Commentary by Mark Wiedmer
KNOXVILLE — It happened more than once Saturday night to Tennessee’s tattered football team. A simple Alabama screen pass, something that should have gone for no more than 4 or 5 yards, instead went for 16, or 36.
Given a sea of Big Orange defenders in front of them, Crimson Tide receivers or running backs simply ran past the Volunteers — a clear sign of superior athletic ability, as if the 41-10 final score weren’t proof enough.
“They’re big, they’re fast, they’re physical,” said losing coach Derek Dooley. “And they just beat on you.”
They now have beaten Tennessee four straight seasons since Alabama got tired of losing this game and paid Nick Saban $4 million a year to resurrect Tide pride. No money has ever been better spent when it comes to hiring a college football coach.
That Dooley worked at the feet of Saban for seven years is supposed to lift the Vols at some point. And it probably will. At some point.
For as Dooley himself said, “I’m not a wizard.” Then, of course, he added a positively Saban-esque remark, “As long as you stay true to the process ...”
The process of catching Bama should ease a bit a year from now once Tide wideout Julio Jones takes his singular brilliance to the NFL.
All Jones did against these Vols was set a school record for receiving yards with 221 after hauling in 12 of quarterback Greg McElroy’s 21 completions.
“The film says throw it [against us], so they threw it [long pause] for 326 yards,” Dooley said. “We fight a little bit, then it just breaks.”
If there was any doubt, this program is officially broken now and you don’t need the gigantic gifts of Jones to prove it. Instead, merely look to the record Jones broke. David Palmer owned the Tide’s previous record for a splendid afternoon against Vanderbilt.
No offense to the Commodores, but when teams are breaking records against you that they previously set against Vanderbilt, you are a long way from reaching your first BCS bowl since 1999.
What makes Saturday night at Neyland all the worse, however, is that the Vols were well-rested and the Crimson Tide were weary. Given this same scenario a year ago in Tuscaloosa, UT barely lost 12-10 to the eventual national champs.
This time around, against a supposedly weaker Bama bunch playing its eighth game in eight weeks, the Vols were crushed in the final half, a 13-10 halftime deficit becoming a 28-0 rout in the final 30 minutes.
“As a defense we competed for a half,” UT linebacker Nick Reveiz said. “Then, quite honestly, we fell apart, which seems to be a story that keeps coming.”
Where this story goes from here is anybody’s guess, but with a road trip to South Carolina on tap for the coming weekend, the record now 2-5 and, in Dooley’s words, “statistically, you don’t see any improvement,” the Vols seem a far better bet to finish with a losing record than a .500 one or better.
To be fair, this is what happens when you have three head coaches in three seasons. This is what happens when the NCAA is knocking on your door concerning possible recruiting violations. This is what happens when one school commits $4 million a year to its head coach and the other school believes it can trump that program with an all-star group of assistants headed by an inexperienced jerk (Lane Kiffin).
As someone wrote me in an e-mail a couple of weeks ago, all UT athletic director Mike Hamilton has proved when it comes to hiring football coaches is that he can be wowed by the sons of famous coaches.
Said Dooley, son of the great Georgia coach Vince Dooley, late Saturday: “It’s not like today’s some revelation that we’re not having a good season.”
But it may be a revelation that the next good UT football season is further away than previously believed, wizards apparently being in short supply these days in Big Orange Country.
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 ...