Thrill of Victory

Titans, Vols rebound while Vandy gets embarrassed

The Titans finally got a win, the Vols rebounded from a disappointing loss to Florida, and Vanderbilt got destroyed in a grudge match at Georgia. Here’s a bit on those three games, as well as this past weekend’s notable happenings around the Southeastern Conference.

Locker, special teams push Titans past Lions
It’s bad when you lose, but it’s even worse when you lose and you’re boring. That’s been the case for the Titans much of the last few years, but Sunday’s 44-41 win over Detroit not only got Tennessee a notch in the left-hand column, but it was one of the more exciting and memorable games in franchise history.

If you liked big plays, you loved this one: the Titans scored on five plays that went at least 60 yards – that’s an NFL record. That included another genius call by special teams coach Alan Lowry, who brought a modified version of “home run throwback” out of mothballs and used it on a punt return (it worked for a score as Tommy Campbell took a lateral from a teammate and raced 65 yards untouched). Lowry’s unit got another score on a 105-yard kickoff return from Darius Reynaud.

If you liked drama, you loved this one: the teams combined for five touchdowns in the final 6:41, including two by the Lions in the final minute after Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner took a fumble back 72 yards for a score with 1:16 left, given the Titans an insurmountable 14-point lead. Check that – the Lions roared back for two scores in the final minute to send the game to overtime, where Rob Bironas hit a 26-yard field goal and then the Titans got a stop of Lions’ quarterback Shaun Hill on a fourth-down sneak attempt.

If you liked defense… well, maybe you didn’t love this one so much. The two teams combined for 1,020 yards (583 by the Lions), so perhaps the Titans still have plenty of work to do there.

The most encouraging thing was the play of quarterback Jake Locker, who was fantastic in a 29-of-42, 378-yard, two-touchdown, no-interception day. Locker looked calm and in control all afternoon, further justifying coach Mike Munchak’s decision to name him the starter.

Vandy stinks it up in Athens
Let’s get one thing straight: Georgia’s talent was 100 percent responsible for its victory on Saturday night in Athens. The Bulldogs have future NFL first-rounders everywhere – defensive tackle John Jenkins, linebacker Jarvis Jones, running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Aaron Murray, for starters – and had a clear talent edge at every spot on the field.

The Commodores also were unfortunate that the Bulldogs didn’t seem to forget about the little dust-up between their head coach, James Franklin, and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham after last year’s game, which seemed to motivate them further. If Vandy caught UGA on its “A” game – which it certainly did, probably due to that extra motivation – everyone knew it wouldn’t have a chance, and that’s exactly what happened.

Let’s get another thing straight: had Vandy just played respectably, it loses… oh, perhaps 35-17 instead of the 48-3 it wound up being. There were eight first-quarter penalties on Vandy alone, the VU offense got no points out of two trips inside the Bulldog 10, and the way the defense tackled most of the evening, you’d swear that the Georgia players all jumped in a large vat of Vaseline before the game started.

The good news: Vandy’s toughest game of the year is over. The better news: VU has a week off to recover. The bad news: it will won’t be easy, with a road trip to Missouri, followed by home games with Florida and Auburn ahead.

Vols get it right after halftime
The fans in Knoxville were booing and Internet message boards were heating up with talk of coach Derek Dooley’s ouster as UT and Akron were tied at half, but the Vols eventually figured it out and won in a 47-26 rout. The brightest spot was running back Rajion Neal, who got 151 yards on the ground on Saturday. The defense also got better, giving up 211 fewer yards than the week before, though of course, it was Akron.

Vol fans’ patience with Dooley will be severely tested the next four games, as the opponents are (with USA Today rankings in parenthesis) Georgia (5), Mississippi State (19), Alabama (1) and South Carolina (6). For good measure, only the Alabama game is at home.

Elsewhere around the SEC…
Three certainties in life: death, taxes, and John L. Smith won’t be Arkansas’ coach after this season. The latest embarrassment: the Razorback defense was awful again, giving up 525 yards in a 36-26 home loss to Rutgers. Hey, at least the fans got to see a little history: UA wideout Cobi Hamilton set an SEC record with 303 receiving yards in the game.

  • Alabama rolled over Florida Atlantic, with the only drama being whether the Crimson Tide would pitch a third-straight shutout. It didn’t: the Owls in the final quarter, but ‘Bama won 40-7, anyway.
  • Auburn coach Gene Chizik nearly redeemed himself with a shocking upset of LSU, but the Tigers (Auburn variety) just couldn’t move the ball (183 total yards) and lost 12-10.
  • In its last scrimmage — er, out-of-conference game — for three weeks, Texas A&M rolled over hapless South Carolina State, 70-14. Freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel looked like the real deal again, accounting for five touchdowns.
  • Ole Miss’s defense got some redemption for giving up 66 points to Texas last week in a 39-0 shutout of 0-3 Tulane, which has now scored 22 points in three games.
  • Florida waxed Kentucky, 38-0, as UK quarterback Maxwell Smith sat out with an injury and Wildcat coach pulled a random guy out of the stands named Morgan Newton to sub for Smith. Okay, not really, but that’s how bad it looked: with Morgan’s 21 pass attempts, Kentucky receivers gained just 48 yards, while Florida defenders gained 65.
  • Missouri’s first road trip was a nightmare, as South Carolina routed the Tigers 31-10 with Missouri’s only touchdown coming with 17 seconds left. The Gamecocks’ Connor Shaw completed his last 20 passes, six short of the NCAA record, which he’ll get a chance to break against Kentucky next week.