ATHENS. Ga. — Attempting to embrace Tennessee’s rich football past, first-year coach Derek Dooley speaks often of Gen. Robert Neyland’s seven maxims of football.
No. 1 on that list is “The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”
No. 6 is “Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.”
So what did the Volunteers do during Saturday’s 41-14 loss to Georgia to underscore the importance of those two points?
For starters, the Vols committed three turnovers while the Bulldogs committed none. For seconds, the two fumbles both came on kicks — one a kickoff, one a punt — and both led swiftly and directly to Georgia touchdowns.
“Devastating” was Dooley’s take on Eric Gordon’s twin fumbles in the kicking game.
“Obviously it hurts a little bit,” Vols quarterback Matt Simms said. “It’s crucial to avoid turnovers in a game like this where two teams are so desperate for a win.”
Added sophomore defensive back Jantzen Jackson: “We really didn’t play well at all on special teams. Really harmful for winning the game.”
Indeed, Gordon’s fumble of a kickoff led to a 17-0 hole three plays later. His muff attempting to field a punt delivered another UGA touchdown and a 24-7 Bulldogs lead in four offensive snaps.
“We really needed to hold onto the football today,” running back Tauren Poole said. “You saw how well we played at LSU when we didn’t turn the ball over. The turnovers today really hurt us.”
It’s also not like Georgia makes its living on turnovers. The Bulldogs’ two forced turnovers on special teams against Tennessee matched the total number of fumbles they had forced — special teams or otherwise — in the past 18 months.
“As a team,” Jackson said, “we kind of fell apart. We kept looking up at the scoreboard instead of keeping our eyes straight ahead and fighting.”
To be fair, it’s not like Dooley didn’t fear this coming. Frustrated with the Vols’ special-teams play for much of the season, he considered moving pure freshman Dustin Hunter into the returner’s role before the game.
“But he was struggling in pregame to catch punts,” Dooley said.
So he went with Gordon, who fumbled twice. Fortunately for the Vols, no one attempted to field a punt for UT the rest of the game.
“We just got our behind handed to us against a team we thought we could beat,” said linebacker Austin Johnson.
And all they needed to know to understand why was to revisit Gen. Neyland’s maxims Nos. 1 and 6.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...