When a slanting, streaking Eric Thomas snagged a pass one-handed, got behind the Tennessee Volunteers defense and raced 67 yards for a shocking, go-ahead Troy touchdown in the fourth quarter, I was more amazed than angered.
I'd grown so accustomed to seeing the Trojans score against our porous defense that I'd developed the flippant attitude over the four hours that I honestly didn't care whether we'd win or lose. At that point, even a narrow victory over Troy felt like Derek Dooley's final strike. I just admired a SportCenter highlight-reel catch and tipped my Power T cap.
But when -- for seemingly the 75th time this season -- the Vols could not get properly lined up on defense for the two-point conversion and were forced to call a timeout, that old, familiar frustration boiled over. I screamed in Sal Sunseri's general direction, reared back to throw my $600 cell phone and remembered [thankfully] that I was a 33-year-old man.
The bad news is I nearly embarrassed myself and everybody else around me [though the phone almost certainly wouldn't have hit anybody because there weren't anybody there]. The good news is I still cared whether we won or lost.
These were dire times against a bad team that had recently lost to then 1-6 Florida International, and as embarrassed as I am of our team this year already, I didn't want to add more gasoline to this dumpster-fire season. Somehow, we Technically won the game ... even though we lost more confidence in our lame-duck coaching staff. At this point, what do we need to see to know the answers cannot be found with this coaching staff?
At least 40,000 Tennessee fans have already seen it. That's roughly the number of empty seats in Neyland Stadium in the smallest crowd I've ever seen at a Vols game. I wanted to show my buddy David Uchiyama a little taste of the Tennessee pageantry in his first game, and boy did I pick the wrong day to do it. At halftime, we stood out in the concourse and he said, "Hey, I'd like to go see the Vol Navy I've always heard about." Only when we went to that side of the stadium, one lone yacht floated in the Tennessee River.
Nobody wanted to come to Knoxville on Saturday. Nobody missed anything, either. Onto the good, the bad and the ugly from a 55-48 magic show win over Troy.
Tyler Bray's High-Flying Circus Show. As long as he's playing against a garbage defense, Bray can light up the best of them. But to give the junior credit, he was brilliant for the second-consecutive week, breaking Peyton Manning's single-game record with 530 passing yards. He had five touchdowns, no turnovers and hit 10 different receivers.
- Big-Time Receivers Finally Show Up. Justin Hunter dropped an almost-sure touchdown reception in the first quarter, but he rebounded to play one of his better games, and nobody on Troy could guard him. The junior wound up with nine catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow junior and Mr. Stop-And-Go Cordarrelle Patterson finished with nine catches for 219 yards and a touchdown of his own.
- NFL-laden Line. The Tennessee offensive line continues to be brilliant this year, going from the laughingstock of the league last season to the team strength this year. As Bray said after the game, "Another game where they don't have to wash my jersey." The line paved the way for 718 yards worth of offense.
- Marlin Freaking Lane. In my opinion, Lane has become UT's best running back, and he emerged with his career game against Troy, finishing with 19 rushes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged nearly 7 yards per carry and pounded the football with authority, breaking tackles and picking proper run lanes. He isn't as fast as Raijon Neal, but he runs between the tackles as well as you could hope any back to do.
- Field-Flipping. Though he missed a field goal and had his struggles [like usual], junior kicker Michael Palardy didn't miss any extra points. Most importantly, however, he pinned Troy back when UT had to have it, pinning two punts inside the 10-yard line. Then, after Hunter's inexplicably dumb unsportsmanlike penalty following his spiking of the ball after a touchdown, Palardy boomed a kickoff, and Troy started that drive from the 26. That is a play that should get more credit than it will.
- Sal Sunseri. I hope he's cleaning out his office today. At the VERY LEAST, we have to get rid of him pronto. We didn't get this terrible in a year. It's NOT just transitioning to a 3-4. We're confused, we're discombobulated, we're slow, we're out-of-position, and Sunseri is definitely in over his head. I'm sick of having coaches get OTJ training in Knoxville.
- Daniel Gray. He's a true freshman cornerback who everybody wanted to see get the opportunity to start. He got his initiation against Troy, getting absolutely torched downfield multiple times and resorting to frustration and penalties. I remember when UT was recruiting him, they talked about how raw he was and how he was a candidate for a redshirt. Kudos to him for getting on the field, but that should tell you right now just how bad our secondary is right now. Historically bad.
- Support For Dooley And Co. The crowd was embarrassing, and it just goes to show you the apathy of the fanbase right now with this coaching staff and this team. I'm not saying it's right not to come to games, but it's hard to blame anybody for not wanting to spend their hard-earned money to go see what I saw on Saturday. It was pathetic. Dooley's biggest indictment and ultimate determining factor on his job may come by the number of butts in the seats -- or lack thereof.
- Guarding the Middle of the Field. How many times have we talked about this this season? All any team has to do is run its tight end 10 yards down the middle of the field, and it'll be a big gain. All any team has to do is run a short crossing pattern, and it turns into a big gain. The Vols totally refuse guard anything over the middle or simply can't. We have the worst pass-covering linebackers in the country, too.
- Football Season. Basketball tips off Friday night!!! Go Cuonzo!!