I'm not sure how it makes you feel now, but at the time I remember the night the Georgia Dome burned as more than just relief. When the Vols played that well in the 2012 opener, it made us dream of very big things. Don't believe me? Don't worry, you can read about it from Joel:
Did you want a stellar passing game? How about 333 yards to 10 different players, two touchdowns, and no interceptions?
Did you yearn for a return to the good old days of UT running the football? Fine. The team ran 38 times for 213 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry, much of it attributable to the offensive line moving the line of scrimmage as much as the running back moving the ball.
Did you crave sacks and pressure defense and turnovers and a return to general havoc-wreaking for the defense? Well, we had sacks, and safeties, and knock downs, oh my. With four cherry picks on top, pretty please? Hey, have it your way.
It ushered in a new era of a mistake-causing defense. What will happen when those mistakes don't come, you may ask? Well, we'll lose. It's bound to happen. It happens to every team transitioning to a new scheme, who doesn't have all the personnel yet to make it work on the field and doesn't have all the knowledge and depth to execute every play.
But when it works? We'll see exactly what we saw last night. We'll see turnovers forced, opponents frustrated, points galore and wins on the scoreboard. When you've got weapons like Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, creating extra offensive possessions with defensive production equals wins.
They may allow more big plays than we're used to, and there will almost assuredly be games where they cost us wins. But they'll win games, too. How long has it been since we've had attacking group of players on that side of the ball?
Personally, I'll take the trade off and hop on this roller coaster ride every week with a smile on my face and my fingers crossed.
The last time Tennessee ran wild in the Georgia Dome, it came on an almost identical sequence of events from last night: late in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game all those 14 years ago, the Vols threw a bomb to take the lead, then forced a fumble on the next offensive snap on a play Big Al was in on, then scored a touchdown on the next offensive snap to put the game away. I was there that night too, and on many others like many of you where Tennessee just keeps making good things happen, and the stadium - home, away, neutral, even the Georgia Dome - gets that buzz. That old familiar feeling.
The buzz was back last night. I sat in the lower level and we were on our feet almost the entire game. The first touchdown was more about Cordarrelle Patterson than anything else, and rightfully so. But what came later was special, and a huge boost to belief. You will believe Zach Rogers can dust the best cornerback on the field. You will believe the Vols can get pressure on the quarterback and somehow get a safety on a play that started at the 19 yard line. And you will believe in Cordarrelle Patterson. Boom, boom, boom, 22-7.
It's the buzz, the feeling that's so addictive. Walking out of the Georgia Dome that night I was so excited I could barely stand it - not just for the win, which was awesome, but for the promise of more. When Tennessee plays the way they did against NC State, or the way they did against Cincinnati the year before, if you're like me you instantly start thinking about the next one. Which is usually Florida, where it tends to go south. But no matter how far south it goes, hope is always resurrected.
Hope is relative - I don't think anyone will be predicting 14-0 or even 9-3 by kickoff. But hope is also eternal. It cannot be killed, at least not in Knoxville.
So in 2013 it will probably be a different hope than what we experienced in the Georgia Dome last year, but it will still feel really good if we can find it. This hope starts at 6-6, the foundation and the goal for a successful start for Butch Jones. But then you start looking at the schedule, and you see names like Missouri and Auburn the way we saw names like NC State and Mississippi State and Missouri last year at this time. Nevermind that the Vols went 1-2 against those teams last fall. We'll beat them this year. Because we're Tennessee, and they're not.
So if you count all of those wins, suddenly you're at 7-5. And then you get enamored with the idea of The One Big Win, the one Derek Dooley never got, the one Butch Jones could really use in Year One. And then you start thinking about how we should've beaten South Carolina three years in a row and had our chance against Georgia in each of the last two years and both of those games are in Knoxville and look at this offensive line and aren't we just due at this point and maybe Spurrier will play six quarterbacks and I BELIEVE IN BUTCH JONES!!! And that's 8-4. And that's January 1. And that's nine wins right there baby.
And that's how it happens, every single summer toward every single fall.
Sometimes it pans out. Sometimes it burns to the ground. But it always rises. Even in a year when six wins would be truly celebrated, nothing can keep us from hope. And I believe it's a blessing, not a curse. Hope is invincible. And it keeps you coming back.
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