|Vols do very little to impress in ugly win over Northern Illinois |
|Posted: Thursday, October 9, 2008 2:17 pm |
| Winning ugly |
Northern Illinois walked off the turf at Shields-Watkins Field with their heads held high last Saturday evening in Knoxville. The feisty upstarts from the Mid-American Conference had bloodied a once mighty Tennessee football program and taken them to the wall. Had the Huskies not been forced to dip all the way down to their third string quarterback in the second half, the plucky visitors might have scored a major upset against one of the former aristocrats of college football.
Wait, make that a minor upset at best. There is only one team left on the Vols’ schedule that probably has no chance to win and that would be the hapless Wyoming Cowboys. Even lowly Mississippi State has a stout enough defense to keep it interesting. Unfortunately for Sly Croom and the gang from Starkville, the Bullies offense is just as woeful as the group at UT.
Make no mistake about it, this was one of the ugliest, most uninspiring wins in the modern annals of Tennessee football. A banged up and bruised Northern Illinois team limped into Neyland Stadium with a 2-2 mark on the season and kept Phil Fulmer’s blood pressure at elevated levels for the entire contest. Only a defense that would bend but never broke saved Fulmer’s bacon in this one. Three times the hustling Huskies reached the red zone but were forced to settle for field goals on all three excursions.
You would have thought that Tennessee’s offensive line was in a bare fisted brawl with that fearsome Alabama defensive front rather than a group of one- and two-star players from a mid-level NCAA school. This should not have happened. The Vols’ blocking brigade is big, they are supposed to be strong and they are, in fact, very experienced. The players who were on the field in the offensive line have a combined 84 starts among them. Between their blunders which resulted in penalties and their ineffective attempts at moving that no-name Northern Illinois front, this group took underachieving to new levels of failure and incompetence.
Where from here
Under Phil Fulmer’s uninspiring leadership, this program now occupies the cellar in the SEC East. They still need to win four more contests to insure a trip to a very minor bowl game. On the flip side, a season that held such promise just two months ago might also be headed for another 2005-type disaster.
Fulmer has beaten Georgia two years in a row, but his record vs. Bulldog head coach Mark Richt is still less than .500, standing at a paltry 3-4. The Dogs had the week off, time to lick their wounds and work themselves up into a good lather after losing to Alabama.
With no Erik Ainge to engineer yet another upset win over Georgia, Fulmer will be lucky to get out of Athens with all his fingers and toes still in their proper places.
Back in the 1990s, this year’s Mississippi State game would be a gimme. But this isn’t the 90s and no invader is awestruck or intimidated by a visit to a house that was once an orange fortress and a virtual torture chamber for all unsuspecting guests.
Later this month, Nick Saban will bring his brawny Crimson Tide to town. In less than two years, Saban has not only revitalized and resuscitated Alabama, but he has them once again positioned among the elite teams in America.
The Tide got a wake up call against Kentucky last week and with the possibility of one third to one half of the crowd clad in crimson, Bama will be ready to dish out some more pain and misery to the guy who helped instigate an NCAA investigation into their program.
Last November, Fulmer’s luck was an amazing sight to behold. He could have easily lost to South Carolina, Kentucky or Vanderbilt, but instead, he oozed past all three and towards his third loss in three appearances in the SEC championship game this decade. But all three of those foes have improved while Fulmer’s program drifts aimlessly around in search of an identity and a transfusion of inspiration from some unknown donor.
Hooray for Nick
While his numbers weren’t awesome, new starting quarterback Nick Stephens did just enough right to prevent the Vols from suffering a very embarrassing loss last weekend. His touchdown pass to speedy Denarius Moore was the difference in this game.
Given time to gain experience and develop, Stephens has a chance to be a good SEC quarterback.
Too bad the change wasn’t made in the second half of the Auburn game. Just a couple of passes stood between UT and a win, but Fulmer stayed with a bumbling quarterback and the rest is history.
This writer tried to warn our readers in the summer that Jonathan Crompton might not be able to cut the mustard. Unfortunately for the Volunteers and their fans, it took Fulmer four full games to figure that one out.
Basketball practice at Tennessee begins in just about 10 days!