|Last Vol effort shows flashes of potential |
|Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008 1:12 pm |
| Who are those guys? |
In the classic movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, there is a segment where a dubious but legendary peace officer named Joe LaFors and his posse pursued the two bandits day and night. The late Paul Newman turns to Robert Redford and asks, “Who are those guys?”
The same question might have been posed in Neyland Stadium last Saturday evening when a furious second-half assault against Mississippi State had Big Orange fans celebrating and scratching their heads simultaneously.
Were these the same players that lost to woeful UCLA and Auburn? No, it just couldn’t be the same guys who were manhandled by Florida and Georgia, but the numbers and names sure did seem familiar.
The second half of this contest was vintage Tennessee. It was a retro, old school whipping that harkened back to days of yesteryear when the Volunteers were both feared and respected. The last two quarters appeared to be an hour and a half long Under Armor commercial. “This is our house, and we will defend it against these unworthy invaders.” It was a thrashing of the worst kind. The Bulldogs woke up on Sunday morning wondering if anyone got the license number of the bus that just ran them down the night before.
Now granted, Mississippi State is probably the very worst excuse for a football team in the entire Southeastern Conference. Vandy might not agree that this is true, but there is little question that the team from Starkville may have one of the worst offensive units in the history of the SEC. Still, the Vols did what has come to be expected of Tennessee football squads over the decades, they hammered a hapless opponent in the house that General Neyland built.
Berry is the name
Mention the last name Berry to this writer and until this year, the first thought would be of a hall-of-fame rock and roller from St. Louis, Chuck Berry. Well folks, Tennessee’s spectacular sophomore strong safety Eric
Berry is to football what old Chuck is to “Johnny Be Goode”! If there is a better gridiron gladiator in college this year, we have not had the pleasure of watching him ply his trade this season.
In only a year and a half on the Hill, Eric Berry has now shattered and owns the all-time SEC record for interception return yardage. He is a gazelle running in a herd of antelopes, a truly impeccable football superstar who is headed for the first round of the National Football League draft whenever he elects to throw his name in the hat. Whether it is Chuck Berry playing his guitar or Eric Berry roaming the secondary like a hungry eagle, what you are getting is a look at near perfection most all the time.
Now comes judgment day
Mississippi State was merely a football pretender, but now comes the time to challenge a real contender. Second-ranked and undefeated Alabama comes a-calling this weekend in Knoxville to renew an ancient rivalry that was once among the premier confrontations in all of college football. The Tide aim to prove that UT’s dazzling second-half performance against MSU was nothing more than a mirage, an anomaly on the radar screen. The guys from Tuscaloosa are simply looking at the Vols as their next victim.
In less than two years, head coach Nick Saban has taken a program in turmoil and transformed it into a force to be reckoned with in the Southeastern Conference. The Tide is young, but very talented, thanks to some incredible recruiting by Saban. Now they face one of their oldest and most bitter rivals in a tradition-rich October test of grit and manhood.
• Tennessee must stop the run — The Vol defense must figure out a way to stop Alabama’s certified dynamic duo of Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch. The Tide ground game has stampeded through and worn down opposing defenses all season long. Coffee is the thunder and Upchurch is the lightning for the crimson infantry. It will be a long day at the office for Chavis if he can’t slow these two talented ball carriers.
• Special teams — Bama’s Javier Arenas is a dangerous and fearless kick returner. Tennessee can ill afford to give up a cheap score in this contest if it harbors any thoughts of scoring a major upset. On the flip side, the Vols must avoid costly penalties in the kicking game. UT will look to Dennis Rogan for a possible big play going the other way.
• Protect the ball — Rookie quarterback Nick Stephens appears to be improving week by week, but he will be sternly tested against a swarming Tide defense. Through three starts, Stephens’ numbers are average except for one biggie. He has not thrown an interception and seems to have a knack for avoiding the rush and also throwing the sphere away when trouble lurks downfield. UT can absolutely not afford to fumble or throw picks in this one.
The last time Tennessee won an SEC crown, the Volunteers also claimed the ultimate prize, the national championship. This weekend will mark the 10-year reunion of that very special football team. Events are set to get under way on Friday night in downtown Knoxville.