Which means it’s time to slap on an orange swimming cap, climb the steps, and swan dive into the pool of Tennessee Volunteer-related thoughts sloshing around inside my brain.
1) I actually thought Joe Milton played a good enough game. He sure as heck started off strong. 5 of 5 passing on the first drive, and he showed good touch for a lot of the first half on passes all over the field. The ball to Squirrel White was gorgeous. Seriously, I wasn’t sure what quarterback I was watching in the first half. The touch pass to McCallan Castles was *chef’s kiss*. The second half, in my opinion, was hamstrung in part by an oddly conservative gameplan, but from what I saw, I saw a better quarterback than I’d seen during the year. A silver lining from a deflating collapse.
2) It seemed like there were more designed runs, QB draws, etc. for Milton this game. And for the most part, they worked when Tennessee’s offense was still working. That needs to continue. Joe has taken some shots from defenders, which is a bit concerning. However, if he can get down when he should more often, it makes sense to keep using that. The guy was one of the fastest players in all of college football when he got into the open field against UTSA, so hey, let’s keep it going.
3) The officiating was terrible. I saw Alabama do a lot more wrong than just one snap infraction for 60 minutes. Particularly Bama’s offensive line after the first quarter. There were several potential holds and a few very obvious ones that were not called, particularly one on Bama’s second play of the second half.
Baron took an arm around the throat right in front of the officials, but no call. Maddening, but not surprising in the House of Saban.
You’ve all seen the banter on message boards and elsewhere after the game about the officiating, I’m sure. It’s been a popular talking point. I don’t need to beat that dead horse anymore, especially when the league will just shrug it off. Just par for the course in Tuscaloosa.
4) However, while the officiating irked me royally, there was something else that bothered me more, and that would be the focus and intensity by Tennessee in the second half. The Vols let off the gas. And no, that’s not my opinion. That’s what a player said after the game.
Elijah Herring on what changed defensively in the second half:— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 21, 2023
“We didn’t come out with that get it done mentality… we let go of that rope, got comfortable, felt like we won the game already.”
Joe Milton also said that some of his teammates weren’t playing at a high level.
5) I find that very worrisome. How can that happen??? You have a lead against your biggest rival and have been whipping their a## all game. You know what it takes to beat this team, and that was a herculean effort that resulted in grabbing a win by the tips of your fingernails last year in Knoxville. What on God’s green earth makes you think that anything less than your absolute best is going to get it done even with a 13-point lead? That’s just CRAZY to me.
The effort and intensity absolutely, 100% without question wasn’t there at South Carolina last year. It’s been missing at different parts of different games this year. Third quarter against UTSA. Much of Austin Peay. The second half against freaking Alabama with a double-digit lead. That simply can’t happen.
Heupel and his staff have got to find a way to keep this team playing like their hair is on fire for 60 minutes. That sounds silly, but it’s been a major issue for parts of two seasons now.
6) That mentality had better change going up to Lexington. The Kentucky Wildcats have been very good against the run this season, allowing only 3.1 yards per carry. As such, while I think Tennessee can run successfully on Kentucky, it won’t be a case of what the Vols saw against South Carolina this year. Or maybe even against Kentucky a year ago, when the Vols ran for 177 yards.
It’ll take a lot of intestinal fortitude and a greater effort than fans saw in the second half last weekend. Hopefully that collapse serves as (yet another) wake up call that you can’t just go through the motions in this conference.
If not, then Tennessee’s season could really get ugly before Halloween even arrives.