Thrill of Victory

Titans, Vols disappoint over the weekend

Unless you’re a Vanderbilt fan, this weekend’s football results were difficult for Middle Tennesseans to swallow. Here’s a quick look at what happened with the Titans, Vandy, the Vols and elsewhere around the Southeastern Conference.

Titans may be in trouble
Often, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you win or lose that foretells the future. Close losses to good teams tend to suggest that some wins may be around the corner. In the Titans’ case, there’s really nothing we’ve seen in the first two weeks that suggests much of anything good is coming soon.

As I noted on Friday, San Diego has a habit of manhandling the Titans. That happened again in the 38-10 beat-down in San Diego, even though the Chargers didn’t have the guy who’s arguably their best offensive player (Antonio Gates) suited up because of injuries.

Two things were really discouraging. First was the total yardage: San Diego had 416, the Titans had 212. That suggests that the domination was equal to what the score suggested. Second, Tennessee got nothing going in the run game once again, as Chris Johnson had eight carries for 17 yards. Sadly, that was actually better than his performance a week ago.

The season’s not over by any stretch, and as I’ve noted, things get considerably easier from Weeks 7 to 12. But the problem at this point is this: what are the Titans good at? They rank 31st of 32 teams in total offense, and 25th in total defense. They can’t run a lick. Jake Locker should be a fine quarterback, but he’s learning.

The Titans may find a win tough to come by in the next two weeks with Detroit and Houston up, but they at least need to show they can be competitive – fast.

Vols need to re-group quickly following tough lose to Florida
The Vols had me thinking this might be their year. Nobody questions the talent at quarterback and receiver. The offensive line and running game were supposed to be markedly better. The defense last year was fair, and under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri it was supposed to be improving. I’d picked UT to beat Florida and it sure looked like I was going to hit there – for a while.

The question about UT would be how the Vols hold up under adversity. There have been lingering questions about Tyler Bray’s maturity and Derek Dooley’s coaching ability, and Vol fans didn’t get the answers they hoped for in either regard on Saturday – particularly from Bray, who gave UT next-to-nothing from about midway through the third quarter on.

Now, you can add a concern about the defense. UF’s offense had been decidedly vanilla all season long after a sub-par 2011 campaign, but the Gators ripped UT for 555 yards on just 63 snaps on Saturday.

UT’s season isn’t over by any stretch. The Vols get a chance to inhale and re-group with Akron ahead next week. But the four weeks afterward are a nightmare: road trips to Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina, with a visit from Alabama in between. The respective rankings of those teams in the AP Poll are 5, 23, 7 and 1.

Dooley’s seat was warm before the season began, and Saturday added a few degrees of heat. He and the Vols now need to develop some resiliency, and fast.

Vanderbilt finally gets a win
With Georgia, Missouri, Florida and Auburn looming, Vandy just needed a notch in the left-hand column. Presbyterian, an FCS team (and a poor one at that) was exactly what the doctor ordered, as the Commodores administered a 58-0 whipping in a game that was every bit as lopsided as the score indicated.

The problem with these games is that you learn next-to-nothing about your team. The Commodores played two good opponents in South Carolina and Northwestern, and those games told us the defense is once again a good one. The offense, though, struggled in both, prompting coach James Franklin to go to backup quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels this week. Carta-Samuels was solid: 13-of-20, 195 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions – but it’s hard to say what we learned about his capabilities given that this game was a glorified scrimmage.

I guess we’ll know a lot more after Saturday’s trip to Georgia. Winning in Athens is going to be a longshot, but playing well in a loss would likely be a better indicator of what’s ahead than the slaughter of Saturday’s unheralded opponent proved.

Elsewhere around the Southeastern Conference…
The biggest thing I learned from the weekend is that Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is for real. The Gators struggled big-time at the position last year, and it didn’t sound like either Driskel or Jacoby Brissett, who battled Driskell for the job in August practices, did a lot of great things then. But Driskely was Rivals.com’s No. 1 quarterback recruit in America two years ago, and has started to play like it. He’s shown tremendous poise in the pocket and an efficiency that any quarterback would be jealous of: almost 10 yards per attempt and no interceptions in three games. Oh, and he’s got some mobility, too.

  • Kentucky coach Joker Phillips and Arkansas’ John L. Smith join Dooley on the hot seat after UK lost to Western Kentucky in overtime, and the Razorbacks were embarrassed 52-0 by Alabama. Smith’s chances of surviving the season are roughly zero (he was hired as an interim replacement, anyway, and the Razorbacks have no defense to speak of) and Phillips’ aren’t a lot better as the ‘Cats just don’t have the horses and attendance is declining.
  • Speaking of coaches that need wins, Auburn’s Gene Chizik nearly saw his team blow a lead to Louisiana-Monroe but pulled it out in overtime. A shocking amount of the goodwill that Chizik earned from a national title two years ago is vanishing as that 2010 season is completely out of line with everything else Chizik has done in his career. Auburn still has the same issues at quarterback and on defense in Week 1.
  • I don’t know what more one can say about Alabama’s dominance except to proclaim that it’s here to stay for a long time. I’m just amazed at how coach Nick Saban keeps replacing mass personnel losses to the NFL each year with no drop-off. It’s hard to believe that Alabama might be at least as good as last year’s national title team. Few are debating that they’re No. 1 this year after Southern Cal fell to Stanford.
  • Missouri got an impressive win over Arizona State with injured quarterback James Franklin sitting Saturday’s game out. The best news of the night: the defense allowed just 296 yards.
  • They did make the rankings this week, but nobody’s talking much about Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have a nice aerial attack and the defense should be better than the 572 yards it yielded to Troy in a road win shows.
  • Don’t sleep on a young Texas A&M team, either. The Aggies are getting terrific contributions from freshmen, including quarterback Johnny Manziel’s record-breaking performance in a rout of SMU.
  • Giving up 66 points to Texas proved that Ole Miss isn’t quite ready to make a huge leap in coach Hugh Freeze’s debut year in Oxford. But excitement has picked up around the program as the Rebels drew a great crowd at home on Saturday.
  • Georgia blitzed Florida Atlantic after a sluggish start. Cornerback Sanders Commings and linebacker Chase Vasser have now returned from suspension; safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree haven’t yet. All-world linebacker Jarvis Jones joined them on the sideline as he nursed a sore groin but expect him to return against Vandy.