By Brian Rice
So remember the old NCAA Football video game? In the PS2 days, we didn’t have a lot of online opponents to play, so there were hours spent honing the craft against the CPU. I got really good at it. So good, that my younger brothers would only play me if I agreed to be some terrible team and they got to be Florida State or USC. So I learned how to beat those teams with Alabama State.
So you’re asking yourself right now, “Was the Florida game so bad that Brian had to fill his column with a video game story or is he just an idiot?” There’s a point here. To beat those teams, I lined up in goal line all day and won those games three boring yards at a time. My family still kind of hates me.
So when teams run the shotgun in actual goal line situations, it sends me to a level of crazy that is normally reserved for drivers in parking garages. Tennessee is far from the only team that does it, but it’s the only team we care about, and that’s all that matters.
Hence, the Florida game.
Look, I can appreciate the quick pass at the goal line when the whole stadium is expecting a run. Remember, I’m a master of mid-2000s video game football. But I never had John Kelly on my team. If I had John Kelly on my team averaging six yards a carry against my most important rival, then I might throw in that situation once, but then you run him twice and if the offensive line can’t help him get a yard, then it deserves to kick a field goal and then go to the sideline for what we like to call a “teaching moment.”
But that is the one thing that has bothered me the last two years. At Central Michigan and at Cincinnati and even the first couple of years here with the dumpster fire Derek Dooley left, you have to scheme around doing the obvious thing when everybody knows what you’re going to run. You have to do it, you probably don’t have the athletes to execute the obvious play.
But life in the SEC is the other team knowing exactly what you were going to do in lining up in doing it anyway. In 2017, Butch Jones has the athletes to match up. You have the ability. Everybody in the stadium knows that you need to run the ball in that situation. So, letting a wide receiver win a one on one battle is not a bad play call. But it is when you do it two more times after that first opportunity doesn’t work out. Then, after you’ve backed yourself up five yards on a penalty, a QB in his third career start forces a ball to a freshman receiver that broke off his route and three points becomes zero.
When Tennessee was a similar situation on the final possession, it was the same thing. In a vacuum, the three play calls that were made inside the 10 were not bad ones. But they are bad when you have a running back of John Kelly’s ability and a limited amount of time on the clock. Two of the three plays that were called should have been touchdowns. But they were incomplete passes, which left time on the clock. Run the ball three times and your worst case scenario is that you are kicking a tying field goal with either no time left on the clock or only enough time for Florida to have a kickoff return.
Going into the season, everyone looked at the schedule and saw four major tests on it: Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU. Tennessee didn’t pass the first one. Pass the other three, even pass two of the other three, and the impact of the first one isn’t nearly as big. But it puts a lot more pressure on those other three games, especially the one against Georgia in two weeks.
The positive is, we saw on Saturday at Tennessee can very much compete in those games. We also saw that there are significant issues that have to be corrected in order to pass those tests. That’s the challenge for this team going forward.
The Defense Was Good…Until It Wasn’t
Before the final play on Saturday, Bob Shoop’s defense allowed 317 total yards, 168 rushing, 149 passing, allowed just 13 first downs and forced 3 turnovers. Until that play, the defense had played well enough to win the game.
Before the final play against Georgia Tech, the defense had allowed 655 total yards, 535 on the ground and 33 first downs.
It doesn’t matter how a defense has performed over the entirety of a ball game, when that team has to make one play at the end. Against Georgia Tech, the defense was awful for just about every play other than the one that mattered. Against Florida, the defense was outstanding on just about every play except the one that mattered. That’s how this game goes sometimes.
Watching the defense Saturday for four quarters gave me hope that they will play well enough to put Tennessee in position to win games over the course of the season. I feel more confident about that than I did going into the game.
But this team will have more close games down the stretch. How does that one play go?
I’ve Got To Think Before I Tweet
Tennessee finally attempted a field goal Saturday. Freshman kicker Brent Cimaglia nailed a 51-yarder to give UT its first points of the day in the second quarter, which prompted me to tweet the following:
I think we've found a kicker.
— Brian Rice (@briancrice) September 16, 2017
Climaglia missed his next two attempts, Aaron Medley missed his first one and the Vols’ kicking situation is again Cloudy with a chance of Heartburn.
Score A TD, Go Crazy
Took some heat for tweeting this:
You know what, John Kelly, you can have that penalty. Not mad one bit.
— Brian Rice (@briancrice) September 16, 2017
I don’t care if the ensuing penalty yardage gave Florida a long kick return and great field position. John Kelly can do what he wants. We’re only three games in, but he’s on pace to shatter Tennessee’s all-purpose yards record.
That said, he could have gotten the ball more. UT rotated running backs in the Florida heat to keep him fresh for the final quarter. CBS’s Gary Danielson gave UT’s staff praise for how they handled the running backs rotation. It worked in that he was key in Tennessee’s comeback drives. It didn’t work in that he didn’t get the ball in the two moments he needed it most.
Brian Rice’s blog is brought to you by GolfTec. Swing better, play better at GolfTec.