In the past there have been some quite memorable contests between the Universities of Tennessee and Florida. Yesterday’s didn’t crack the top ten. To be honest, it might have led the bottom ten. The game began with the Gators being forced to punt on their first possession. The punter couldn’t handle the snap and UT began its first possession at the Florida 15. However, on the Vols’ second play from scrimmage, they fumbled. No worries, because seven plays later, they had a pick 6 and the Vols led, 7-0 with 12:15 to go in the first quarter. Adding to the misery, UF’s QB broke his ankle on the play and is out for the season.
The game would change - and stay the same. The change being that Florida would take control score-wise, yet the teams would continue to turn the ball over and over. And over and over - so it stayed the same. The play that symbolized the first half was an interception, resulting from the ball slipping out of the hands of the Vols’ QB. It was then caught by a, to give him the benefit of the doubt, chubby, defensive lineman. He had a clear path to “take it to the house” . . . when his own man tripped him.
Halftime score: UF 17, UT 7. Selective first half stats: 7 collective turnovers, Tennessee passing: 4-11, 5 yards, 2 int. During the halftime show, CBS’ studio analyst Spencer Tillman said, without reservation, “This is one of the worst first halves I’ve ever seen.”
The second half action was better played, even if it wasn’t top 25 quality. Whatever happened to these two proud programs with such deep tradition? The answer for one Florida is easy. Their coach, Will Muschamp, is in his third season after replacing Urban Meyer. Last year the Gators finished 11-2 after limping to a 7-6 mark his first year. The most disappointing aspect of the Gators’ program is that, being the state university in a state with a plethora of skilled athletes, UF is so lacking at the skill positions.
UT’s case is similar but much more difficult. They are beyond bad offensively (although their second half production was considerably better), but the SEC, far more than any other league, is composed of multidimensional athletes. Lane Kiffin’s brief tenure at the school ended up costing the football program not one, but two, recruiting classes. In the SEC, that borders on suicidal - considering so many teams redshirt their entire freshman class.
Compounding the problem was the hiring of Derek Dooley who, while he didn’t have success at La Tech, got the position because he was Vince Dooley’s son or he had worked for Nick Saban, depending on which UT fan you hear. Heading up Tennessee football is more than just a coaching job. The enormity of it cannot be overemphasized. Former head men Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer each played for the Vols. Majors came home following a national championship at Pitt while Fulmer had been a longtime assistant and was very comfortable taking the reins.
When Kiffin took the UT job, he claims he had no idea that USC’s Pete Carroll was going to leave after his (Kiffin’s) first year. His reasoning - that SC was his dream job - further illustrated how little he understood Tennessee football. Vols’ fans don’t think UT is a job their coach leaves - ever - unless he dies or retires. Or they decide he needs to be replaced. While Kiffin’s explanation upset Volunteer Nation, it didn’t destroy the program near as much as what he and his
henchman assistant coach/recruiting coordinator, Ed Orgeron, did, i.e. raiding the prospects they had used UT’s budget to recruit. Kiffin’s playing fast and loose with NCAA rules hurt as well, although he was never charged with major violations. Big-time programs recruit at least a year or two ahead, working underclassmen as aggressively as prospective seniors. Those two lost recruiting classes has severely hamstrung the Vols.
Granted it was in basketball, but I worked at nine Division I institutions (not all had football and Oregon was a shell of what it’s become). If I were a football prospect, unless I was from southern California and planned on living there after my playing days were over (in which case I’d attend USC), I’d choose Tennessee. I can’t believe any football player gets treated better than UT’s guys do from a facilities (including the stadium in which they play), living accommodations, academic assistance, travel, fan support and, food. For Arian Foster to claim he went hungry while at UT is beyond absurd. Although I haven’t eaten a meal at UT’s training table since 1987, no one will ever convince me that what the athletes are served there isn’t the best - and most plentiful. The Vols are down but it’s only a matter of time before they return to prominence.
What made yesterday’s inept game worse was that it was CBS’ lead game with their top team of Verne Lundquist (who was honored by the station for his fifty years on the job) and Gary Danielson. The two are far and away the best pair of play-by-play/color commentator duo in any sport, radio or TV. Although today’s wrap-up quote could have come from Muschamp who, when the cameras zoomed in on him following another Gator turnover said, “WTF is going on!” - twice - it actually belongs to Lundquist who, at the end of the first half signed off with:
“The first half of this one would crack mirrors.”