagon" fans on a tweet in an immature moment of postgame frustration. Fans wonder aloud who's on Hart's short list. The biggest rival is coming to town next week, and Neyland may be 40% crimson. Attendance is suffering anyway. It may be the external things that inevitably force Hart's hand. Anything at this point, right?