There are plenty of reasons to be disappointed about Saturday's 38-7 loss to LSU, but there are some things that happened that are encouraging. Slivers of hope can be found even when it's tough to find growth in other areas.
Sleeping on such a difficult loss can sometimes provide perspective. And while I'm not pleased with where this team is right now, there are at least reasons to hope for where they're going. Well, as long as Alabama doesn't turn our players into chalk lines outlined by crime-scene tape next week.
Let's look at some things that were good, and the things that weren't from our "I-played-the-No. 1-team-in-the-nation-and-all-I-got-was-this-lousy-feeling-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach" Saturday.
- It's About Time. Against its most difficult opponent this season, UT's offensive line finally gave us a reason to hope all is not lost again. The Vols finished with 111 rushing yards -- and it would have been more had the team been closer in the second half. While that's not a terribly terrific number, it seemed like a million given the struggles UT had in the running game the rest of the year. Also, as I said, the Vols had to abandon it. On the flipside, Matt Simms wasn't hit very much at all, either, as the offensive line finally seemed to have a fire lit under them. After next week's house of horrors in Tuscaloosa, there is at least a reason to believe we can move the football on the ground for the rest of the season.
A Freshman Is the Closest Thing We Have to A Difference-Making Star Right Now. I'm talking about under-recruited and underrated Knoxville product Devrin Young, who -- LISTEN, DEREK DOOLEY!! -- absolutely has to become more of the gameplan on offense. Young had five kick returns for 135 yards and nearly broke one for a touchdown on a 60-yard return. Though he just had two carries for two yards, he also had a catch for 21 yards. Young is the type of do-it-all jitterbug the Vols have been lacking, and he's a weapon coaches must find a way to utilize more.
- The Matt Simms Experiment. I like Matt a lot as a kid and as a leader. He's all we have right now. And if, truth be told, you believe Dooley, we're much better checking into better run plays with Simms than we are with injured star quarterback Tyler Bray. But we're not even close to the same offense because Simms isn't in Bray's stratosphere as a quarterback. No matter what you want to say, Simms didn't do a good job managing the game against LSU. His two interceptions were atrocious throws, and he failed to hit wide-open check downs on both plays. Also, he failed to hit Mychal Rivera in the end zone for what would have been a touchdown. He simply isn't an SEC quarterback. I like him, and we've got to roll with him because you don't want to burn Justin Worley's redshirt [yet] but he is what he is.
- Halftime Adjustments. As I wrote last night, I know lack of depth of talent kills us here, but I can't tell you the last time we actually won a second half in a big game. It was probably last year's LSU game. We're right in the game at intermission, we all feel like we've got a chance, and then we come out and get demoralized. It happened when we tried the comeback against Florida then Bray threw the costly interception. It happened with the bad James Stone snap and ensuing avalanche against Georgia and it happened again against LSU. For whatever reason, this team fails to build off any first half momentum at halftime. Part of that is coaching, folks.
- Marsalis Teague. I thought Teague was eventually going to be a cornerback on the next level. But this kid who hasn't made any big plays for the Vols in his entire career, followed up his career-worst game against Georgia with another clunker against LSU. His awful mistake that allowed Russell Shepard to get around him for a 44-yard gain at the end of the first half that set up a field goal turned momentum for good. Is he really the best UT has right now? That's not a good thing. If so, he has to get much, much better. Our secondary played bad, and Teague was the posterboy.
- Team Speed. This isn't going to get better any time soon, but we all knew we were desperately lacking in this area -- and we just have to hope Dooley is addressing that huge need in recruiting. It was painfully obvious in the loss to Florida that we simply couldn't keep up. In the second half of the LSU game, it was even more obvious. There wasn't a single time where our defenders were able to cut off a Tiger at the edge. Jordan Jefferson crushed us with his legs -- which was a big fear of mine going into the game. Any one of LSU's running backs hurt us on the edge, including bruiser Spencer Ware, who isn't known for his fleet feet. That's just it, though. Even the players not known for speed are still faster than UT's team. On the other hand, the Vols couldn't run wide at all, and I don't know why Jim Chaney kept trying. You can't fix speed overnight. We've got to recruit to that a lot better.
- Our record and morale as a fanbase. Yeah, we're 3-3, but we're going to be at least 3-4 before we've got the opportunity to win again. Those losses against Florida and Georgia are the killers though, especially when you consider how those two teams are looking now. It's hard not to be down on the way things have shaken out, but a win against South Carolina in two weeks can really change things around. As for now, we'll have to be depressed and like it. And we'll have to wonder what could have been.