KNOXVILLE — On Monday, Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley did a lot of moving on.
But Dooley, like most people invested in the program, still can’t quite shake off the feelings from a 16-14 loss at LSU that finished after regulation but didn’t go to overtime.
So before discussing this Saturday’s game against his hometown Georgia Bulldogs, Dooley spent much of Monday dissecting LSU’s second-chance win.
“We may as well start with the obvious question — why we had 13 guys on the field,” Dooley said.
He said it was “certainly not your normal substitution play” and noted that play calls near the goal line are the most complicated because of distance from the coaches and the larger number of linemen in the game.
The Volunteers had few substitution problems in the game’s first 150 or so plays, but they succumbed to silliness from the LSU sideline.
“Chaos — that’s exactly what it was,” UT senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said. “You could tell the LSU coaches and players were freaking out. They didn’t know what they were going to do.”
LSU ran a second-and-goal play from the 2-yard line with 32 seconds left. Reveiz slashed through the line and stopped quarterback Jordan Jefferson at the 1 with 0:28 left. The Tigers got up and still, 10 seconds later, seemed like they wanted to ground the ball.
Since LSU’s personnel stayed the same, UT kept its goal-line personnel in the game and signaled in instructions.
“We made a call,” Dooley said. “You rarely change [personnel at that point], if that makes sense. In their minds, it’s goal line, they got the call and they’re locked in.
“That was the call because they were lined up ... ready to run a play or clock it.”
But then they weren’t.
LSU suddenly changed to a three-receiver package and started running subs onto the field with about 18 seconds left.
“That’s where it was unique,” Dooley said.
UT then changed calls, putting its base defense back on the field, but two players who are regulars only in the goal-line package stayed on.
Officials didn’t give the Vols long to make their corresponding changes — SEC officials director Rogers Redding said they were given four seconds, but Dooley counted only two — and confusion started before the snap.
“I ran onto the field screaming, ‘Base!’” safety Prentiss Waggner said. “I thought we had the right personnel in there, but unfortunately we didn’t.”
Cornerback Marsalis Teague, a starter in the base package, entered the game and quickly noticed there were too many Vols on the field. He looked back toward the sideline and threw both hands in the air in desperation.
Many of LSU’s linemen clearly weren’t set in their stances — a Monday call to the SEC office seeking comment on the matter wasn’t returned — and Jefferson was still looking at the game clock when center T-Bob Hebert released the shotgun snap. The ball cruised by Jefferson, and Reveiz pounced on it at the 19-yard line.
Before Reveiz gained control of the ball and hit the ground, though, Hebert removed his helmet in disgust and slammed it on the ground. But at that moment, at least two UT offensive players — freshman wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers and senior guard Jarrod Shaw — had run on the field.
“Several players on both teams had their helmets off,” Redding said Monday on an Atlanta radio show. “We’re always going to allow that immediate, initial, spontaneous burst of emotion. These are teenagers that are playing a game that is very emotional.
“It would be so technical and so over-officiating to have called anything like that at the very end of the game.”
Dooley said he “turned in a lot of calls to the conference office” after the game for further inspection, but he declined to say which specific plays.
“We do that every week; it’s not unique to this game,” Dooley said. “That’s not really something I can comment on or should comment on. That’s something the conference can comment on.”
Dooley insisted that his biggest complaint was officials consistently not giving UT enough time to correspond to late LSU substitutions.
“That’s why that rule was put in place,” Dooley said. “It’s impossible to play this game if you don’t match personnel. And to think we’re going to go play goal-line defense against their [three-receiver] personnel ... who’s going to cover?
“Are we going to put [defensive end] Malik Jackson out there to cover one of their receivers?”
Dooley said he was forced to use a timeout earlier in the game because of that issue, and he said one of the officials agreed then that the Vols weren’t given enough time to react.
“They acknowledged that they didn’t give us the opportunity, so I wanted to get the timeout back,” he said. “Did you see me screaming? That’s what I was screaming at. I said, ‘Your administration cost us a timeout, so give it back.’
“That argument didn’t hold much. But it was true.”
Dooley said he’d never been through anything like Saturday’s closing moments, so he didn’t know exactly how to address it. But after looking inward, he said he should have placed “even more” emphasis on ensuring all 11 players on the field — not just the free safety and middle linebacker — got the call from the sideline.
“I look in my own mirror before I look at anybody else,” he said. “We obviously should have taught and emphasized even more the communication of substitution in a pressure situation, when the stadium is loud, and you’re far away from the bench.
“We all have accountability as coaches, and I’m going to tell you ... there’s a lot of hurt, and there’s a lot of burden that so many people have put on themselves for the game. And you know what? We all should. We should. It’s our responsibility.
“If it doesn’t hurt, something’s wrong with you.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesrucker or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.