KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley knew the tangible pluses and minuses of his University of Tennessee football team well before the Volunteers faced Pac-10 power Oregon on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.
He didn’t know the intangibles.
Now he does.
And he couldn’t be more displeased.
Sunday’s film review of the 48-13 loss didn’t change Dooley’s overall view of the Vols’ second-half collapse.
“The biggest issue we have is learning to compete through adversity,” Dooley said after watching film of his team surrendering 45 consecutive points to the Ducks. “I felt that way at the end of the game, and I still feel that way right now.”
Dooley said his defense never responded to the Ducks’ two scores that tied the game in the final minutes of the first half, and his offense never responded to a 76-yard interception return touchdown that gave Oregon a 27-13 lead with 6 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
“It’s something that I addressed with the team when I first got here in spring practice,” Dooley said. “I looked back and researched (recent) games in the fourth quarter when we were down 10 points or less, and we’re 0-7. And we went into this game in the fourth quarter down 14, and we’re not even competing. And that’s something we have to change.
“We need to change that before we get to anything else — being able to compete for four quarters, no matter what the score is.”
UT quarterback Matt Simms, who threw the game-changing interception, said that was Dooley’s first and last comments to the Vols in the locker room Saturday night.
“And I agree with him,” Simms said. “We have to learn from our mistakes.”
They better learn quickly, with 10th-ranked Florida coming to Neyland on Saturday.
“When we do play with the kind of intangibles that we expect them to play (with) for 60 minutes, that we can go out and compete,” Dooley said. “But when we don’t play with those intangibles — whether it be a lack of discipline, a lack of effort or a lack of toughness — then we’re going to get embarrassed. And I think that’s the case with whoever we play.”
UT’s offense ran 56 plays before Simms’ pick-six, gaining 322 yards with no turnovers and no sacks allowed.
After the pick, they gained 11 yards on 20 plays and allowed two sacks.
“We were still coming to work, but that was definitely a big blow in the game,” sophomore wide receiver Zach Rogers said. “We were pushing the goal line and looking to score. Then, that happened.
“They started running the score up, and we couldn’t bounce back. Things just didn’t bounce our way.”
Sophomore defensive backs Marsalis Teague and Prentiss Waggner said the defense didn’t finish properly, either.
Waggner said the team went into “panic mode, because we have young guys that haven’t really been in the ball game.”
“It is hard as a defense to come back after a turning point like that (interception), but we just have to get better and respond better than we did,” Teague said. “(Oregon) wasn’t really different. It was just a lack of execution on our part.
“We are a great team, but we still have to compete. When things get tough, we’ve still got football to play. We can't let little things get to us.”
The Vols are Dooley’s problem, but the coach emphasized that such feelings have become the norm for this team’s generation.
Dooley said his players’ response to second half adversity was a microcosm of young people’s mentalities these days.
“I think it’s a little bit of a sociological issue,” he said. “I think that more than ever before, we are in such a results-oriented world that children are groomed from the beginning about winning and losing, and not competing. And I think it’s something that they all want success, and they want all this personal gratification, and they lose site of what it takes to get that.
“And I think you don’t just see it in sports. The sociologists have called this the entitlement generation. If you ask employers out there across the board, there’s a consensus across the board that this generation comes in expecting raises and expecting bonuses and wanting vacation more than any other generation of the past. And so I think their focus is on the wrong thing. It’s on kind of the show, it’s on they want everything easy. It’s not their fault. I think it’s a generational thing
“It’s important that we teach them the importance of process, and that you get your satisfaction from the investment you put into something.”
Dooley and his staff won’t teach the Vols from a comfortable couch, though. They’ll teach them on the field.
And until the players learn to change their program’s culture, results like Saturday’s will always be possible — especially this season, when UT lacks the quality depth of many of its Southeastern Conference foes.
“You should be able to turn on the TV and, based on how we’re competing, you don’t know if we’re winning or losing,” Dooley said. “Sometimes players, especially nowadays, they get so focused on wanting to win that they don’t enjoy the competitive element of the game. And they don’t enjoy when it gets tough, how to fight through it and figure out a way to find solutions to have success.
“When I say, ‘The score doesn’t matter,’ I don’t mean that in the fourth quarter, you’re not looking up and saying, ‘We’re down seven or six,’ and we know what we’ve got to do. But I’m saying that you’re playing not thinking about the result, but thinking more about how to compete that play. And what happens with our team is we get so caught up in getting behind, and we start thinking about losing the game, and then we don’t compete.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wes can also be reached at www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.