By: RANDY MOORE
There's a reason the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns are serving as Tennessee's Homecoming opponent this weekend: They're a bad football team.
Here's how bad:
They have a 1-7 record, with the win coming at the expense of North Texas, another 1-7 team.
They surrendered a mind-boggling 681 yards of total offense – including 406 rushing yards – in a 52-21 loss to Arkansas State on Oct. 13. And, yes, that's the same Arkansas State team that lost 48-27 to Tennessee three weeks earlier.
They squandered a 32-25 lead against Florida Atlantic in the final minute of regulation, allowing the Owls to go the length of the field in 63 seconds to tie the score and then win 39-32 with a touchdown in overtime.
They are even worse defensively than Tennessee. The Cajuns allow 37.8 points per game, 6.6 more than the Vols. The Cajuns allow 494 total yards per game, 75.5 more than the Vols.
It's true that ULL will score some points on Tennessee. Who doesn't? Michael Desormeaux is the kind of mobile quarterback who historically gives the Vols fits. And the Cajuns run some option, an attack which historically gives the Vols fits.
It's also true that ULL is catching Tennessee at a good time. Sandwiched between key SEC games against South Carolina and Arkansas, the Cajuns are unlikely to get the Vols' best effort.
It won't matter, though, because Tennessee's players still have plenty of motivation. They have an unbeaten (4-0) home record to protect. They have a good shot at the SEC East title and a top-20 national ranking. They have a chance to qualify for a decent bowl game. They have a shot at a 10-win season. And they have a critical fan base that does not believe in them.
Tennessee's fan base has plenty of reason to be skeptical. The Vols are erratic on offense and porous on defense. They tend to fade in the second half and unravel when the breaks go against them. In short, the Big Orange is not a quality football team. This weekend, though, it won't have to be.
By the way, the last time a Sun Belt Conference team served as Tennessee's Homecoming foe was 2000, when an 8-4 Vol team annihilated Louisiana-Monroe 70-3.
CRUISIN' FOR A SNOOZIN'
By: JEFFERY STEWART
There's something about his season that makes me nostalgic for the early Johnny Majors years when you never knew which Tennessee would show up each Saturday, but with either one you knew it would be hard to watch.
Take 1981 for example. There was the UT team that was cannon fodder for the USCs of the world. In fact the Vols lost to Southern Cal 43-7 one week after losing to Georgia 44-0 that year. It would go on to lose to Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide club 38-19. (That may have actually been Tennessee's best game that season and a big improvement from the 27-0 loss it suffered against Bama in 1980.)
Then there was the 1981 UT team that would get caught up in these torturous tug-a-wars against bad to average teams. On back-to-back Saturdays the Vols won home games against Georgia Tech and Auburn by identical 10-7 scores.
Later in the season they would win home games against Wichita State, 24-21, and against Vanderbilt 38-34. There was more scoring in those games but there was also at least as much agony as there was exhilaration, although Willie Gault was worth the price of admission.
This was the era when bowl game officials would strike deals with schools behind the scenes and well in advance of the NCAA mandated date to do so. (It was a cozy, albeit tawdry, arrangement that continues to this day and undermines any chance of a playoff.)
Tennessee got just such an offer after beating Ole Miss, 28-20, in Knoxville for it's sixth win of the season. The offer came from the now defunct Garden State Bowl. Somehow the prospect of spending money and the Christmas holiday in New Jersey never caught on.
At any rate, Garden State Bowl officials were on hand the next week in Lexington to extend the official offer after the Vols' annual clash with Kentucky. Naturally, these reps for the newcomer on the ever-changing bowl scene were excited to be getting a team with Tennessee's tradition and strong fan base. However just before the kickoff one of the reps was struck by a bolt of reality when he asked no one in particular. "There's no chance Tennessee will lose this game is there?"
The press box suddenly went silent and as all eyes turned to the gentleman from Jersey. Finally the spell was broken when one working member of the fourth estate responded with a question that all within earshot had already concluded — "You haven't seen them play, have you?
As you might guess he hadn't seen Tennessee play but by the end of Kentucky's 21-10 victory that November afternoon he would understood the question.
The 1981 Vols simply ran too hot and cold to be predictable. That was particularly true on offense. The loss to Kentucky was the 10th game of the season and the fifth time UT had failed to surpass 10 points in a contest.
So what does all of this have to do with Saturday's game against Louisiana-Lafayette? Simple, Tennessee's 2007 defense, which is giving up 32.5 points per contest, is at least as bad as the Vols' 1981 offense. When you're surrendering points at that rate you're always vulnerable to an upset. Sprinkle in a large lull in the schedule, a few turnovers and the distractions of homecoming and the Cajuns could become emboldened enough to make a game of it.
No it's not likely to happen but, then again, how many conversations about college football this season have begun with the words: "Can you believe?"