The worry in this corner heading into the weekend was that the recipe for beating Cincinnati would be more complex than Skyline chili.
As it turned out, beating the Bearcats was much easier than many of us expected it would be. The game balls go to Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney for dissecting UC's defense with a perfect gameplan and to sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray for executing it. Somewhere along the way, we all got drunk off the Dool-aide, and now we're all not only hoping for but maybe even expecting an upset win in The Swamp on Saturday.
Crazy times indeed.
Let's take a look back at the three hours that turned all of us into Shiny Happy People with this week's edition of the trending report.
Tyler Bray's stock. This is a no-brainer entry. I know we keep harping on him, and we will continue to do so if he keeps doing what he's doing. The 6-foot-6 sophomore signal-caller is up for ESPN's Capital One Performance of the Week [narrowly trailing Michigan's Denard Robinson at the time of writing this, so GO VOTE!] after his 405-yard performance, and national media members across the country are talking about his start to the season. He has thrown for nearly 700 yards and has yet to throw an interception. Having Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter on your side certainly doesn't hurt things, but Bray's management of the game, grasp of Chaney's system and decision-making have put him firmly in the conversation for the conference's best quarterback. Huge, huge test this week.
Adjusting on the fly. This applies to UT's defense, which -- despite awful statistics -- didn't play that badly on Saturday. There were too many big plays allowed by the Vols, but after those first two Cincy scoring drives, there were very few gap and containment issues. The UT defensive line got penetration all night long, and UC couldn't get into a play-calling groove at any point through the final two-and-a-half quarters. I was very impressed how, after getting hit in the mouth, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox re-schemed, got his personnel lined up and calmed the stormy waters. The two big fourth-down stops and the goal-line stand told me that Wilcox had some wrinkles that Cincy couldn't deal with after the initial offensive jolt.
- Ben Bartholomew and Brendan Downs. Who would have thought this duo would be key members in UT's offensive success against Cincy? As much as Dooley has praised Channing Fugate over the past year-plus, he wasn't happy with "Three-Stack's" performance against Montana, opened the competition at fullback. Bartholomew took advantage. Though the fourth-year junior has lived in his brother Will's shadow for much of his career, he seized his opportunity, catching a ball and delivering a couple of punishing lead blocks to clear the way for Tauren Poole. It feels good to have two quality fullbacks, and it's great that Chaney is using them. As for Downs, the true freshman from Bristol didn't have the stars or the clout of Cameron Clear coming out of high school, but he got here mid-term, went through spring drills and had two catches for 32 yards against the Bearcats. Alongside Mychal Rivera's six catches, it looks like the Vols again have tight end weapons. That's good news.
- The Prentiss Package at CB. First of all, junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner has been very good so far this season no matter where he is positioned. That said, the Vols are a better team with him at cornerback, and the package where he moves down to corner and true freshman Brian Randolph goes to free safety was much more effective than the Waggner FS/ Justin Coleman CB look. Coleman got burned AGAIN, and while he's an exciting young talent, that cannot happen against Florida. I know the Bearcats receiver got separation on Randolph on the catch/no catch touchdown play that ridiculously wasn't overruled, but Randolph was solid the whole game and delivered a HUGE hit on Isaiah Pead. Prentiss? He was spectacular.
- Just another down. When you have the offensive firepower that UT does, no down-and-distance is out-of-the-question. There was once against the Bearcats where the Vols faced a first-and-23 after a chop-block call on Rivera, but Bray methodically maneuvered UT to a first down three plays later. Third down is no exception. On those lifeblood plays that sustain drives, the Vols were an eye-popping 10-of-13 against the Bearcats. That puts UT at 20-for-30 on third-down conversions this season. Just amazing numbers, no matter the competition.
Running Backs Not Named Tauren Poole. A lot of us were calling for Poole's head after the Montana game, but when Marlin Lane or Raijon Neal got looks against Cincinnati, they each fumbled. Yes, Lane scored a touchdown and looked slippery on punt returns, but preseason is over now, and laying the ball on the ground simply cannot happen in the SEC. It's time to hang onto the football because teams like Florida will make you pay. [Actually, Cincy made us pay on Neal's fumble by capitalizing with a touchdown.] These guys have to play better, and they have to hang onto the football. I wonder if Devrin Young will be incorporated some -- if any -- offensively against the Gators?
No Big Rush. At halftime of the Bearcats' game, even if you take Isaiah Pead's 65-yard touchdown run away from his statistics, he still had nine carries for 75 yards. That's unacceptable. UT has to improve in rush defense, and that has to happen quickly. Heading into a game against a Florida team that can throw Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Mike Gillislee and others at you, the Vols have to [sounds like a broken record] stay at home, play gap control and contain the edges. The containing-the-edges part improved against Cincy, and Zach Collaros rarely was allowed outside the pocket. Jeff Brantley cannot hurt us like Collaros could with his legs, but the speed game with Florida's various skill players can lead to numerous big plays. That cannot happen if UT is to win.
Big Boy Britches. I know they're freshmen, but they cannot play like it against Florida. Justin Coleman, A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt, Marlin Lane, Vincent Dallas, DeAnthony Arnett -- none of those guys have been particularly incredible yet, and all of them play key roles. Brian Randolph and Brendan Downs had some bright spots against Cincy, as did Lane, but this is a coming-of-age game for the kids who are going to have to play in the Swamp. As my Papaw used to say, "it's time to put on your big boy britches" if the Vols are to beat the Gators. They've all been OK so far, and we don't even know if Dallas or Arnett will see the field, but those who play must play well.
The Michigan Effect on Tennessee Recruiting. The win over Notre Dame at the Big House this past weekend sent tremors in the recruiting world felt all the way in Knoxville. While the Wolverines have already secured a commitment from defensive tackle and UT target Ondre Pipkins, Dan O'Brien -- perhaps the Vols' top 2012 DT target -- was in attendance and seemed blown away by his visit. The Vols were thought to be the leader for O'Brien, but that win in that atmosphere likely put Michigan in the driver's seat to keep O'Brien at home at least right now. At least he didn't commit like 2013 UT target Dymonte Thomas, a teammate of current commit Alden Hill, who reportedly pledged to the Wolverines after the game, according to Rivals.
- Any hopes I have to keep my blood pressure down this week. We touched on this during Sunday's podcast, but I cannot recall the last time our hopes were this far up as a fanbase. After five long years in the wilderness, that's undoubtedly a good thing. The Vols have nothing to lose going into Saturday against the Gators, but none of us even want to think of the word "lose" right now. When things are clicking offensively the way they are for UT, you've got to believe Florida is a little bit nervous. And when is the last time we ever believed the Gators were nervous heading into the game against UT. Honestly, I hope they're not nervous at all. That would be even better. Me? I'm so nervous I literally cannot sleep. I was disappointed to still see just shy of 95,000 fans in Neyland on Saturday, but that place was rocking at times. If UT comes home and into the bye week 3-0, that Buffalo game may start the waves of fans returning.