With parity across major college football becoming the norm, I doubt it will be uncommon for there to be one-loss BCS national champions on a yearly basis. Having said that, the Tennessee Vols need to figure out how to get off to a better start so that fans like myself believe there’s actually a chance that they’ll be such a team in a given year.
For the last two seasons, the Vols have started the season with a road game against a Pac-10 team and come home losers. Last year, it was California proving that either SEC speed is overrated or that it’s something they also possessed, running circles around the Tennessee defense. This year, the defense and its highly-touted secondary played an excellent game (or at least 3 quarters of one) while watching the offense sputter.
This was supposed to be the year that Jonathan Crompton made the transition from Erik Ainge’s departure look easy. As one of the highest-ranked QB recruits of his class, Crompton was theoretically developing under Ainge, preparing to star in his final two college seasons. Last night’s loss, in which he completed just 46% of his passes, showed that he (and perhaps offensive coordinator Dave Clawson) still has a lot of learning to do. Crompton was consistently overthrowing receivers, but he also bounced a few passes as well.
While the Randy Sanders-era trademark three-yard screen pass on 3rd and 12 has thankfully been retired, Clawson failed to adjust to a tiring UCLA front seven and continued throwing the ball in early-down situations. I don’t have a problem with that in theory, but with Montario Hardesty gaining yards in bunches, it possibly wasn’t the best idea against the Bruins. (On a related note: Arian Foster, whose fumble last night wasn’t exactly his first – or second – in a key situation, should officially start worrying whether he will break Travis Henry’s UT rushing record.)
Despite the problems in the passing game, kicker Daniel Lincoln had several chances to help the Vols escape with a win anyway. After two early long field goal misses, he redeemed himself with the game-tying kick as time expired in the fourth, only to become the goat once again after missing an easy 34-yarder to tie the game in overtime. It can’t be fun to be a kicker.
The Tennessee schedule doesn’t get much easier from here. There’s no such thing as an easy SEC schedule, even though the remaining non-conference schedule features few threats (UAB, Northern Illinois, Wyoming). The Vols get UAB, Florida at home, and Auburn on the road starting two weeks from now. Then Northern Illinois will serve as the warm-up to #1 Georgia. The Vols could easily be 2-4 after that stretch if they can’t correct things quickly. I’d love to see them in another SEC Championship game this year (Florida and Georgia might recall that the Vols actually played in that game a year ago), but this isn’t the best way to start down that path.
Note: This is not the start of a weekly review of Tennessee’s games, but last night’s loss was an exceptionally exciting game, even if it was ultimately disappointing, and there was a lot to talk about. Hopefully the Vols aren’t going to mimic the Braves’ season by moving the ball fairly effectively only to lose games by getting punts blocked, missing field goals, and fumbling on the goal line. By not making this a weekly review, I’m hoping to prevent that phenomenon from becoming a reality.