An Autopsy Of Self-Destruction

Calling Tennessee's performance against Florida a meltdown is tantamount to terming the Ice Age a cold snap.

On a day when the rain fell from heaven in a not so gentle fashion, the
quality of Tennessee's charity was strained, beyond reason. In a 4:55 span
of the second quarter, the Vols staged a exhibition of ineptness that
exceeds any in all the annals of Tennessee athletics.

We're talking five fumbles or a 60-fumble per game pace. We're talking 24
points or a 294-point per game pace. And we may not even be talking about
the best of the bad. The Vols tackling looked like kids competing in a
greased-pig roundup at the rodeo. Tennessee tacklers made Rex Grossman, a
quarterback who meets the bare minimum requirements for mobility, look like
Earl Campbell on steroids.

Tennessee's penalties were as baffling as they were damaging. Too many
players on the field on a fourth-and-13 punt gave the Gators a first down.
Three delay of game penalties which are symptomatic of a team in disarray;
slow getting the play, slow getting to the line, slow getting the snap.

But the prize for the most puzzling penalty was an offsides called on the
offense. When was the last time you heard an offense called for offsides?
Illegal motion? yes. Illegal procedure? affirmative. Illegal substitution?
no question. But offsides? How does that happen? All five interior linemen
line up on the ball and the split end or a flex tight end always check with
the side official or line judge to assure they are onside.

If lining up onside is the most fundamental function of an offensive unit,
getting a snap exchange between the center and quarterback is second. This
failure was the most egregious of Tennessee's multitude of miscues and we
can't begin to discuss the Vols school record eight fumbles without
examining this error fest. From all appearances Clausen was guilty of
pulling out from center before securing the football. But there was plenty
of blame to go around. Miscommunication was the apparent culprit on the long
snap that Scott Wells sent over Clausen's head. Wells said he didn't know
Clausen would be in a shotgun and, consequently, didn¹t adjust his grip on
the ball.

In addition to this litany of failures, the Vols had problems with special
teams particularly on placement kicks. Alex Walls looked tight as a drum on
TV close-ups before his field goal attempt from the 27, and he kicked that
way. Instead of getting under the ball, he attempted to punch it through and
without any lift it was easily blocked. However there was also too much
penetration up front, similar to the MTSU game in which Tennessee's Phillip
Newman had a field goal blocked.

Then in the third quarter, when the Vols appeared to have some momentum,
Walls missed an extra point for the first time in 91 attempts.

Sure this doesn't seem like much, but if you put those four points on the
board for Tennessee and take away Florida's field goal at the end of the
first half, a score made possible by an ill-advised decision to run the
ball instead of running out the clock, the score would have been 21-17 after
UT's second TD of the third quarter. The Vols would have still needed to
stop Florida, but they would have had the crowd firmly behind the rally and
the pressure would shift to Florida. Also the Vols would have been able to
go back to their original game plan which was to run right at the Florida
defense. The field goal which the Gators got off with two ticks on the clock
turned the game into a four-possession deficit. While the weather was
Tennessee's chief obstacle in the disastrous second quarter, time was its
enemy in the second half.

None of this is intended to take anything away from a Florida team that came
in with a good game plan, adjusted well to poor playing conditions and took
advantage of the opportunities it was given. Grossman earned his stripes
against the Vols and proved himself an excellent field leader.

Giving the Gators their props doesn't alter the fact that Tennessee made
Florida looked like Miami, as in the Dolphins. But anytime a talented team,
and Tennessee is talented, suffers that severe a setback there are more than
mistakes in the mix. This particular downhill spiral began where it should
have ended, near the 1 yard-line. A brilliant Tennessee goal-line stand was
negated by a phantom touchdown that none of a cadre of cameras and only one
man in the stadium apparently caught. It was all too reminiscent of the 2000
phantom touchdown that gave the Gators a come-from-behind victory in the
final minute of play.

Even if the official who saw the ball break the imaginary plane was correct,
how did the umpire and referee miss Florida fullback Ran Carthon's choke
hold on Jabari Greer. That's the umpire's main responsibility and it was so
blatant and so close to the ball that he would have had to turn into a
spectator to miss it. Officials are human and it appeared that each was more
concerned with signaling the touchdown than calling the game. On the case in
question,Carthon reached around Greer's neck from behind and pulled him off
Earnest Graham when Greer was in perfect position to pull Graham away from
the goal.

It is only fair to point out that the Vols had a lot of gallant efforts in
the game. Seniors Eddie Moore and Rashad Moore were heroes on defense.
Kelley Washington gave Tennessee a lift on offense in his season debut and
Derrick Tinsley was a force on special teams and he broke the Vols scoring
drought. Dustin Colquitt also performed very well punting the ball in
adverse conditions.

Tennessee's offensive line also gave a good account of itself and appeared
up to the task of taking over the game if given the chance. Unfortunately,
the Vols were never in that position and thus the advantage that normally
favors the winner (winning the battle of the trenches) was essentially
neutralized by a game that had gotten out of control.

The good news is that though Florida has the advantage in the East Division,
it also appears very beatable. The Florida defense in particular seemed to
lack the type of difference makers the Gators usually have.

Tennessee can still accomplish all of its goals this season if it can
execute football fundamentals and have some fun in the process. The slogan
"Unfinished Business" is catchy, but it conveys games are a piece of work
instead of a labor of love.

Football is a game of emotions and execution that requires a focused
intensity. However it can't be played well if it is not played passionately.
And if you don't enjoy every step along way, you'll never reach any goal
worth achieving.

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