Tennessee has made itself in the image of Maxim #1. We must remember the other six.
“The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win,” is the first of General Neyland’s commandments. And his word can be trusted: seeking to minimize mistakes is a blessing, not a curse. Neyland’s words have always been the identity of this program. The sins of Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer were rarely those of aggression: third-and-Chavis, clouds of dust.
Tennessee football is built on the principle of the first maxim first, but not in full. We need the other six.
Maxim #4 joins #1 in a defensive stance: Protect. Our kickers, our quarterback, our lead, our ball game. Tennessee’s ability to do just that for Josh Dobbs is front and center in this match-up. You’d better believe in Maxim #4 on Saturday.
But the other five are active. Make the breaks. More steam. The winning edge. Things to press.
Carry the fight.
Making fewer mistakes is a great start. It has in many ways helped carry Butch Jones this far: his Vols don’t lose to teams worse than them, a skill of critical importance in the midst of a brick-by-brick rebuild. Managing risk gave his team a chance to win against the best teams in college football last fall.
You don’t abandon Maxim #1. You don’t say screw it, let’s throw deep a million times on Florida. You don’t forget what gave you a chance to win this game last year.
Tennessee is Maxim #1, and Butch Jones in many ways embodies it. To get the win so many of us are starving for - to be Tennessee again - we need to live all seven of them. This is what the great Majors and Fulmer teams of the past did well: be the team that makes the fewest mistakes, but do it while carrying the fight to the opponent.
And it’s not just Butch Jones or Tennessee’s players that have to learn and live the truth of carrying the fight to Florida and keeping it there for 60 minutes.
We will beat Florida when our players and coaches deserve victory, and not a moment before. What those players and coaches deserve from us on Saturday at 3:30 is our unconditional support.
If you’re going to come to Neyland Stadium with a case of the oh-no’s if Florida scores first, sell your tickets. They’re valuable. If you can’t wait to tell everyone how you were right about Butch Jones and/or Mike DeBord if we go three-and-out, sell your tickets. If you’re going to start counting down the seconds as soon as we get up 3-0, sell your tickets. If you’re going to wait for something good to happen before you start acting like you believe something good can happen, sell your tickets. Don’t come to Neyland Stadium to be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.
For all the hand-wringing and I’ve-got-a-bad-feeling-about-this-ness of The General’s house against Appalachian State and the Florida game two years ago, we should know what this place can do. Even in losses, I’ve seen it roar long into the night against Oklahoma last fall. I’ve seen it rally behind Jonathan Crompton against UCLA in 2009 with absolutely no reason to believe he was going to get it done at that point, but do it anyway because that’s our team and our quarterback and back then losing wasn’t so horribly common. And there are some of us who still remember what this place can do against the Gators. I’ve seen it help push Collins Cooper wide left and help talk James Wilhoit’s ball all the way home. Seen it before. Believe it again. Same as two years ago. Same as two years from now. That’s our job.
Last year Bob Stoops, who has won a national title and nine Big 12 championships, compared Neyland Stadium to the venues hosting Florida State and Notre Dame. And Tennessee fans lost their collective mind Monday-Friday, then took Neyland to that place on Saturday night. This year Austin Appleby, a backup transfer from Purdue who loves throwing interceptions more than he loves throwing touchdowns, compared Neyland Stadium to the venues hosting Iowa and Nebraska the year they fired their coach. And Monday-Friday this week, we’ve been living too deep inside our own collective head to take it as an even bigger insult and an even greater challenge. What will we do tomorrow at 3:30?
Because I am very excited to see what our defense will do.
Do not be afraid.
The Vols are built to minimize risk. They must do so while playing for and making the breaks, and taking advantage with points when one comes our way. If Florida takes advantage first, the Vols and their crowd must respond with more steam. And in this department, Team 120 and the smokey grays are well trained. The Vols have to protect Dobbs, and Dobbs has to protect the football. We must win in the small details.
And I have great faith in the kicking game, so long an x-factor for the Gators in this rivalry, being a positive factor for the Vols on Saturday.
Tennessee’s job - Dobbs and DeBord, Butch and Barnett, Jalen and Jalen, you and me - is to carry the fight to Florida and keep it there for 60 minutes. To not know Maxim #1 so well we can’t learn Maxim #7.
This is an awesome weekend. We’re all aware of how it’s been x number of years since x number of things have happened. It is an incredible opportunity for Tennessee.
Do not be afraid. Carry the fight. Go Vols.