One of the best things I've read in the last two weeks was Holly Anderson's story at Grantland following the Oklahoma game:
In Knoxville, however, where there’s always one weary eye on the past and one wary eye on the future when it comes to the football program, the result of the Volunteers’ tilt with the Sooners is fraught with meaning. Another young Tennessee squad, hacking its way through another front-loaded schedule, fell short of putting together 60 minutes of coherent football. A team that has seemed by turns snakebit and inordinately fond of wading around in snake pits now must absorb another stinging loss.
There are eight years of truth in that last sentence. Sometimes the Vols have simply been unlucky: the Music City Bowl, Pig Howard fumbling at the pylon. And other times the Vols have done it to themselves: five turnovers in the last six minutes of the last three Georgia games, Derek Dooley, and the well-worn ground of Florida last year and Oklahoma this year.
Some will say the Vols are snakebit, and especially against the Gators. And others will say the Vols have gotten what they themselves have earned. Either way, what's the most important thing about killing a snake?
You make absolutely sure it's dead.
"I'm pretty sure I got him," is not an advisable sentence. You don't do pretty sure. You don't whack it in the head a few times and then reach to take it to show and tell. You kill it, then you kill it again, then you kill it a third time. You make absolutely sure.
Tennessee bludgeoned Florida for three quarters last year, but with several opportunities to cut off the head and cue the celebration, the Vols failed to finish the job. And then two quick strikes later, the Gators escaped and the Vols were dead. Tennessee landed several good shots on Oklahoma. But an inability to finish the job eventually led to death by suffocation.
I hope this is the last time we have to talk about Tennessee having seven snaps in the Florida red zone last year and never gaining a single yard, or the Vols having four first downs at their own 45 or closer in the third quarter two weeks ago and gaining no more than a single yard on any of those dozen plays. Every play matters. Had even one of those plays been successful - not even hugely successful, just put yourself in 2nd and 6 - almost every conversation about Tennessee could be different right now. But none of them were, and instead of delivering a crushing blow the Vols stubbed their toe. Sure enough, it wasn't dead yet. And sure enough, the Vols got bit.
The solution isn't necessarily to be overly aggressive ("I found a snake in your bedroom, so I burned the house down."). It's probably unwise for Josh Dobbs to channel his inner Tyler Bray against these guys. But it is wise to continue to do the things that put you in position to win in the first place. You don't say, "This shovel might be long enough..." You make absolutely sure.
For Tennessee, that should mean playing and staying up-tempo regardless of the situation. It should mean smarter play calling. It will require better execution from the quarterback, the CEO of a business-like mentality that pays no attention to streaks or fear and does everything it can to cut that head off on every single drive.
It won't be easy. Alligators fight back. But for the first time since probably the first year of this streak, Tennessee has the better tools to do the job.
There is some uncertainty with Josh Dobbs throwing the ball against a great defense. But Will Grier is far less certain. The Vols are still searching for separation at wide receiver. The Gators only have two wide receivers who have caught more than four passes this year. Both teams have issues on the offensive line, but Tennessee's group is a year more experienced. And both teams have a defense looking to take advantage of all of that. But not only are the Vols more experienced and better equipped to handle it, UT's tempo on offense can force the Gators to be the ones dealing with depth issues in the second half.
We spend so much time with the ins and outs of a ten year streak and a seven year wilderness. But beyond all the analysis and paralysis, I think the Vols can win this game for the simplest, surest reason: this time, Tennessee has the better team.
Don't mess around. Don't let up. And make absolutely sure.