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Live From Neyland: Volunteers - Bulldogs Post-Game Report

Back from the game.  It's nice to live a short distance away and have a secret-handshake backstreet route home that doesn't get any traffic.  (And no, I'm not telling.)  As always, it's a wonderful thing to go to a game live, even if the view isn't as good as on TV.  (South end zone, but still not a bad view; great for watching the line battles.)  And for somebody who doesn't even have cable running to the house, it's a far better view than this mysterious PPV thing I hear about can offer.

Well, you all got the replays, the close-in camera angles and all, so let me fill you in on things I saw that TV doesn't tend to capture.

Clock Management

Much like good offensive line play, you never notice clock management unless it goes awry.  After the game was over, I realized that there were no delays of game against UT, and it only seemed that one timeout (the very first one?) was used due to communication or clock issues.  That's not bad at all.

The Crowd

I never heard the announced attendance, but it looked to be perhaps 90,000 from my view.  There was one wide swath of maybe 5-7,000 empty seats in the upper east deck that was empty, and some spottiness in the end zone upper levels, but the rest of the stadium seemed nicely filled out.  I'll go with 90,000 tops.

As you'd expect, the crowd wasn't particularly lively throughout the first half.  They had their moments, but it was very situational.  In the section I was in, very few people seemed interested in singing Rocky Top, even.  They'd get loud when a play worked well and they cheered when Warren caught that early pass, but is was fairly pedestrian.  The second half is a different story, but I'll talk more on that at the end.

There were never any boos, other than at officiating.  I found this very significant.  Fulmer was not booed as he arrived (or has his bazillionth JumboTron commercial was played).  The players were never booed due to bad plays.  Even Foster was never booed.  Once in a while, somebody in the area would pipe up with a snide comment or two, but the dissidence was very tame.  Thank you, attendees, for not totally ruining the atmosphere.  I really appreciate it.

The Offense

From my angle, Stephens looked very comfortable.  You wouldn't have known that he had almost zero 1st-team practice time throughout the offseason.  However, he did get a little wild in the second half, which killed some scoring opportunities.  He has tremendous arm strength, but he still needs more touch on the ball.

The line play appeared improved as well; they did a good job of holding their own against the MSU defense and at least allowing the running backs to get back to the line of scrimmage.  Was the defense-reading-the-play problem fixed?  I don't know, but you could have convinced me of that.

I thought Foster had a good start to the game.  He seemed a little more aggressive in his running early, but a little dancier later on.  I was happy that he was productive and that the crowd never had a chance to boo him.  Good for Foster.

The last scoring drive was a thing of beauty.  It was simply Creer up the middle for forever.  Power football, people.  It isn't pretty in the glitzy sense, but if it's there it's the best thing a coach can have.

I haven't looked at the play count, but I felt that the offense was a much more significant part of the game tonight than in several weeks.  Most drives were sustained, and they seemed to gain strength and momentum as the game progressed.

The Defense

I really wish I knew how much of a difference the QB injury made to MSU's offense, because the defense seemed very solid.  There are the obvious plays, like the (consecutive?) pick-sixes by Berry and Morley (woo!) that basically ended the game.  However, the line did a good job of holding ground against the running game.  They didn't get pushed around against a very physical MSU team, and pretty well killed the Bulldog offense.

The defensive weakness was any pass over the middle.  There were occasional missteps in other areas, but the one place that MSU consistently found success was with the short passes where the linebackers should be (either with TE passes or with RB passes).  Seriously, this has been a problem since UCLA (and through UGA).  Everybody knows to attack the UT defense there.  How about patching up that little hole before a certain team rides into town in approximately 7 days?

Is it a tackling issue or an overcommitment issue?  Do you remember that bizarrely successful QB scramble by MSU?  The one where 3 linemen had pursuit about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage that ended up gaining about 15-20 yards on the play?  Umm, yeah.  I was seated almost directly behind the play on that one, and I had a clear view of the problem (at least for that play).  The reason the QB could run so far was because the defenders were laterally ahead of him.  By that, I mean that if the QB was running to the left, the defender was too far leftward.  As a result, when the QB cut back (to the right in this example), the defender would be out of position to cut back with the QB.  That happened to at least 3 defenders.  Perhaps it was just that one play, but that kind of overcommitment makes a backup QB look like Barry Sander, Jr.

Ok, it has to be said:  Woo!!! Berry!!! Woo!!! Morley!!!  Woo!!! INTs!!!  Woo!!!

Second Half

Wow.  So that's what it feels like when the crowd comes alive. Early in the second half, when UT was up 13-3  and beginning to show signs of taking over, you could feel the energy pick up.  You saw MSU self-destruct off the interceptions, but the game was really won sometime before that.  When the crowd got going, suddenly it felt like a dominant UT team out there.  Even when the score was close, you could tell that it was about to break loose.  The tackling got better and the very atmosphere had that feel to it.  In the second half, if you weren't aware of all the troubles this season, you would have sworn it was a game back in the glory days.

Here's the bottom line for those who attend the game:  the team is very attuned to crowd support.  When the fans really started cheering, you could see the team respond.  Their steps got lighter.  Their hits got harder.  Their discipline got better.  Seriously, support this team.  It's been a long year for them, and they really seemed to appreciate it.

Final Thoughts

  • Learn to do the Wave, people!  Every time I go, the student section tries to get the wave going - usually during the second quarter.  Every time, it absolutely dies somewhere in the south stands.  If it can survive to the west stands, they do a terrific jobof revitalizing it and keeping it going.  But the south stands are clearly not contributing.  It's a team effort, people!  You're only as strong as your weakest link!
  • Not every defender is name "Eric Berry".  I hate to tell you, Mr. 4-rows-behind-me, but #91(Robert Ayers) is not Eric Berry, even if he did make a nice tackle.  Neither is #35 (Ellix Wilson).  Etc. for everybody on the defense.  Seriously, is your vocabulary only two words long?  Or were you deep in prayer?
  • Maybe we should allow alcohol sales in the stadiums?  I'm a teetotaller, but when I see the rows of empty minibottles all over the place after a game, I'm wondering if this "dry" policy is actually achieving anything?  Now we're simply limiting drinking to the irresponsible ones - yeah, that helps.  If it's going to happen, perhaps the athletic department should get a cut.  Hey, that might let the students go for free, right?
  • There is a scholarship available for anybody who can kick off.  Gah!  Special teams were better, but the kickoffs weren't.
  • WOO!!!  That is all.