I've got to hand it to Charlie Sheen and LSU -- it's definitely fun. And, being a Tennessee football and Atlanta Braves baseball fan, I'd almost forgot what it feels like. So, don't give me any of this 'It-Was-MTSU' crap. I don't care. UT's 24-0 imperfect win Saturday night in which it didn't score a single point after the break was magical, musical, miraculous.
Any win right now feels like a championship. Now, all we have to do is beat Vanderbilt to be state champions, and, in an injury-plagued season when the Vols are 0-5 in the SEC, you celebrate the little things. Like beating the Blue Raiders.
Onto the trending report, where it's individual player-heavy.
Justin Worley. This is how we all hoped he'd be against South Carolina last week -- not necessarily as prolific statistics-wise but calm, collected, comfortable. He finished 21-of-32 for 291 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers and was sacked only once. He threw a couple of great passes -- and a couple of bad ones. But he really didn't throw any questionable ones like he did against the Gamecocks. The pressure will ramp up considerably against a top-10 SEC team on the road next week, but this was the first time when we really could get a glimpse of what the Rock Hill, S.C. native's skill set is, and mechanically, he looks like he has grasped things. It was a quality second outing.
The Tornado Twosome. There were probably many inside Neyland Stadium scrambling for their media guides when No. 31 got his first carry against MTSU, but if you follow Tennessee high school football and recruiting, you know Toney. Yeah, while he's no Jamal Lewis, the Alcoa invited walk-on and redshirt freshman did two things in his 19 carries Saturday night that a UT runner has failed to do all season: See hole. Hit hole. I know he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry, but he got some tough yards and really should push Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane for some playing time. At least this kid runs with a purpose. I liked what I saw. Well, as much as you can like what you see from a running game that's consistently inept. Also, it's hard not to love Derrick Brodus's story from last night. If you haven't read it, check out Wes Rucker's opus on the situation. The nitty gritty is a kicker who didn't know he was playing less than an hour before the game comes in and nails all four of his kicks and is respectable kicking off. Pretty Hollywood-type stuff. Also an Alcoa Tornado.
- Eric Gordon. There are times when Gordon refuses to form tackle -- like EVERY time, there are times when he gets completely lost in coverage or torched [or, as I like to call it: "Teagued"] in man coverage, but, man, Gordon can straight punish people. And he has a nose for the ball. The Vols don't have anybody in the secondary besides Prentiss Waggner who can wreak havoc, and Gordon did against the Blue Raiders. He had two tackles for a loss, an interception and flew all over the field. Surely, he won himself some playing time.
- Pitching a Shutout. Doesn't matter if you play Flintville Junior High School [yeah, that's a shout out], any time you give up zero points, it's solid. The Blue Raiders really only threatened once. UT played a bunch of players, a bunch of combinations, and Justin Wilcox's group still didn't give up a single point. This group is playing pretty solid football the past few weeks, and that's a good thing because Arkansas is a staunch test. Austin Johnson, AJ Johnson, Brian Randolph, Waggner, Gordon, Malik Jackson, Mo Couch, Izauea Lanier ... those guys are playing good football right now, and this defense has a bright future, I think.
- The Wildcat Package! Marlin Lane actually looked good in it, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, which basically feels like Trent Richardson numbers after what we've been through this season. It's a wrinkle that produced actual, tangible running yards. I know! Who'd have thought it? Maybe we'll keep it. Everybody's doing it -- kids these days. Maybe Devrin Young could go back ... or AJ Johnson, as Dooley joked on his coach's show.
- Just My Overall Vibe About the State of the Program. I love bologna ... absolutely love it. But if you put a filet mignon in front of me, I forget all about the pig innards on the table. Watching UT win a 24-0 game over MTSU was a nice bologna sandwich. But flipping back and forth between it and The Game of the Century on Saturday night just let me realize how much farther we've got until we can dine at the table with the filet mignon. I don't even think Tennessee With Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray is remotely in the ballpark of what we saw in the Bama-LSU game. But I know these things take time. It's just tough.
- Rushless. Our senior running back is having a terrible season. Our offensive line is historically bad. Our offensive line coach needs to be on the hot seat. We don't have a competent quarterback who can get us into run situations [let me clarify that statement: I believe Worley and Bray are competent quarterbacks. I do not believe Matt Simms is. Yet Simms is the only quarterback who can get us into good run checks, and he happens to be the only one who isn't competent. Get it?] We just played the 113th ranked rush defense in the country and we ran for fewer than 4 ypc and 120 yards. It's just pathetic. I can't even say anymore.
- Byron Moore. I was more excited about this kid than almost anybody in last year's recruiting class. Shows what I know. Maybe the light will come on, but he looked lost during a couple of drives last night and then he failed to jump on a fumble. Hey, at least he forced the fumble after he was horrifically out-of-position and allowed an MTSU player to catch a ball. I'm just really stunned that Moore isn't more in the cornerback picture. We need him to grasp the defense.
- Second-Half Slumber. Dooley says he wasn't doing anything in that second half except chewing up clock and just trying to get out of the game without any injuries or anything. Well, that sucks. I don't like it. No. 1, the fans there want to see your young quarterback keep slinging for at least another quarter. No. 2, a fractured fanbase needs to see a team respond to whatever is said at halftime and give us some sort of confidence that we're capable of playing a quality second half. And, No. 3, I just don't buy it. I honestly think at this point we just aren't very good in the second half. I don't know what they do when they go in the locker room, but maybe Dooley wanted to hurry up so he could watch the second half of Bama-LSU.
- Our Offensive Line Coach. Yeah, I know I've mentioned Harry Hiestand. But, I'm curious what you guys think: Has the time come to start examining whether or not something has to happen after the season? As an old offensive linemen, there are fundamental and philosophical differences in the scheme we want to run and the way we're blocking. Is this because of all the injuries and we're just doing what we can? Is it because we have incompetent running backs? Is it because of the ridiculous schedule? Is it because Hiestand has forgotten how to communicate with young kids all his offensive line technique acumen? I really don't know. I want opinions.