Sunday, October 30, 2016

Butch Jones Continues to Dig His Own Grave

Last night might have been Butch Jones’s worst loss as a head coach at Tennessee. It was his own personal Derek Dooley moment, a defeat as embarrassing and frustrating as the 2011 Kentucky game. The Vols, favored by two touchdowns coming off a bye week against a vastly overmatched South Carolina team that was starting what should’ve been a senior in high school at quarterback, were absolutely horrendous and stunk so bad on offense that it would’ve made Pig Pen blush.
Is it safe to say that Josh Dobbs’s second half performance against Florida was the greatest example of quarterbacking blue balls of all time? I think so, considering he’s regressed badly since then, going from looking like a Heisman candidate to a guy who might lose his starting job by the end of the season. It all culminated yesterday in what was perhaps the worst game of his career: 12-26 passing, 161 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions, and a fumble. And I’d even argue those numbers don’t do justice to how poor he played, as he missed multiple open receivers and looked incredibly lost and uncomfortable for a guy that’s now played in thirty-two college games. I mean, that last interception he tossed was such a bad throw that it reminded me of the pass Brandon Harris threw against Wisconsin that might have cost Les Miles his job.
It’s the same old crap week after week after year after year with this team. For the eighth straight game, the Vols slogged through an ugly first half that saw them look unprepared, undisciplined, and disinterested. It was the same predictable, “Hurd right, Hurd left, incomplete pass, punt” offense we’ve seen all season, helped by another porous, terrible performance by their incompetent offensive line. The team hasn’t gotten any better this season, and they make the same mistakes each and every week. Besides Derek Barnett (who finished with three sacks), and Evan Berry (who had a kickoff return TD), who were the standouts?
All of this points right back at Butch. I hate that I was right about this (I wrote a scathing review of Butch just last week), but how much more do we need to see before it becomes abundantly clear that this guy is never going to truly get the Tennessee program back to where we all want it to be? How many years does he need? I’m not a huge Jim McElwain fan, but when you compare his year and half at Florida to Butch’s three and half on Rocky Top, it’s embarrassing. McElwain is 11-2 in the SEC (Butch is 12-17), is on his way to back-to-back East Divisions titles (Butch hasn’t come close), and turned what was an abysmal Gator offense in 2014 under Will Muschamp into a competitive, legitimate unit in less than a year (Butch has been there since 2013 and they still have no idea what they’re doing on that side of the ball).
How about another SEC coach, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, a guy that’s been at his job as long as Butch? Did I mention that he’s been sharing the same state as Nick Saban, probably the greatest college football coach of all time? Malzahn is 17-12 in the SEC, won the conference in his first year, and has presided over an offense and a team this season that has gotten drastically better from the beginning of  September to the end of October.
And don’t give me this crap about how these guys inherited more talent or better situations than Butch did. Florida went 7-5 in 2014, and Tennessee and Auburn were 5-7 and 3-9 in 2012, respectively. And honestly, four years in, all the Dooley guys are gone. This is a roster recruited, picked, and coached entirely by Butch. And these are the results? Sheesh.
So how will the rest of the season turn out? Not well. For one, this lost definitely cost them the East. Florida’s got road games at LSU and Arkansas, but I don’t see them losing both those games, something they’ll have to do for Tennessee to win the East. The Gators are a legitimate football team and are undefeated with Luke Del Rio under center. And why should we be confident in Tennessee at all? They suck in the first half every week and are two plays away from being 3-5. And when you look at their remaining four games, I only see two definite wins; Missouri, a dead team, and Tennessee Tech. The other two? Kentucky is half-decent and could still theoretically win the division, and Vanderbilt is at least feisty. Are those definite victories? Not with how Tennessee has played. I suspect they’ll lose at least one of those and finish the year 8-4, a major disappointment for the level of talent and amount of experience they have on the roster. And even if they do somehow miraculously win the East, should the fan base feel great about Butch and the program by going to Atlanta and losing to Alabama by 30+ points again? I know I certainly wouldn’t.
And where does this leave Butch? If they finish 8-4 he’s not getting fired, but how should we feel about the fifth year of the Coach Jones experiment? He’d be 5-7, 7-6, 9-4, and if my prediction is correct, either 8-5 or 9-4 in four seasons. Not horrendous, but nothing to brag about either. He’ll have a brand new quarterback (which might actually be a good thing), the loss of ton of starters, a new offensive coordinator, and another brutal schedule that includes road trips to Florida and Alabama. Sounds like a lot of uncertainty and another less than desirable 7-5 or 8-4 campaign to me. I think at a certain point we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that Butch is a middle of the road coach who has put forth an average performance at one of the 15 best jobs in the country. He’s recruited well and increased the talent, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a poorly coached team that’s performed at their best when the coaching staff has been the least involved. The wild comebacks, when they’ve, in the words of Barry Switzer, “out-talented” and “out-athleted” their competition have involved things you can’t coach, like Dobbs running around like a man possessed, Jauan Jennings having the hands of a god, and Alvin Kamara being untouchable and unable to be covered.
I know he’s sketchy and has a checkered past, and the evangelical portion of the fan base would hate him, but is there any doubt that Bobby Petrino would win a ton of games in Knoxville? He rebuilt Louisville in less than two years, and we’d eliminate our offensive concerns because he’s scored a ton of points everywhere he’s been. Move on from Butch, and contact Petrino and see how much money he wants. The boosters, the athletic department, and the fan base are desperate for a winner. They’d foot the bill for $6 million a year if they knew Tennessee was going to start playing an exciting brand of football that led to victory after victory. And here’s a hot take: I think Petrino would take it because his ACC division is much tougher than Tennessee’s SEC East. Think about it; Petrino has to compete each and every year in division with Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney, two of the top 10-15 coaches in the country. Why not come to SEC East where the best coach is probably Jim McElwain, a borderline Top 20 guy? Petrino would dominate these guys and make Tennessee the favorites in the division every single season.
Get off your moral high horses people. No one’s defending Petrino’s past behavior, but in the words of Colin Cowherd, a lot of people have made mistakes on a motorcycle.

It’s time to get back to where this program should be. It’s time to move on from Butch Jones. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Butch Jones Conundrum

Tennessee football has a major problem.
No, it’s not their injury report, a document that stretches all the way from Knoxville to Gainesville, or Josh Dobbs’s impending graduation, or their schedule, or their players starting bar fights, or robbing Pilot's, or their starting quarterback hot-dogging on a jet ski, or anything like that.
No, their problem is a much bigger than that, one without a simple fix.
It’s Butch.
Being likable and easy to get along with is a really valuable skill in life. Bosses  and co-workers are way more willing to tolerate you in your job, even if you’re underwhelming, as long as you have a cheerful, carefree, media-friendly personality that’s accompanied with a world class smile. Mack Brown is the perfect example of this; during his tenure at Texas (1998-2013), he, in a watered down Big 12, won the conference championship only twice and went 6-9 against “Big Game” Bob Stoops, including five losses in a row to Oklahoma from 2000-2004. There was the national title season in 2005, but most years included either a loss to the Sooners, or multiple defeats against vastly inferior teams. Brown also recruited virtually unopposed in-state from the other Texas schools, who were all abysmal and wandering in the wilderness during this time; Texas A&M (twice), Baylor (twice), and Texas Tech (once) won 10 games or more in a season a combined five times during Brown’s tenure. Meanwhile, Brown had 58 players drafted from 2004-2013.
It’s hard not to look back at the Brown era as disappointing, considering all his advantages. But you didn’t hear anything negative about him from the media or fans until he was basically forced to retire at the end of the 2013 season. Why? Because he was a likable guy who was quick to smile and who knew how to kiss the media’s ass. He gave them great soundbites, access to whatever they wanted whenever they asked for it, and he never lost his temper and was always professional, even after a loss. He was a good ole boy who knew how to play the game.
The same is true of Butch. He’s willing to take pictures with anyone (including Allen Iverson?), he talks in platitudes and catch phrases in the exact same way idiotic television pundits do, and he’s active on social media and has embraced America’s meme culture (Third Down For What?). Fans love this stuff. "Butch just said 'Brick by brick' for the nine-hundredth time since he’s been in Knoxville? Awesome!" "'We just don’t know how to win yet'? Hell yeah, he’s right!" "He said 'Critical', 'discipline', 'mental errors', and 'fundamentals' in a single halftime interview? YES!!!!! I LOVE MEANINGLESS BUZZWORDS, LIFETIME CONTRACT RIGHT F%#*ING NOW!!!!!"
Here’s the thing though; by any objective standard, Butch's for year tenure on Rocky Top has been a disappointing underachievement. For the good of the conversation, I’m willing to throw out the first two seasons, years where he was doomed to fail due to the ineptitude of the Dool-Aid, orange pants era. Jesus Christ himself couldn’t have guided those teams any further than what Butch did, though, to be fair, there’s pretty good evidence Jones royally screwed up the quarterback situation in Year 2 by not playing Dobbs, despite the fact that he was clearly the best man for the job. Remember that Alabama game in 2014 where Dobbs came in after a disastrous, “I never had a chance” first quarter from Justin Worley, and absolutely turned the Vol offense, and the entire game, around? ‘Bama led 20-0 after the first quarter, but with Dobbs at the helm, Tennessee outscored them 20-14 the rest of the way and made it competitive. They won 4 of their last 5 with Dobbs and finished 7-6. Was 8-5, or even 9-4 possible if Dobbs had started the whole season? I don’t see why not, considering they only scored 9 points against Florida, and went to Nathan Peterman in the Georgia game when Worley got hurt, a game they only lost by three.
We can’t forget 2015 either, a season that saw the Vols blow three leads of at least 13 points, often on the back of terrible, conservative play calling and atrocious clock management that can be pinned directly on Butch and the coaching staff. 2016 has been the exact opposite; Tennessee has come out flat, unprepared, and uninterested in all seven games, and has faced double digit deficits in the first half six times. Honestly, they’re an extremely lucky 5-2, considering everything that’s happened in games they’ve won:
·         Appalachian State: The Mountaineers were horrible in the kicking game, missing both an extra point and a field goal, and Tennessee was fortunate to recover a Dobbs fumble that went into the end zone in the overtime period. If all three of those things don’t happen, the Vols start 0-1.
·         Virginia Tech: Tennessee won 45-24, but fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before being the beneficiary of five back-breaking fumbles by the Hokies, turnovers that completely turned the momentum of the game in their favor. If Tech could’ve simply held onto the ball, it could’ve been an entirely different game.
·         Florida: The Vols, after trailing 21-0 in the second quarter, and blowing multiple scoring opportunities, erupted for 38 unanswered points en route to a 10 point victory.
·         Georgia: Dobbsnail Boot.
They’re like 10 plays away from being 1-6. Geez.
And then you add in this; the offensive line has long been disastrously bad for years now, and Butch hasn't been able to do virtually anything to improve it. Mike Debord's play calling in the first half has been worse than every Lil Uzi Vert freestylebut at the end of the day, Butch hired him, and everything that goes on with the staff reflects back on him and is his responsibility. Plus, Tennessee 
is still yet to put together a grown-up, complete, 60 minute win against a ranked SEC team during the Butch years, a time that's also seen them go 0-10 against Top 10 teams.
And yeah, I get it, Tennessee’s suffered through more injuries this season than everyone who ever crossed paths with Steven Seagal in his movies, but guess what? Injuries are an enormous part of a game where grown men violently collide with each other for three and a half hours every Saturday. Did the Vols lose 49-10 against Alabama on Saturday solely because they were severely banged up? No, of course not. Sure, they were outmanned and outgunned, but they were literally as flat as Flat Stanley himself in the first half for the seventh straight week, before the fatigue and lack of talent left on the field created the circumstances for them to get their doors blown off later in the afternoon. Plus, injuries don’t prevent the healthy members of a team from showing up prepared, focused, and ready to play. They looked lost in the first half in all three phases of the game for the seventh straight week. To me, the lack of motivation and lack of preparation falls squarely on the coaching staff, and that comes from what happens during the week leading up to the game.
Think about this: Tennessee has been at their best this season when the coaching staff was the least involved. All of their comebacks have resulted from a wild, playground-esque, hurry-up offensive attack that’s allowed the sheer talent and experience of their offensive playmakers to physically overwhelm everyone in their path. You want two quick fixes for the Vol offense? Dobbs needs 15-20 running plays a game, and the offense needs to play up tempo and huddle as little as possible. Those things have happened in the second halves of games, and Tennessee has been way more successful that way; why aren’t they doing that all the time????
Here’s a question; is Butch even a Top 15 college coach? Here’s his credentials: two Big East Championships at Cincinnati in 2011 and 2012, and a 26-19 record at Tennessee.
Let’s dig deeper into those Big East titles though; in 2011, his Bearcat team didn’t play ranked foe all year, and he actually pulled off the most incredible feat of all time when he lost a game by double digits to Derek Dooley’s Vols. In 2012, Cincinnati played two ranked teams and lost to both of them. Ugh. That ain’t good.
So let’s unpack this more; He’s certainly not in the Nick Saban (5 national titles, 6 SEC Championships)-Urban Meyer (3 national titles, 2 SEC Championships, 1 Big 10 Championship)-Jim Harbaugh (revitalized a dead Stanford program, and turned Michigan around instantly) class, and I know I’d much rather have Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (3 Big 10 titles) Washington’s Chris Petersen (dominated at Boise 7 years, and now has Washington rolling) and Bob Stoops (9 Big 12 titles and one national title). Bobby Petrino is an enormous risk, but just purely at coaching football, he’s a superior mind who has won big basically everywhere he’s been. Mark Richt won averaged almost 10 wins a year at Georgia for 15 seasons and won two SEC Championships, including one in his second year. I’m in no way a fan of Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, but his SEC tenure has been much more impressive than Butch’s thus far, AND he has a head-to-head win over Coach Jones. So does Arkansas’s Bret Bielema, a guy who also won three straight Big 10 Titles at Wisconsin. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has averaged 10 wins a year, won the ACC twice, and came within six points of winning a national championship last season. James Franklin hasn’t gotten Penn State back on track yet, but you’ve clearly got something going for you as a head coach if you can win 9 games in back-to-back years at Vanderbilt. Stanford’s David Shaw has played in four “BCS” bowl games and won the Pac-12 three times. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher won the national championship three years ago and has won the ACC three times. Dan Mullen has done about as good of a job at Mississippi State as anyone could’ve asked for, including a 10 win season back in 2014.
That’s 15 guys right there, and that’s without including names like Les Miles, Art Briles, and current San Francisco 49er coach Chip Kelly, who is always a threat to return to college. Miles averaged 10 wins a year at LSU and captured two SEC Championships and one national title, and Briles turned a perpetually disappointing Baylor program into a national championship-level contender by winning back-to-back Big 12 titles and finishing three seasons in a row with 10 wins. Kelly’s offensive scheme revolutionized football on all levels, and he won three straight Pac 12 titles at Oregon. Heck, are we sure he’s better than Florida’s Jim McElwain? They’re 1-1 against each other, and McElwain won the SEC East last season in his first year. And what about Brian Kelly, who was at Cincinnati before Butch was? Kelly went 12-0 in his last season as the head coach of the Bearcats, before bolting to Notre Dame, a program he guided to an undefeated regular season and BCS Title Game appearance in 2012. And you could easily make an argument for Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Nebraska’s Mike Riley, and probably a whole host of other coaches.
If history is any guide, then to win a national title, which I think would ultimately be everyone’s goal if they’re involved in a top level program, you need at least a top 15 coach. The last ten years, the only team to capture a national title without a really special head coach was Auburn with Gene Chizik in 2010? How did the Tigers pull it off? By (allegedly) paying Cam Newton, one of the five best college football players of all time, like $180,000 to come suit up for them for one season. So unless Butch is lucky enough to find some once in a lifetime, uber-athletic freak quarterback with a cannon arm that he’s willing to rain cash down on like J.R. Smith at a strip club, he’s probably not ever going to guide the Vols to the playoff, much less lead them to a national championship.

So what does Tennessee do? Fire him? That would probably be inappropriate now, considering the program has gotten incrementally better during his tenure, even if they’ve underachieved and he’s been directly responsible for more mistakes than a bunch of lightweight drunk sorority sisters playing Operation. Unfortunately, the Butch years are starting to look like a less successful iteration of the Mark Richt Georgia years. You know, underachieving season after season after season, and low fan base optimism from years of having your hopes and dreams dashed and destroyed by the team caving under the pressure of big moments and games. Every UGA fan was tired of Richt by the end, and he actually won a lot of games! Butch hasn’t yet, and based on everything we’ve seen, doesn’t appear like he’ll ever be able to.  
He's taken Tennessee from Point A (the Dooley years) to Point B (fringe SEC contenders). I'm not convinced, and we certainly haven't seen it anything yet, that would tell me he's the guy to take them from Point B to Point C (serious SEC and National Title contenders every single year). That's what he was hired for, and that's what Tennessee fans should expect from their football coach. Anything less than that and we're just Kansas football, a program that loses their freaking minds if they win 9 games. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Does Alabama's Dominance Re-raise Questions About Butch's Long Term Viability?

Alabama, if they hadn’t already, firmly entrenched themselves as the unquestioned best team in college football today by blasting Tennessee 49-10. It was an absolute massacre, a beat down, an ass kicking. Though, if we were being honest with ourselves, we probably should’ve seen this demolition coming from a mile away. Think about all the factors working against the Vols:
1.      Alabama is the clear national title favorite. This victory gave them four road or neutral site victories this season (vs USC, at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at Tennessee). They’ve scored at least 34 points every week, have had only one game decided by less than 19 points, and have given up 10 points or less five times. I don’t think any team in the country is remotely close to them right now.
2.      Tennessee, to steal a line from last week, has had more wounded players than the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is out for the season, Darrin Kirkland hasn’t played since the Battle at Bristol, Cam Sutton’s been gone since the Ohio game, Cortez McDowell didn’t play this week, and neither did Malik Foreman. The offensive line has been a revolving door of injuries and poor play (they’ve started five different combinations in seven weeks), and Danny O’Brien’s dismissal takes away their best space eating, run-stuffing defensive lineman. They just couldn’t stop the run today, as Alabama pushed around their backups and third-stringers all day en route to 438 rushing yards. The effect of all defensive injuries were evident last week; once O’Brien and McDowell went down in the fourth quarter, A&M gashed them for the rest of the afternoon. It only made sense that ‘Bama, a more physical team with more athletes, was going to destroy them in that area.
3.      The effect of three straight highly emotional, rapidly changing, heart-racing games was eventually going to catch up to them. There’s not a team in the country more in need of a bye week than the Vols. They’re gassed, both mentally and physically, and it showed. They just didn’t look like they had anything left in the tank. They need a week to get healthy, catch their breath, and refocus.
This game is simple to explain: the better team absolutely destroyed the inferior team, one that was emotionally drained while at the same time being unable to oppose them because they missing basically half of their starting defense. This result makes sense. But it doesn’t mean I like it.
After the game, my father and I, as we often do, were talking about the state of the program. He hates losing to the Tide as much as anyone, but he does feel positive about where program is going. And mostly, I agree with him. I think pretty much every Vol fan has to at this point right? The talent is clearly better now than it was three years ago, they compete pretty much every week, and the optimism amongst the fan base is as high as it’s been in at least 15 years. For better or worse, we’ve tacitly accepted the Butchisms and platitudes as just part of who Coach Jones is, and because he’s a legitimately nice person, we want him to succeed.
I lost my freaking mind when they came back on Florida and Dobbsnail Booted Georgia two weeks in a row, and I took my seat next to a lot of you guys who had been riding the Butch train for years. Heck, I wrote this after the Florida game:
Obviously, Butch, someone who just bought himself a ridiculous amount of good will and time with boosters and fans, deserves a ton of credit. Beating Florida and exorcising ELEVEN YEARS of demons was the final step for him, at least for me.
It’s funny how certain games completely shape the narrative, either positively or negatively, for a coach. For example, in 2013, Auburn won two miracles, the Prayer in Jordan Hare, and the Kick Six. If they lose both those games (and it’s entirely possible that they would’ve), then Gus Malzahn finishes Year 1 with three losses, no SEC Title, no life-long memories, and without the “he’s an offensive genius” narrative. And, during the following two years, when he posted records of 8-5 and 7-6, with no home SEC wins in Year 3, he definitely would've been fired and not allowed within 300 miles of the state of Alabama ever again. Heck, he’s on the hot seat now, and might've been fired tonight if the Tigers weren't able to beat LSU . But because that 2013 season happened, there’s still the hope, no matter how miniscule, that he can recapture the magic of that year, because the fans have seen him do it before. With Butch, we didn’t have that idea until now, because he’d never done it. But now he has, and he’ll forever be able to point to this game, the one we all wanted for so long, and it will be hard for us to say anything against him. He has us all in the palm of his hand. I hope we don't get crushed.
I think I, in typical dumb fan guy fashion, let the emotions of two games get the best of me, causing me to abandon all critical thought. It forced me to put my arms around someone who clearly still has flaws as a head coach. It's funny how winning, particularly in the the way that Tennessee has done it, makes everyone forget about the problems in a program, and the limitations of their head coach. The palm is closing in around us, and I’m trying to squirm out from under it. Or at least step one foot off the train.
Here's the problem: Butch’s teams have never consistently played 60 minute games. I’ll throw out his first two years because they were out-manned and out-gunned almost every week, but the last year and half has been colored by wild, rapid, unpredictable changes in level of play from quarter to quarter. In 2015, they couldn’t hold onto leads, as they blew three thirteen point advantages, and were unable to put away Alabama despite leading in the fourth quarter of that contest. This season, it's been the opposite; they’ve trailed by double digits in the first half in six of seven games, and needed a balls-to-the-wall pace and an unbelievable amount of luck to either come back and win, or at least make it competitive almost every week. The blown leads last year could almost be pinned directly on Butch’s suspect clock management decisions and the ultra-conservative play calling down the stretch. This season’s slow starts have to go on the coaching staff too, don’t they? They’ve been flat, unprepared, and almost disinterested early in all seven weeks, and the play calling in the first half has been almost exclusively dreadful. I think literally every Vol fan hates Mike Debord, and he definitely should take some of the blame, but to be fair to him, it’s hard to put it all on his shoulders when the offensive line is as leaky as a broken sink, or when the receivers drop the ball like it’s hot
Then again, how many games do we have to go through before we realize that this offense needs Josh Dobbs’s feet to be successful? His one carry in the first quarter simply isn’t enough. They almost never call designed runs for him anymore, and it ridiculous that his best asset isn't being utilized. He’s, at best, an average passer, and he’s certainly not accurate enough to slowly matriculate the ball down the field by making the underneath-to-medium range throws. Dobbs’s pinnacle as passer is when he has time to drop back, sit in the pocket, read through his progressions, and launch the ball down the field to his taller-than-average receivers who are can outjump smaller corners in one-on-one matchups. The problem is, he never has time, and because the offensive line has such a hard time getting a push, they can never establish a running game that would help the receivers get single coverage on the outside.
Another thing: I love Jalen Hurd’s heart, attitude, and demeanor, but isn’t there pretty good evidence to suggest that Alvin Kamara is actually a superior back for this system? Hurd would be better in an I-Formation, where his enormous frame running as hard as he possibly could downhill would be lethal. He absolutely bowls over people when he goes mano y mano and takes on defenders like he's a gladiator fighting for his life, but he needs a running start to reach that point; Kamara doesn’t. He’s quicker, is better at running outside the tackles, and is much more effective in the passing game. Hurd’s a better blocker, which is actually important considering Tennessee couldn’t stop a pee wee defensive line from getting into the backfield, but Kamara is deadly when the Vols decide to play fast, a pace that flipped the game three straight weeks against UF, UGA, and A&M. I’d like to see them come out in the hurry up from the very beginning, instead of this methodical and ineffective “Hurd Right, Hurd Left, incomplete pass, punt” offense that’s exclusively made up their first halves all season.
Today’s game isn’t the worst thing in the world; again, they were probably going to get pounded no matter what. Alabama was vastly superior in the trenches and all over the field, as Tennessee was so worn down from injuries and the emotional drainage of the last three weeks. But the lack of being able to play a 60 minute game is starting to become an indictment on the Butch era, and it's punched holes in his long term viability as the savior of the program. When is this offensive line going to be competent? Why can Tennessee only be effective when they play as fast as a speeding bullet? If the goal is to win the SEC, Butch is going to have to eventually go through Alabama. Nick Saban is the target he’s going to have to shoot down, something Butch hasn't been close to doing in three of four tries. I’m not sure he’ll ever be up for it, and I'm not sure anyone is really, but they won't have a chance in hell they can’t consistently string together  60 minute games against legitimate SEC foes.

Despite all the negativity the last two weeks, the Vols still have an excellent shot to win out and find themselves in Atlanta, where they’ll more than likely face ‘Bama again, this time with what is hopefully a fully intact roster. An SEC Title Game appearance will give Butch the longest leash a Tennessee coach has enjoyed since Philip Fulmer after the ’98 season. For better or worse, we’re married to him. I'll being praying to Thor himself that he's the guy I tricked myself into thinking he was three weeks ago.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Eventually, Everyone's Luck Runs Out

Tennessee almost topped themselves again yesterday. Almost.
After the Vols fumbled on their opening possession of the second half, and Texas A&M turned it into points and a 28-7 lead, I gave up on the game. I thought it was over, and I sent my father the following concession text: “Too many injuries and too many mistakes. We're onto Alabama”. I was ready to chalk it up as an extremely poor, undeniably unlikely performance in an unbelievably hostile environment. It just wasn’t their day. I plan on watching Tennessee for the rest of my life, and I doubt I’ll ever see them have seven turnovers in a game again. And when you add in the ungodly amount of defensive injuries, it’s amazing that Team 120 was able to make it as competitive as they did.
The Cortez McDowell-Danny O’Brien injury combo was an absolute back-breaker for the Vols. Both guys went down in the 4th quarter, and it absolutely destroyed their already suspect rush defense. After those guys went down, A&M ended the game with a Trevor Knight 62 yard TD run, a Trayveon Williams long dash that was snuffed out by an incredible play from Malik Foreman, a less-than-a-minute drive that ended with a missed short field goal, a field goal, and another Trevor Knight TD run. Eventually, they were just so undermanned and worn down that they couldn’t get off the field. Colton Jumper tries as hard as he can, but he’s no Jalen Reeves-Maybin. And it’s obvious that the secondary really misses Cam Sutton’s presence. Bob Shoop told Gary Danielson before the game that his biggest concern was A&M throwing over the top of their corners, and he was right; they got burned all day. McDowell was already a backup to Darrin Kirkland, meaning they were forced to go to their third stringer late in an extremely important road conference game. Awesome.
The turnovers and mistakes were absolutely soul-crushing. Alvin Kamara had a 50+ yard reception that had the Vols inside the 10 nullified by a fumble, and John Kelly inexplicably laid it on the ground in the red zone in the second half. Josh Dobbs fumbled twice, threw the game ending interception, and tossed another pick when Jason Croom forgot how to catch the ball. Even Evan Berry even lost one, as he dropped the ball on a kickoff return, a play which saw him get murdered in the facemask on what should’ve been a targeting penalty against A&M. And as much as I loved the hit by Nigel Warrior, his targeting penalty wiped out a huge Kamara punt return.
Eventually, making a zillion first half mistakes per game, playing around with 20 point deficits, and having a roster filled with more wounded guys than the Battle of Antietam was going to catch up with this team. It’s tough to come back from one double digit deficit against a conference opponent; doing it back-to-back weeks was incredible; asking them to do it three times in a row is probably impossible.
I’m never going to be satisfied or proud when they lose, but I was certainly impressed with the amazing level of heart and resolve they showed in fighting back and never giving up. They could’ve very easily won this game if they turned it over five times instead of seven. Somehow,  they lost the turnover battle by four on the road against a top 8 team and still almost won. Tennessee moved the ball all day, gaining 684 total yards, the most A&M has ever given in a game. Kamara was a god, playing the best game of his life, as he torched the Aggies for 127 rushing yards, 161 receiving yards, and three total touchdowns.
Unfortunately, his performance will probably be forgotten because they lost, just like Foreman’s come-from-behind forced fumble through the side of the end zone. If Tennessee wins that game, Malik’s play goes down as one of the greatest in Vol history, joining the Dobbsnail Boot, Dale Jones’s interception against ‘Bama in 1985, the Clint Stoerner fumble, James Wilhoit's  kick against Florida in '04, and Peyton Manning's 80 yarder to Joey Kent against Alabama in '95, along with a whole host of others.
Losing, particularly in the fashion they did, is absolutely devastating. It sucks. I literally couldn’t write this last night because I was so defeated emotionally. I thought the game was over like four separate times, but the Vols kept making play after play after play to keep themselves in it. I didn’t think there was any way they’d lose after Foreman’s poke. No one makes a play like that to keep their team in the game. The football gods had to be on our side, right? They’d done more than enough to get blown out, but somehow, they were still in it. They’d pulled it out of their butt all year. It was going to happen again. And then it didn’t.

It’s not the end of the world, and the season could still end up where we all wanted it to be, with an SEC Title and a playoff spot, but the ‘Bama game next Saturday has now turned into the most important Third Saturday in October in a long time. This is the fourth straight game against a ranked opponent. Will Tennessee have anything left in the tank, both physically and emotionally? Who knows? For the sake of Vol Nation, the season, my liver, and my sanity, I hope they do.   

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Baseball Playoffs: Does Anyone Care?

Recently, I’ve noticed a few disturbing trends in my personal life, occurrences that have kick-started the process of me turning into an old white man. For example, when I was still in middle school, I had a hairline that resembled the one currently occupying the head of the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George. George’s hairline bothers and confuses me; it literally looks like he originally had a mullet, but then some Herculean-like figure came along and yanked it forward down his forehead. Balding jokes used to be some of my favorites, because every dude in the entire world is self-conscious about their hairline, and concerned that it might recede at any time. However, in the last few weeks, I’ve had several people point out to me, based on pictures I was in as recently as nine months ago, that my hairline is diminishing. I, of course, vehemently denied it, because that’s the only defense you have when someone puts you on blast like that. You’ve just got to fake confidence and coolness. But did that stop me from being concerned? Of course not. Did I spend an abnormal amount of time checking it out in the mirror? Sadly, yes. The realization of the transition from Paul George to an almost five-head is like going from dating Blake Lively to being forced into an arranged marriage with Lena Dunham.
Other instances of my “advanced” age; creaky joints, random angry political rants, earlier bed times, and three straight nights of playoff baseball.
Baseball? Three nights in a row? Geez, a coffin and six feet under might be closer than I thought.
The truth is, baseball was my first favorite sport. When I was much younger, I used to spend hours in the front yard pretending I was Chipper Jones, Sammy Sosa, or Derek Jeter, creating and acting out fake games in my head. I’d watch the Braves every night on TV, and if the game ended after I went to bed, the first thing I’d do in the morning was ask my dad if they won. I knew everything about everyone on the Atlanta roster, from their jersey number to their batting stance, and I even had a notebook that contained all their social security numbers (Cha-Ching!!). Basically, I was obsessed.
Eventually though, that dedication subsided, as I got older and my interests expanded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a diehard fan, and I still keep up with Atlanta on a day-to-day basis, but I don’t think any American has the time, or the desire, to sit down and watch three hours of baseball a night, particularly when it involves two teams they don’t root for. I know I certainly don’t. This season, the only baseball I watched were Braves’ games, and even that was limited to pieces and parts of 25-35 games.
Here’s the problem baseball is facing; most millennials, people aged 18-34, couldn’t care less about the sport. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday, someone who’d rather watch fifteen straight episodes of Switched at Birth than sit through a baseball game, and I made the observation that I no idea where the sport would be in forty years. Will anyone care? Is it going to be less popular than hockey? 60 years ago, America’s three favorite sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. Baseball is the only one that remains in that top three, and the interest in it has been sinking since the ‘70s.
The sport doesn’t create any urgency. It’s a 162 game season played at a slow pace, with 10-15 seconds between action that may or may not be that compelling. Three straight balls, with a potential mound visit and no swings of the bat isn’t really all that exciting, and that sequence happens all the time throughout the course of a game. Compare this to the NBA regular season, an 82 game jog that is actually way less impactful and important than baseball’s regular season, considering 16 of the 30 basketball teams make the playoffs, as compared to just 10 of 30 baseball teams. But I, and people my age, find the NBA regular season way more compelling, because the constant up and down action on the court tricks people into thinking what’s happening on a game-to-game basis matters more than it does. There’s real energy and pace during an NBA game, even when the teams suck; there’s not during a baseball game on a Tuesday night in June. The most exciting event that happens on the diamond is when someone attempts to steal a base, and that’s really jarring in the moment. The game’s been moving at a snail’s pace, and then out of nowhere there’s back-to-back quick actions due to the immediate throw down to second after a pitch.
The NBA also does a way better job of creating storylines and drama during its regular season. The “Are the Warriors going to get to 73 wins?” question was a great topic that lingered over the whole year last season, and the dysfunction with LeBron and the Cavaliers was an enormous story basically since James arrived back in Cleveland. There were a zillion storylines around Kobe Bryant, from his terrible shooting and lack of leadership, to the implosion of the 2013 Lakers, a supposed “superteam”. And don’t forget LBJ’s four year reign in Miami, which caused ESPN to create a section on its website devoted entirely to that team, the aptly named Heat Index. And I haven’t even talked about frenzy created during the free agency period; The NBA dominates the first two weeks of July with its abundance of player movement (Remember how massive LeBron’s The Decision special was?), while baseball’s “Winter Meetings” are about as sexy as Rosie O’Donnell’s cankles.
What are the biggest regular season baseball stories of the last five years? I struggled with this one for a while, before settling on three; Rougned Odor’s Mike Tyson-level strike to the face of Jose Bautista back in May, Buster Posey’s broken leg that occurred when he blocked the plate against Scott Cousins, and the meteoric rise of Yasiel Puig that flamed out almost as quickly as it started. Most of you probably remembered Odor clocking Bautista, and maybe some of you can recall Puig’s emergence, but the Posey story is probably unfamiliar, due to the fact that it was five years ago. Three big national stories in five years? That’s it?
I’m not condoning steroid use, but at least it created drama and interest in the doldrums of July and August. The home run chase in ’98 between McGwire and Sosa was enormous day-to-day event for the sport, and every single Barry Bonds at bat from ’01-’04 was must see TV.
The sport just can’t get out of its own way sometimes. Last year in the playoffs, when Bautista hit a series-winning homer against Texas, he watched the ball leave the park, and then  flipped his bat before going around the bases. This was somehow the biggest deal in the world; never mind that he’d just hit the biggest homer of his entire life, and celebrated just like any rational person would in the exact same circumstance. Apparently, he was “showing up” his opposition… WHO CARES? If you don’t want him celebrating, then don’t let him launch one out of the park on you! And how many times have we seen pitches get huge strikeouts and then lose their freaking minds as they run back to the dugout? Isn’t that “showing up” the batter? Why is the pitcher allowed to do that, but the batter isn’t? It’s just absolutely ridiculous. Sports are emotional events, and they’re full of emotional people! Let them show it from time to time! Baseball and it’s old fuddy-duddy idiot traditionalist fans screw it up when they literally do everything they can to demonize the humanity out of what’s happening on the field.
I care about this sport, and I want everyone else to. It’s great television in the postseason, and there’s real stakes. I’m not a Red Sox fan at all, but I was legitimately nervous watching Dustin Pedroia’s at bat in the ninth inning against Cleveland last night. There was an emotional build to every pitch in that sequence, as Pedroia battled for minutes to extend the game, before he eventually struck out. That was great stuff; too bad I’m the only person in his twenties who watched it.
The NBA does a great job of building up their stars, while baseball literally does the exact opposite. There’s hardly any black stars; only 8% of MLB players are black, as compared to 26% in 1979. Now, those kids are choosing to play football or basketball or almost anything else. Mike Trout is one of the best players in a generation, but I’d wager 90% of millennials couldn’t pick him out of a group of three people. Corey Kluber won the 2014 American League Cy Young; I’m in the top 1% of sports fans and I had never seen him pitch (and still haven’t, though he’s throwing in Game 2 today for Cleveland). Bryce Harper is probably the biggest star in baseball, and he’s way less marketable than at 15-20 NBA players.
Major League Baseball’s regular season has unfortunately turned into an emotionless, faceless, slow game with no urgency. I’m not sure there’s any real way to fix that. Our instant gratification, no time for anything culture has destroyed the desire of people to sit down and enjoy something that happens at a slow pace.
There’s things baseball could do to improve its product, and they’ve taken some steps to do so. Limiting mound visits, discouraging batters from stepping out of the box for 30 seconds after each and every pitch, encouraging pitchers to get the ball out of their hand and towards the plate as quickly as possible, and marketing their stars are all things they’ve attempted to do, or have talked about doing. The Wild Card games, which is virtually a one game play-in, seems to be a good idea, because there’s nothing more urgent than a “win or your season is over” contest. I’m in favor of basically anything that speeds up play, or creates action and drama, but at the end of the day, the sport fundamentally is what it is. There aren’t any adjustments you can make to give it the pace of football or basketball, or the action of MMA, and it may just be a broken, imperfect, and flawed fit in 2016.  
And because they don’t attract eyeballs during the regular season, there’s no incentive to watch the playoffs, other than, “Well, it’s the playoffs”, which isn’t good enough for most people. And if the postseason isn't attracting eyeballs, then there’s no way that stories can evolve and expand from it. Madison Bumgarner dominated the entire league for three straight rounds in the 2014 playoffs; everyone forgot about it like a week later. The Royals won their first title in 30 years last season; we didn’t care about it the following weekend. The baseball playoffs come and go, and most people forget it even happened. That’s what occurs when you have a league that doesn’t create a national, emotional connection with the populous. The whole notion that I could write this entire piece around the premise that liking baseball makes me an old man is an incredible commentary on the sport itself. It’s viewed as rigid, slow, and uninteresting by more and more people every day.
If the sport can’t shake the, “It’s boring” narrative, it’s eventually going to fade into the blackness and abyss of Sports Hell, alongside boxing, horse racing, and pistol duels.   

Unfortunately, I don’t think it can.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Odell Beckham Jr. Vs. Everyone

Last night, Odell Beckham Jr. lost his mind again, something that’s starting to become a troubling trend for a guy whose early career trajectory had him positioned to become one of the greatest receivers in the history of the league.
Beckham was legitimately terrible last night, as he appeared to be more concerned with wrestling opposing corners than running routes or catching passes. He was extremely lucky to not be ejected in the first half when he aggressively bumped an official, and his demeanor on the sidelines was that of a man who was lost and irritated. All of this culminated in perhaps the worst game of his career, a non-impactful 3 receptions for 23 yards, none of which came after halftime.
We all know how this started; Beckham, a mid-first round pick in 2014, burst onto the national scene that season with one of the most impressive rookie campaigns the league had ever seen: 91 catches, 1,305 yards, and 12 TDs in just 12 games. Included in that magical year was this “what the hell was that” catch against Dallas during a Sunday Night Football game, a grab that transformed him into an international superstar and the toast of New York City.
He followed up his spectacular first season with an equally great second year: 96 catches, 1,450 yards, and 13 TDs in 15 games, as he most importantly, at least in my view, singlehandedly won like three fantasy football games for me. And just this year, in Week 3, Beckham became the fastest player in NFL history to 200 catches and 3,000 receiving yards, achieving both in just 30 games.
The talent this guy has is undeniable. He’s lightning quick, he’s a great leaper, he’s tough as nails, and there’s not a receiver in the league with better hands. Physically, he’s limited by nothing, but the problem with Beckham is that he’s now starting to reach the Terrell Owens Zone, a space where his immense talents are being overshadowed by sideline outbursts and his inability to control his emotions.
To be fair, Owens and Beckham aren’t perfect matches for each other; OBJ hasn’t thrown teammates, coordinators, and coaches under the bus on multiple occasions like T.O. did, actions that destroyed team chemistry and crippled multiple franchises. Then again, Owens never allowed his anger and frustrations to keep him from doing his job on the field during the game. In last year’s Carolina game, Odell went absolutely crazy, casting aside his on-field responsibilities in favor of headhunting Josh Norman for 60 minutes. Supposedly, Norman and the Panthers threatened Beckham with a bat while questioning his sexuality, insinuating multiple times that he was gay. This is spelled out in their post-game comments; Norman told reporters, “You’re going to be Michael Jackson and go around and dancing and playing and a lot of other stuff and not be a football player and not train the way you’re supposed to train. It goes to show. I hope I pulled that mask off. I pulled back the face of what that dude really is”. Former Cowboys’ receiver Michael Irvin, a friend of Beckham’s, commented on the gay slurs Beckham faced during the season, saying, “He deals with it a lot. For some reason, everybody goes after him with gay slurs. He’s a different kind of dude. He has the hairdo out, he’s not the big muscular kind of dude. The ladies all love him…. I told him he can’t let stuff that people say get to you”.
Whether or not Beckham is actually gay, and regardless of whether not the Panthers went after him for it, it’s unfortunately become a referendum on his career. The book is out on him now; talk trash, be overly physical, and crack him just seconds after the whistle blows, and you can destroy him mentally and take him out of the game. Corners all over the league know they can’t contain OBJ, so they target the only thing that can; Odell himself. When he clobbers himself with the kicking net, or sheds a tear on the sidelines, the opposing defense cheers, because they know they’ve won.
Odell has become the Russell Westbrook of the NFL, a supremely talented player whose fatal flaw may also be his greatest asset. For Westbrook, it’s the “balls to the wall” competitive attitude he brings to every game. From the opening tip to the final horn, Russ is in attack mode, flying up and down the court like a Red Bull-infused Kamikaze pilot. That style of play wears opposing teams down throughout the game, and it makes Westbrook one of the most dangerous players in the league, and a constant threat to score. However, it also oftentimes leaves his teammates feeling unimportant and disinterested, as they become part of the audience for “Russell’s Circus”, a traveling show where everyone stand around with their popcorn and watch Westbrook go one-on-five every night.
Odell’s competitive fire and relentless, “I’m going to fight you to the death” mindset work great when he’s engaged in the activities that lead to playing winning football, but the problem is it’s so easy to throw him into a funk and get him to challenge the entire defense to a literal fight. Too often, he forgets that the greatest asset he can bring to his team is beating his defender deep, not beating them down.
Unfortunately, you can’t take the fire out of Westbrook or Beckham without completely changing who they are as players. If Russell takes his foot off the gas even slightly, then he’s way less effective, because he only knows how to play one speed; the rest of them don’t work and he ends up running around the court, unsure of what he should be doing. The same goes for Beckham; you can’t have “tear up the league Odell” without “tear up on the sidelines Odell”, because those two are so intertwined. The truth is, Beckham is an undersized receiver. He doesn’t have Julio Jones’s or A.J. Green’s size, so he’s forced to rely on his emotions to push himself to the next level.
So how does he fix this? Can he?
I don’t know. However, I’m certain it doesn’t help when his own quarterback, Eli Manning, who was also terrible last night, throws him under the bus after the game, or when Beckham himself acts like the officials are targeting him without reason. Um, Odell, have you watched the Norman tape from last year? You made an ass of yourself all day and drew multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and you’ve shown you can be provoked into unnecessary violence based on to the words people use towards you. I don’t happen to think it’s very flattering for the NFL when its players target a particular athlete with an abundance of homophobic slurs, but I also don’t necessarily blame them for doing it either, because at the end of the day, they’re trying to do a job, which is to keep Beckham from catching passes. And I definitely don’t have a problem with any other trash talk, or just-after-the-whistle hits or bumps. All of these have proven to be effective strategies in throwing OBJ into a funk and getting him off his game.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the last sentence of that Michael Irvin quote from earlier; “I told him he can’t let stuff that people say get to you”.
Here’s a lesson we all learned, or at least should’ve, in elementary school: if someone gives you a nickname you don’t like, or makes fun of you, the best thing you can do is act like it doesn’t bother you. You can do this by ignoring it, or laughing along with them. This is so counter to what we hear nowadays, but IT’S OK TO LAUGH AT YOURSELF, and IT’S OK TO MAKE FUN OF OUR DIFFERENCES. When someone is “bullying” you, the response they want is for you to get angry, but if you act like their words don’t matter, or if you agree that they were funny, then you’ve completely cut the legs out from under them and everything that they were trying to do. We spend way too much time caring about what everyone else thinks of us, and oftentimes our entire self-esteem and self-worth are tied up in the approval of others.

Odell is a monster on the football field, and almost every single player in the league would kill to have the success he’s had. He should spend his Sundays laughing at everyone’s pathetic attempts to destroy him with words. Josh Norman’s opinion of him, and the things he says about him shouldn’t matter or bother Beckham. He’s his own man, a supremely talented millionaire with Hall of Fame ability who should be shedding off words like they’re defensive backs trying to cover him. Let’s hope he eventually figures that out.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Hobnail Boot Across Their Nose

Amazing. Improbable. Incredible. I’m still hoarse from shouting.

Jauan Jennings, last week’s hero against Florida, wore the cape once again on Saturday by being on the receiving end of Josh Dobbs’s 43 yard prayer as time expired. But it wasn’t just the game he saved; that miracle catch made everyone forget about Malik Foreman’s defensive breakdown, it allowed the Vols to virtually wrap up the East, and it was a hobnail boot across Georgia's nose that probably caused the longtime voice of the Bulldogs, Larry Munson, to roll in his grave. But it also, perhaps most importantly, preserved the pursuit of what could end up becoming a really special Tennessee season, a year that could end up culminating in the restoration of UT to national prominence.
The emotional highs and lows of this showdown were unbelievable, starting from virtually the opening kickoff. I guess the Vols don’t care about the health or well-being of their fans, because for the 4th time this season, they fell behind by double digits in the first half. As the Vols trailed 10-0, Jalen Hurd turned what looked like an easy touchdown into a fumble when he slowed up near the goal line and got clobbered by a Georgia defensive back that he never saw coming. The ‘Dawgs converted that turnover into an 80 yard scoring drive that ended when their quarterback Jacob Eason recovered running back Sony Michel’s fumble in the end zone. Incredibly, though perfectly in line with their character, Tennessee found themselves trailing 17-0.
The breaks just never seemed to go their way all day. They couldn’t stop the UGA running attack, they suffered three back-breaking turnovers, and Hurd contracted some sort of mysterious ailment and never returned after his TD catch in the third quarter. After a while, I started to contemplate the reality that this just might not be their day.
Trailing 24-21 with less than four minutes to go, Tennessee was forced to punt back to Georgia, a kick that trapped the Bulldogs inside the five.
After stopping them for no gain on first down, the defensive line brought the pain. Derek Barnett had been held in check most of the day, but on this play, he showed off his NFL first round talent by breaking through the line and destroying Eason. a shellacking that also forced an enormous fumble. Corey Vereen pounced on the loose ball, a recovery that gave the Vols their first lead of the game.
I, of course, went nuts. As I bounded out of my seat, hugging and high-fiving my father, the, “this game is over” thought crossed my mind. So incredibly dumb in hindsight, but at the time, it made sense. After all, Tennessee had bottled up the ‘Dawgs the entire 4th quarter, and I had no reason to believe that Eason, a true freshman in the first truly pressurized moment of his career, had the stones to take UGA down the field, particularly in the face of the madmen in the Vol front four.  
Eason proved me right on their very next drive, as he turned a nice kick return and manageable field position into a Malik Foreman interception. If Barnett’s forced fumble left any doubt, then Foreman’s pick should’ve sealed it. It did, at least in my mind. There was no way Tennessee was going to lose this game. They were going to escape AGAIN, this time from Athens, despite another first half mail-in.
But then, in the most Derek Dooley way possible, it happened. Georgia forced a three and out, and got the ball back with 67 seconds left. That drive was an absolute nightmare. All of the sudden, Tennessee couldn’t force pressure. They couldn’t break through the Bulldog O-line, and Eason was able drop back and settle into a comfortable pocket, one that enabled him to show off his world class arm.
With 19 seconds left, and the ball on the Volunteer 47 yard line, Eason and Malik Foreman combined to give me one of the worst gut punches of my entire life. I don’t know why this happened, but Foreman just stopped running and allowed Riley Ridley to get behind him for a soul-crushing TD bomb. In the span of five minutes, Foreman had transformed from the hero of the game to a poor man’s Bill Buckner.
I couldn’t believe that happened, and I made an incoherent screaming sound as my hands found the top of my head. Not again. No way. They aren’t supposed to lose this way anymore. This always happens.
There’s no way to accurately describe how you feel when it appears that the team you’ve rooted for since you could walk just snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Tennessee’s had more than its fair share of heart-breakers the last eight years, but this was about to top all of them. There wasn’t any realistic way it could be worse than this.
They needed a miracle; fortunately the ‘Dawgs were more than willing to help in the potential creation of one. UGA committed two costly penalties in the immediate aftermath of their touchdown, an unsportsmanlike conduct after their score, and an offside on ensuing the kickoff. Those penalties, coupled with Evan Berry’s nice return, placed the ball at the Georgia 43 yard line with 4 seconds left.
“Hail Mary’s” are amongst the most memorable plays in all of football, but the major factor that creates their legendary stature is the rarity of their success. For every one that’s completed, there are a hundred that fail to bear fruit.
The improbably of it made it that much sweeter. Jennings created space for himself in the end zone and out-jumped everyone for what might be the most spectacular and unbelievable touchdown in the history of the program. I high-fived my dad so hard my hand stung for two hours, and my voice was strained by constant screams of joy.
As I whirled back to look at the TV, I saw Butch bent over on one knee, sobbing uncontrollably. Now I’m not normally a big crier, particularly when it comes to sports, but witnessing his raw emotion in the immediate aftermath of the greatest win of his life caused even me choke up a little bit. I had to bend over and compose myself before standing back up to continue my celebration.
I hate to rain on this parade, because I’m as giddy as anyone, but wouldn’t it be nice if Tennessee could put together two solid halves? Geez, I don’t know if I’ll make it through this season alive if they keep spotting everyone double digit leads in the first half. Make no mistake, they’ve been the luckiest team in the country by far the first five weeks of the season. They’re 5-0 for the first time since ’98, but what would’ve been a disappointing 2-3 start is probably just as likely. Is it too much to ask for them to actually show up for the first thirty minutes at A&M next week? Regardless, it's a hell of win, one that I'll never forget for as long as I live. 
I wrote last Saturday that the Florida game was the best win of my entire life. Who knew it would be topped just a week later? The constant shifting of emotions throughout the game, coupled with the shocking finish helped this one surpass the joy I felt last week when Tennessee finally shattered their Gator glass ceiling.

We were due one like this, weren’t we? After all the heartbreak, all the bad luck, and the Dooley years, the football gods owed us one. I’m happy they finally cashed in on that debt.