The sky is falling ... or is it?

At 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 1, 1991 I got a call from The Knoxville Journal's executive sports editor telling me the newspaper was folding at month's end and I would be losing my job of 17 years. Ninety minutes later I was served divorce papers by my wife of 17 years.

That evening I found a message from Tennessee head football coach John Majors on my telephone-answering machine that I'll never forget. After conveying his sympathy for my double dose of adversity, Majors offered a piece of advice:

"Just remember: Things are never as good as they seem on your best day and they're never as bad as they seem on your worst day."

Perhaps it was fate that Majors was honored prior to Saturday's Tennessee-UCLA game, since the action that followed forcefully illustrated that message he shared nearly 18 years ago.

The Vols clearly aren't as good as they looked in their 63-7 Game 1 blowout of Western Kentucky and they surely aren't as bad they looked in their 19-15 Game 2 loss to UCLA.

So, just how good are they?

Not good enough to win Game 3 at Gainesville, I'm guessing.

When you can't beat an opponent coming off a 4-8 season and a 1,950-mile cross-country trek in front of 102,000 rabid supporters on your home field, how are you going to challenge an opponent coming off a national title in front of 90,000 of its vocal supporters at The Swamp?

Florida crushed Troy 56-6 on Saturday, and a lot of UT fans figure a similar fate awaits the Vols six days hence. Clearly, the Big Orange Bandwagon has hit a brick wall ... much as Montario Hardesty did on fourth-and-goal at the UCLA 1-yard line yesterday.

All is not lost, however. Here are some positive points to ponder:

- The offense surely can't play any worse against Florida than it did against UCLA. The linemen couldn't pass protect, and even when they did quarterback Jonathan Crompton and his receivers managed to gum up the works. The result was 93 passing yards and three interceptions.

- Head coach Lane Kiffin blamed the aerial woes on timing issues, noting that wideouts Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore missed valuable practice time due to injuries. Jones and Moore should practice every day this week, so timing should be much less of an issue for Game 3 than it was for Game 2.

- If Tennessee can muster just a little bit of a passing threat vs. future foes that will help the running game immensely. Once it realized the Vols couldn't throw the ball effectively, UCLA's defense crowded the line of scrimmage. As a result, a Tennessee ground attack that registered 42 rushing yards in the first quarter mustered just 17 in the second quarter and 13 in the third.

- The Vol defense was heroic in defeat. Despite virtually no help from the offense, UT defenders held UCLA under 50-percent passing (11 of 23), while limiting the Bruins to one touchdown and 186 net yards. A stout defense is a great equalizer.

- Two Vols who were suspect entering the season are off to solid starts. Chad Cunningham averaged 49.7 yards per punt and Daniel Lincoln was true on field goal tries of 31 and 28 yards. A strong kicking game is a great equalizer, too.

- Tennessee is due some good bounces. The Vols forced six fumbles vs. UCLA but recovered only one. That should even out a bit in the weeks to come.

- One week before peaking with a stunning upset win at Florida last fall, Ole Miss bottomed out with a home-field loss to Vanderbilt. Perhaps Tennessee can make a similarly dramatic rise from the ashes this week.

Just remember: The Vols may not be as good as they seemed against Western Kentucky but they probably aren't as bad as they seemed against UCLA.


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