Tennessee Review 2011
And so it’s here. Finally. No, I’m not talking about the Notes, though my conscience did force me to wait an extra day to allow my Vol loving wife to head off to Chicago before sitting down to review the game. No, I’m of course talking about the LSU game. The entire season has been building towards November 5th and the next two weeks will bring a crescendo that will culminate in the entire world stopping to watch the two best teams, not in the SEC, but in all of college football battle it out for the right to continue their national championship quest. It’s a game unmatched in recent history. An epic #1 versus #2 battle with the loser likely having to watch the winner earn the prize that they’ve worked all winter, summer and fall to make their own. Yep. It’s ON! In the coming two weeks you’ll receive a lot of information from me and from other sources on the big game and I freaking can’t wait, can you?
But, for now, we must dissect the game that was the “third Saturday in October”. What to make of this game, eh? For what seems like the sixth straight game – maybe even seventh straight depending on how you perceived the PennState beginning – Alabama once again got off to a slow start. This time, however, Bama didn’t awaken from their slumber until the beginning of the second half. Typically, a slow 1st quarter was followed by an overpowering second quarter and then a punishing second half. This time, however, Bama was sleep walking thru the entire first half on offense while the defense had the audacity to allow runs of 15, 13 and six yards. Isn’t it amazing that we’ve been reduced to bitching about, essentially, two runs? But, to be sure, this was a bit disconcerting because it’s not that we’ve all been evaluating the present game but, rather we have one eye on the present and one eye squarely locked on LSU. If Poole can gain 15 and 13 yards, what can Ford and Ware do? Never mind the fact that, after AJ’s interception, we forced a four and out. Never mind the fact that, after the fake punt and the 15 yard facemask penalty, we held UT without a single yard and forced a 52 yard FG. Never mind the fact that we held UT without a first down in the entire second half. No, we for some reason focus on two decent runs by Poole and the sluggish first half by the offense. It’s a strange new world we live in. But, in this world lives LSU – a foe of equal size and talent – and that’s the reason we remain unsatisfied with nearly every beat down performance. Ain’t it grand?
Thankfully, the players had a little talky talk at halftime and that, along with a few choice words from St Nick, turned the Tide, so to speak (is that the first time I’ve used that this season – it’s just too easy!). As a result, ole Smokey and his poor torn ACL were drowned out by a crimson tidal wave that appears to have left a permanent stain on Dooley’s orange britches. I can’t wait to see how Dooley’s mommy will take to the airwaves to clean up this new batch of dirty laundry….and with that……it’s on to the Notes!
How about we just jump to the second half, eh? No? Seriously, do you really want me to revisit that steaming pile of elephant crap that stunk up the field for the first 30 minutes? Fine. You know, it started well. We got a first down and looked to be playing Bama football until AJ misread the LB. The throw was there but credit the LB for covering about 15 yards to get to the flight of the ball. After that, to say AJ was playing with some anxiety would be an understatement. Prozac or Lexipro anyone? His passes were off. He read coverages as though he had a going problem. And, strangely, we continued passing instead of trying to establish the run. Consider, in the first quarter, we threw the ball nine times while attempting only five rushes. In the second quarter, the ratio was seven passes to eight rushes, and nearly everything seemed to be ineffective. On the running plays, backs slipped and linemen missed blocks while UT typically stacked the box with 8 and 9 defenders. It’s clear the gameplan going in was to throw the ball because of this.
So, we all readied for a second half ground and pound that would make Jenna Jameson blush. It was clearly time to dominate the Viles like the dirty little hooker hostesses they are. So, naturally, Saban took to the air with his vodka martini of a QB (shaken, not stirred, as Bond would say) and the results were a gratifying Happy Flight that even the Cardinals admired. You know, props to AJ. For real. Here’s a kid who was in a big rivalry game and had thrown a pick right off the bat. His play was erratic and his confidence was iffy but he stood in there and began delivering on time and on the money, time and time again. That takes a lot, especially when you clearly weren’t on your game. Credit Darius “Don’t Call Me Hootie” Hanks with some incredible catches that clearly built some confidence within #10. But, AJ for the first time in his career, experienced adversity. What did he do? He stared at the face of adversity and channeled his best Mr Chow (The Hangover) as he said to adversity and to the Vols: “Toodaloo Muddafuhkah!”
In the Ayer…A, A, A, Ayer: AJ completed only 2 of his first 7 passes and one of those was intercepted. How’d he finish? After facing tough times, AJ bounced back to complete 15 of his final 19 passes for a career high 284 yards. Simply outstanding.
Circus: All eyes were on Darius Hanks in the center of the ring just like a circus as he made catch after catch after catch in a full layout position. He was working the high wire with no net – just a pair of sticky hands and a smile. You can see why many say he has the best hand on the team and he’s really emerging as a go to guy.
Mr Brightside: Appropriate that the Killerz sing Mr Brightside b/c that’s what Trent is – a cold blooded death blow to opponents. This time, Trent took a handoff up the middle and patiently worked out a 12 yard TD run when there was seemingly nothing there. Even on the slo-mo replay you were left shaking your head wondering how in the world he made so much out of that carry.
Take this Line and Shove It: This will be a first in write up history but I have to say that there was one guy who constantly showed up in every replay and he didn’t play for Alabama. Malik Jackson spent a lot of time on the Bama side of the line of scrimmage and, numerous times, Vlachos was getting worked. Jackson is only 270 lbs but he’s very fast and keeps a very low center of gravity. Jackson was a problem for our zone blocking as we never could get our hats ahead of his, therefore he remained unblocked and was a constant hemorrhoid on our backside.
The Twist: Of note, I saw several unique formations that I hadn’t seen before. Hope Les has some extra time during the next two weeks b/c he suddenly has a lot more to prepare for. Here’s a bullet list of little things I noticed that haven’t been shown much or at all this season:
- Maze running the wildcat with Trent in motion – remember he can throw
- The I formation with Underwood as the fullback
- An inverted wishbone with Williams and Smelley as the up backs. It’s a run heavy look that we went play action from.
- Barrett Jones lined up numerous times next to Fluker as a TE. Meanwhile, on the opposite side, Williams lined up as the LT flanked by Smelley. It’s a very run heavy to the right look and it worked beautifully.
- We completed two deep balls (unusual, anyway)
- AJ shouted “Tornado! Tornado!” That set a play in motion that had big Fluker pull like a car causing carnage everywhere. He rarely if ever pulls.
- AJ rolled left and completed a pass to Smelley
- A two back shotgun set with Smelley resulted in a sneaky screen to him. Well designed and hidden.
- We double stacked our WRs in one look resulting in an open route by Hanks
Funny how many look at the defensive performance and moan about how poorly we played. We forget that UT went for a 4th and 4 on our 35 and we batted the ball down. We forget that, after the fake punt and the 15 yard penalty, they were set up at our 35 again. Three plays netted zero yards and one ruptured spleen (Donte smoked one poor dude who thought he had a catch) and UT was forced to kick a 52 yard field goal. Later, facing a fourth and inches on their own 40, UT decided to go for it again. This time, the defense didn’t give an inch as the emasculated the Tennessee offensive line and rendered Matt Sims as UT’s version of Chaz Bono. Tennessee pulled out all the stops and all it got them was a measly six points. Six. Points. C’mon, man! They didn’t get a single first down in the second half! Not one! That’s pretty stunning on any level, much less the SEC level.
This is How We Do It: No, seriously, how’d they run on us? Well, if you harken waaaay back to the PennState write up, you’ll note that we employ a 4-1 look with Mosley as the only LB. Donte moves to DE. On the big 15 yard play, Donte moved into the flat to cover that zone, leaving only a three man rush. The guards got out on Mosley and Barron and, by the time the safeties could close, Poole had a head of steam and gobble up 15 yards. It’s sad that we have to break this kind of thing down but it’s necessary. Poole had another couple of runs where he blew through Menzie’s tackles near the line of scrimmage. By and large, he was bottled up otherwise.
The Thunder Rolls: He’s baaaaaack!!!! Donte Hightower played his best game since his knee injury. He lined up as a DE. He covered the flat. He was a LB. He was a Jack type rusher lined up next to Upshaw. But, no matter where he was, the result was the same. Hightower blew thru the Tennessee lines easier than General Hooker’s men at LookoutMountain. We could also mention the batted down fourth down pass, the sack or the interceptions. Or, we could mention the sick moves Donte displayed as he weaved his way for 30 yards after his pick. Oh, and he was the Defensive Player of the Week in the SEC. Go figure!
Guess Who’s Back, Back Again: No, not Donte, the other LB. Welcome back Mr Mosley! Mosley read two different screens and snuffed them out before they could get rolling. Once, against a blitz, UT called for a screen and it was four against one. However, our one was Mosley and he knifed thru the traffic and took down the RB. There’s a reason he started in the nickel and dime packages as a freshman – kid is mighty good. Glad he’s back for the big game!
You Know Dasher and Blitzen: Yeah, that was kinda weak. I couldn’t figure out a song for blitzing and, next thing you know, I’m singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Sigh. Anyway, Nick dialed up a LOT of pressures during this one. I saw corner blitzes, slot blitzes, dual middle LB blitzes and zone pressures. Meanwhile, I saw us employ the 3-4, 4-3, 4-2, 4-1 as well as the 3-3 and 3-2 looks. Tricky Nicky was simply working in the lab, I believe, and reminded folks that we aren’t just a rush four, drop seven team (though we have been much of this season). I guess I could have titled this one “Mind Games” because on offense and on defense we showed a bit more that what we’ve done the majority of the season.
T-R-O-U-B-L-E: This was the first game that I noticed our front d-line getting rooted out of the trenches. Gentry, Billingsley, Square and even Chapman got moved around a few times. With one eye on LSU, it’s somewhat significant. I will say that the week off will do the big uglies on both sides of the line of scrimmage a chance to rest, heal and get themselves a mighty big mad on.