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Opportunity plays ding dong ditch with the Tennessee Volunteers: UT 12, Auburn 14

Photo by mandj98

Or Oh, how the pain reigns mainly on the Plains.

Generally, when opportunity knocks, all one must do is open the door and bag the sucker before it gets away. Ignore it or wait too long and it will move on to the next house.

Or . . . it may ring the bell again and run off to hide in the bushes and laugh at you when you open the door and stand there looking at an empty porch, wondering what happened. When you go back inside, it rings and hides and giggles again, and when you fall for it a third time, it's wetting its pants in fits of laughter at both your gullibility and frustration.

Opportunity's been playing such tricks on the Volunteers in 2008, and never was this more evident than on Saturday afternoon, when Tennessee failed to catch almost every single opportunity that came calling.


We had them. We really did. The game started like we thought it would, with both offenses struggling against good defenses. When Auburn broke through and scored a touchdown on its second drive, Tennessee's offense responded with two nice drives of its own, each ending with a field goal, and its defense went back to causing trouble for the Tigers, forcing two punts in a row.

Momentum was at the door, but by the time we turned the doorknob, Jonathan Crompton was botching a handoff to Arian Foster in the danger zone and giving six points to Auburn's defense. Ding-dong, 14-6.

Opportunity really got on a roll in the second half. Tennessee's worst starting field position after the break was its own 35, and that was the opening drive. The other starts for the Vols in the second half? Auburn's 44, 37, 38, UT's 42, Auburn's 46, and UT's 46. The results of those opportunities? A grand total of 73 yards and seven points. That's right, while the defense was holding Auburn's offense to 77 yards, 33 plays, five three and outs, five first downs, and basically enforcing a house arrest order against the Tigers, Tennessee's offense mustered one single touchdown and zero field goals when one field goal would have won it.

The Vols could do almost nothing with the four punts Chad Cunningham placed on his opponent's 4, 2, 12, and 5 yard lines. They squandered most of Gerald Jones' 107 all-purpose yards. They blew the upside of what was an all-around solid performance by the defense.

I wish we could say this was a new development, but it's not. We've been falling for the ding dong ditch all year. Consider:

Opportunity: The Tennessee Volunteers begin the 2008 season with a seasoned offensive line, a senior tailback, a very highly touted quarterback, and a new, presumably unpredictable offensive scheme.

Lost: Gradually, beginning with a loss on national t.v. to a UCLA team that lost 59-0 the following week.

Opportunity: An out of conference loss, no matter how bad, means almost nothing to an SEC team. The Vols outgain the visiting Florida Gators in the first conference game, holding the reigning Heisman winner and his high-powered buddies to a total of 243 yards.

Lost: Tennessee turns it over one yard from the goal line on two consecutive plays and gives up a special teams touchdown, losing the game by a huge margin on the scoreboard despite a much narrower margin in most statistical categories.

Opportunity: Behind Florida by essentially two games in the race for East (due to the head-to-head tiebreaker), the Vols get some early good news when the Gators fall to Ole Miss. On the same day, Georgia loses to Alabama. A glimmer of hope for a repeat of last season, when Tennessee lost to Florida but represented the East in the SEC Championship Game due to Florida having more losses, breaks through the clouds.

Lost: The Vols fail to capitalize, losing to Auburn, primarily due to yet another botched handoff, this one in the danger zone rather than the opportunity zone, and also due to an inability to get the ball into field goal position despite erecting a temporary shelter on Auburn's side of the field for most of the second half.

We're puppets. Opportunity knocks, we open the door to see who's there, and opportunity's in hysterical fits, losing control of its bladder in the bushes.

I fear we may stop answering the door altogether.