Thrill of Victory

Titans blowout, Vandy comeback highlight the football weekend

The Titans picked up a blowout win, Vanderbilt pulled an improbable come-from-behind road victory in a key SEC game, the Vols found another way to lose, and Texas A&M pulled college football’s most significant upset this season. Today’s blog recaps those games and the action around the Southeastern Conference.

Titans crush Dolphins in Miami
Nobody was necessarily surprised that Sunday’s Titans-Dolphins game ended with a 37-3; what was shocking was that it was Tennessee on the winning end of the score. The Titans did to Miami what Chicago did to them last weekend, which is, force early turnovers and convert them into points.

The Titans capitalized on Reggie Bush’s fumble at the Miami 28 (they scored a TD), drove 65 yards for another score on the next drive, and then Colin McCarthy returned an interception 49 yards for another score early in the second quarter. The Titans led at that point, 21-3, and it was over from there.

Statistically speaking, this was one of the NFL’s oddest games of the year. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill hadn’t been intercepted in six weeks, but threw three picks on Sunday. The Titans had allowed 34.2 points a game coming in; at that rate, they were set to become the worst defense in NFL history, but Sunday dropped that scoring average all the way down to 31.1 (which, by the way, would not break the futility record). Titans quarterback Jake Locker hit just 9-of-21 passes for 122 yards in his return; that’s not usually good enough to win in the NFL, but two went for touchdowns and that helped.

Tennessee has a week off before heading to Jacksonville, and that’s a very winnable game as the Jaguars are probably the NFL’s worst team. With Houston and Green Bay still on the schedule, a playoff trip is highly unlikely, but at least for one day, Titans fans can feel better about the state of the franchise.

Vandy stuns Ole Miss late
Most teams don’t win SEC games when they trail 23-6 on the road with about a quarter and a half of football left. Vanderbilt never wins on the road in that situation, and yet the Commodores pulled off an improbable comeback when Jordan Rodgers hit Chris Boyd with a 26-yard scoring pass with 52 seconds left, and the defense hung on to preserve a 27-26 victory.

It was just another testament to coach James Franklin and the incredible job he’s done in Nashville; would anyone have believed that, 23 games into his VU career, he’d actually have a winning record? (VU is now 12-11 in his tenure) Skeptics can say that the Commodores haven’t beaten any great teams, and they’d be right, but at the same time, VU is winning all sorts of games it didn’t win before Franklin’s arrival, and winning three SEC road games in a season – something Vandy has never done until this year – is a real feat.

Franklin constantly speaks of “changing the culture” at Vanderbilt. The next step to do that is beating arch-rival Tennessee on Saturday. I will guarantee you that Franklin and players will down-play this game all week as “just another chance to go 1-0,” but make no mistake, this isn’t just another game to the Commodores. If Vandy can knock off the Vols, it will clinch just its second winning season since 1982, it’s first home win against UT since that same year, and it’ll be the first time in its SEC history that it has won five conference games since 1935. If that’s wouldn’t be changing the culture, I’m not sure what would qualify.

Vols’ latest loss has Dooley staring at unemployment
Just for the record, I respect a lot of things about coach Derek Dooley. I thought UT’s hire of him three years ago was a solid move, and I think that Dooley has been the victim of some awful luck in his three years in Knoxville. At the same time, the cat is out of the bag that Tennessee intends to fire him, and after watching Dooley’s team on Saturday in its 51-48 loss to Missouri, I can’t really disagree.

Dooley made one of the more indefensible coaching decisions in the history of organized football on Saturday, and it may have cost UT a game. Missouri had just tied the game, and the Vols had a third-and-10 at their own 39 with 30 seconds to play. The Vols have almost scored at will through the air of late, and you’d think that with weapons like Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson catching passes from Tyler Bray, that UT would have tried one more pass to pick up a first down, and then try to get another toss to get in field goal range. Instead, Dooley sat on the ball and took his chances in overtime, and the Vols eventually lost.

The Vols’ offense played well, but again, the defense – which gave up just seven points at half – couldn’t stop anybody from that point on. After Dooley’s Vols failed to convert a fourth-down in the fourth overtime, the Tigers kicked field goal, and that was that.

UT has a chance to salvage its season to some degree by beating Vandy and Kentucky its last two games, but Dooley’s chance to salvage his stay in Knoxville appears to be gone now that he’s won just one of his last 14 SEC games. The only two questions left to answer are whether Dooley can get his team up for those last two games, and who athletic director Dave Hart will be targeting to replace Dooley.

Elsewhere in the SEC
Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24: Quarterback Johnny Manziel has destroyed every defense in his path this year, but hadn’t played the best defense in the land until Saturday. Well, add another victim to the list: Manziel rushed for 92 yards and threw for 253, as the Aggies shocked the No. 1 Crimson Tide on Saturday. ‘Bama’s loss gives the SEC an uphill battle if it wishes to keep its streak of six national titles in a row intact.

Georgia 38, Auburn 0: The Bulldogs kept their faint national title hopes alive by easily disposing of Auburn and winning the East, where a probable showdown with Alabama awaits. Meanwhile, Auburn’s miserable season continued; the Tigers are 0-7 in the SEC and have been out-scored, 223-81, in those games.

South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20: So much for Arkansas’ brief run at respectability, as the Gamecocks were up, 31-10, by the end of the third quarter and coasted from there. The best news for Carolina: quarterback Connor Shaw got back on track (14-of-22, 272 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT).

LSU 37, Mississippi State 17: After a 7-0 start, MSU has been out-scored in its last three games (‘Bama, Texas A&M, LSU) by a 113-37 margin. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger (19-of-30, 273 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) was great for the second-straight week, which is great news for coach Les Miles because a good quarterback has really been the only thing missing from this team.

Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20: Raise your hand if you expected that the Gators would trail by seven points with under two minutes left. The Gators, however, got the tying score with just under a minute left, then blocked a punt (and returned it for a score) on the game’s last play. Florida has a tune-up against Jacksonville State before a showdown with Florida State on Nov. 24 that will probably make or break the Gators’ chances at a major bowl.