Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley reacts after Tennessee was penalized on the final play of the game, allowing LSU to run one more play and score a touchdown to win, during an NCAA football game in Baton Rouge, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010. LSU won 16-14 (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
KNOXVILLE — What could the University of Tennessee football team possibly do one day after one of the most bizarre, stomach-turning, psychologically-punishing losses in program history?
There was only one thing most of them could do.
“You mourn,” first-year Volunteers head coach Derek Dooley said.
The next step, if you have any desire to move forward, is equally predictable.
You play the perspective card.
UT’s 16-14 loss to LSU — made possible by a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty that gave the Tigers one more crack from the goalline after time expired — is “as hard as it gets in football,” Dooley said.
“But in life, there’s a lot of things that you could make case that, ‘Man, it’d be a lot tougher to move on if that happened to me,’” the coach added. “If we keep it in perspective, then we need to move on. You know, it’s not the end of the world.
“The sun came out today. It’s a little cloudy, but it’s up there. There’s nothing you can do but grow and get better.”
An understanding of why the Vols left Tiger Stadium in tears would help, too.
Mistakes — most undeniably self-inflicted, but others possibly out of UT’s control — were the culprits.
Answers — most that will surface, but others that might not — will be the agents of change.
Dooley said he, his assistants and his players must first look inward. LSU’s late-game confusion clearly affected the Vols, who for many reasons had 13 defenders on the field when the Tigers botched a goalline play for an 18-yard loss.
“I think the most important thing is we make sure we do everything right on our end, and we didn’t,” Dooley said. “If I could say we did everything right on our end, and the outcome didn’t go our way, then maybe I have something to gripe about. But we could have done a little better job on our end, too.
“Like I said, do I think it could have been administered differently [by officials]? Absolutely. But we’re ultimately responsible for doing our part right, and we didn’t do our part the way the way it needed to be done.”
Other potential problems surfaced from outside influences, though. Dooley said officials didn’t always allow his defense enough time to get set after LSU’s offensive substitutions. UT complained about the issue a few times during the game, and Dooley said officials “acknowledged they didn’t manage it the right way” on at least one occasion in the first half.
Dooley hasn’t publicly complained about LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert ripping off his helmet and chucking it to the ground in disgust before Vols middle linebacker Nick Reveiz recovered the fumble on the penultimate play — the one that didn’t count. It wasn’t clear by Sunday night what that apparent penalty would have changed, though. It might not have mattered.
Regardless, the Vols couldn’t control themselves amidst the Tigers’ last-minute chaos.
By all indications, including LSU head coach Les Miles’ postgame comments, the Tigers badly mismanaged the situation.
UT’s problem, though, is that it failed to put the proper number of players on the field for a crucial, late-game goalline series. The Vols had just 10 men on the field three times in the previous week’s double-overtime win over UAB, and two came near the end zone near the end of the game.
“The toughest substitutions in the game are always at goalline, because you’re the furthest away from bench,” Dooley said. “And then you add to it a running clock, and you add to it the fact that there wasn’t [an LSU] substitution until about 10 or 15 seconds after the [second-and-goal] play ended, which is rare. We were really expecting a clock play, and that doesn’t come, so then we’re staying in goalline, and we have to make a call — so we do goalline and make a call. Then the late charge comes out, and then we had to kind of re-substitute and re-call. When you combine all those factors up, you know it’s something you’ve got to learn from and be aware, and you’ve got to be able to handle it.
“Good teams handle it, and we didn’t.”
Junior running back Tauren Poole, like many of his teammates, said Saturday will always be “tough to talk about ... or even think about.”
But they must learn from the problem to avoid repeating it, Poole added.
“It’s going to be hard to put this behind us,” Poole said. “It’s going to be incredibly hard as we see the highlights and watch the film, but we’ve got be mature about the situation and move forward, ... because we can’t change anything. We’ve just got to roll with the punches, because what happened happened. It wasn’t fair, and we’re disappointed, but we’ve got to pick ourselves up.
“We’ve got to show our character. We’re a high-character football team. We will do that.”
Senior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson — one of the many Vols who played one of their best career games Saturday — said UT “must do whatever it takes to build from this.”
“You can feel sorry for yourself and quit and let this ruin your whole season, or you can suck it up and move on,” senior wide receiver Gerald Jones said. “I can only speak for myself, but I’m going to push harder now than I ever have before, and I’m going to push every single person on this team to do the same thing.”
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