Double overtime or not against UAB, Tennessee football is in a good position.
Though a dim October football schedule looms like a storm sweeping over the Gulf of Mexico, Derek Dooley and the boys should be calm and collective right now. Sure, 2-2 (0-1 SEC) is not a favorable record when compared to those of other SEC foes — and we won’t even touch the subject of rankings — but it’s certainly better than 1-3.
Take this into consideration.
Matt Simms overthrows Denarius Moore in the back of the end zone on first down in the second overtime, down by three. UT runs a sweep play for four yards to the right on second down, and Simms is sacked with no one to throw to on third down. Daniel Lincoln misses the field goal, and pandemonium breaks loose on the UAB sideline.
UT has just lost for the first time to UAB and falls to 1-3 on the year. Radio shows across the state of Tennessee are taking calls of fans cussing, livid and outraged, dubbing Dooley the “next Fulmer” and wanting nothing but his head.
And yes, there’s that storm brewing in the Gulf that, for college football reasons, will be named October.
But hark, this is not the case. The Vols faced not one, but two, top-10 teams back-to-back to start the year, after beating UT-Martin. Of course they have two losses, and to predict anything different would be as heinous as The Daily Beacon’s assistant sports editor’s pick ’ems for week three. (UT over Florida 25-21. Whoops.)
As the Vols head down toward the storm this weekend to face LSU, many of the players and coaches will be thinking about the ties they have within this particular game itself.
First and foremost is Dooley. Dooley is fresh out of the Bayou state, coaching at Louisiana Tech for three seasons. He completely changed the athletic department in Rustin, La., from the ground up after taking the athletic director’s job in 2008, including adding new turf, box seats and a videoboard to Joe Aillet Stadium.
But before his stint at Tech, Dooley spent time at LSU with Nick Saban, serving as the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach from 2000-02. The next two years, Dooley coached the running backs and special teams. There, Saban gained great respect for a young, promising Dooley, so much so that he brought him to the Miami Dolphins with him in 2005.
UT starters Janzen Jackson and Prentiss Waggner have ties of their own to the Bayou state. The two, who will be heading home this weekend to be playing in front of family and friends, were solid recruits from the state of Louisiana. Jackson, a native of Lake Charles, La., was at one time a commitment to LSU before deciding to sign with UT after Lane Kiffin arrived.
Other native Louisianians on the Volunteers’ roster include right guard Jarrod Shaw from Lafayette, left tackle Dallas Thomas from Baton Rouge and Thomas’ Scotlandville High School teammate in linebacker Herman Lathers, who returned to practice Tuesday and is expected to play against the Bayou Bengals.
On the flipside, LSU harbors some faded orange and white, which will be facing old friends on Saturday.
John Chavis, former Tennessee defensive coordinator, has strong ties with the university, calling his time there one of the best eras of Tennessee football ever.
Chavis’ run with the Vols as defensive coordinator was more than impressive. His stint lasted from 1995-2008 and included a national championship and many conference-leading defenses.
Then-coach Phillip Fulmer was heavily criticized for promoting Chavis to defensive coordinator in 1995 because of Chavis’ weak resume and lack of experience, but the decision quickly paid off. In the magical 1998 Volunteer football season, Chavis was recognized as the SEC’s outstanding linebacker coach, and the coordinator earned his first and only national championship ring.
So far this season, the Tigers are not so much worried about their defense as they are their offense. The offense, led by quarterback Jordan Jefferson, has found no real identity whatsoever and is ranked 115th in the nation in passing offense per game, averaging only 110 yards in the air.
Chavis’ defense is led by Patrick Peterson, an electrifying junior cornerback and returner from Florida, who could make quarterbacks sing if he wishes to. His highlights have catapulted him into the early Heisman scene and have saved LSU from dropping any early contests this season.
For the Vols and their head coach, only poise and confidence will lead them to victory if they plan on playing the spoiler in this game of great ties. But don’t expect any of the players or coaches to get all sentimental being back home in the state of Louisiana. This is SEC football after all, and the Vols have some storm preparation to get in place before the month of September is over.