We sped down Lincoln Road, racing against a clock that we simply weren't going to beat. "Hurry up," I spat at my wife, "we're going to miss kickoff."
"I'm not killing us all so you can watch the football game," Jennifer yakked back right after I'd fulfilled my Yearly Pumpkin Patch Duties. "We'll get there when we get there."
I sat there fuming in the passenger seat of our Ford Edge -- frustrated as promises that we'd get back in time for kickoff bounced in my head like the three newly picked pumpkins in the back seat. Meanwhile, my wife lollygagged her way toward the house, as carefree as Jackson watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in his car seat. Three turns from our driveway, I heard our riveting announcer Bob Kesling chirp out Tyler Bray's pick-six to start the game.
Needless to say, we were late to the game. So were the Vols.
As I battled my computer, trying to get the game to come in clearly, get the HDMI cable hooked up from my television and the volume to come from the TV rather than my computer, my disposition grew more and more sour. By the time I gave up on the volume and settled in to watch the game, it was too late for me to get any more pleasant. The Vols didn't help, either.
I never feared we had the chance to lose all week, but I certainly worried we'd sleepwalk through the sandwich game. When that fear manifested itself in a too-close-for-comfort second half, my frustration with this team's lack of focus and our coaching staff's inadequacies [sorry, guys] I was in no position to re-hash the game. Then I remembered I had postgame responsibilities.
Sigh. So, I tried to paint the turd that was the 47-26 win over MACtastic Akron. Then, I tried to take a deep breath and enjoy the win. I've grown accustomed to having no faith that games like next week's tilt with Georgia will present a postgame opportunity to feel good, so we just need to take the wins as we get them and enjoy them when we can.
And hope we can beat somebody -- anybody -- of any consequence. Opportunity No. 2 comes Saturday. But first, let's look back at the positive and negative trends from Akron.TRENDING UP
- Rajion Neal. I'm not going to say he's an impact back, but this is two good-to-really-good weeks in a row for the junior running back. I can't believe that he isn't breaking that last tackle to break free for a huge run, but apparently that's going to come later. For now, we just have to appreciate that Neal is getting the yards that are available to him. He had a career-high 151 yards on 22 carries and ran around and through an inferior team like you're supposed to. A real test comes against the Dawgs.
- Fraternity Row Kickers. Let's hear it for Alcoa's Derrick Brodus!! Last year's feel-good, I-was-going-to-watch-the-game-from-my-fraternity-row-couch story after his performance against MTSU had a sequel. With the Vols searching for any kicking option that didn't mentally crumble like Michael Palady, Brodus tied the school record for most points by a kicker in a game. He saved UT's orange-zone struggles by going 4-for-4 in field goals and 5-for-5 in extra points [don't laugh; we'd missed one in every game we'd played this year]. I told Dad after Georgia State that I'd not let Palardy on the field to kick a field goal less than 40 yards the rest of the season. I'm glad Derek Dooley agrees.
- The Light May Be Coming On. We're talking about junior safety Byron Moore, who is living up to the massive expectations he brought with him out of JUCO after transferring from Southern Cal. Moore had a monster game against Akron, finishing second on the team with 10 tackles, breaking up a pass and intercepting two more, including one at the goal line. He narrowly missed another interception that deflected off a receiver and hit him in the hands. We desperately need Moore to keep playing at a high level.
- Offense Between the 20s. The Zips -- as it was supposed to be -- never stopped Tennessee's offense from marching down the field. On paper, this was a severe mismatch, and Bray and Co. zipped up and down the field making big plays in big chunks on their way to 633 total yards. UT had 29 plays over 10 yards and eight plays over 20 yards. They struck big all night.
- My King-ly Idea. I thought this last night and have been thinking about it all day: Why not put Justin King at running back??!! Did you see him on that Wildcat option keeper last night? He runs with authority. At 6-2, 230, he's the perfect size for a big bruiser back. If you don't like him in every-down position, at least let him play running back in short-yardage situations. He could totally grow into a Jacob Hester type. Make this happen. Kid needs the ball more.
- What's the Rush? Are. We. Ever. Going. To. Have. An. Effective. Pass. Rush. Again? One week after we inexplicably failed to put any pressure on Jeff Driskel, we barely hit Akron's quarterback at all. I'm keenly aware that we played most of the second half with six defensive backs, but I'm not happy that a University of Tennessee defensive lineman can't beat an Akron offensive lineman more. Much like that Georgia State game, Akron's quarterback was getting the ball away in a hurry, but the Vols' failure to get any pressure at any time is alarming. Aaron Murray will pick us apart if that happens next week.
- Orange-Zone Not In the Zone. The Vols honestly should have scored more than 50 points. But five drives were stopped inside the Akron 20. Two more times the Vols turned it over on downs on the Zips' 28 and 36 yard lines. That's simply unacceptable. UT left tons of points on the board in a game that was dangerously close for too long.
- Get Them Ready To Go, Sal. This Tennessee defense is giving up far too many lifeblood plays -- plays that keep drives going for the opposing team. Akron's time of possession for the game was 28:36 -- way too long for a defense to be on the field in a game like this. The Zips also piled up 344 total yards and hit some big plays, including a 70-yard touchdown run. Like has been the case in every game but Florida this year, the Vols adjusted in the second half. But by then, there were a lot of points already on the board for Akron.
- Short-Yardage Situations. Again, there were too many drive-killers. The Vols failed to convert on fourth-and-1 and on third-and-1. They also couldn't rely on running the ball inside the 10. It was frustrating to watch, and it remains one of UT's biggest Achilles heels.
- Not Bray's Day. Listen, I get it. He was a bit under the weather. He also threw for more than 400 yards. He had a whale of a game, but Bray also missed a bunch of passes including a couple would-be touchdowns. He locked and loaded on Justin Hunter too much and didn't get the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson enough. Simply put, a game like this won't cut it against the Dawgs.