KNOXVILLE — You figured Tennessee quarterback Matt Simms would have watched his game-winning touchdown pass to Denarius Moore against UAB about 92,000 times by the time Monday’s media luncheon rolled around.
After all, it was a perfect throw at a perfect time to save the Volunteers’ season. With a loss to the Blazers, they would have headed to Baton Rouge this weekend with a 1-3 record. Let the Vols vanish against UAB and the Big Orange Nation might have called it quits, failing to fill up Neyland Stadium for any game the rest of the season save Alabama.
Not only did UT win, but Simms arguably was the Vols’ offensive star, failing to turn the ball over once despite continual pressure.
So how many times has he watched the 25-yard pass that secured a 32-29, two-overtime win?
“I’ve only seen it once,” Simms said. “Somebody showed it to me on YouTube.”
But the texts, e-mails and phone calls. Surely there were hundreds of those, weren’t there?
“Actually,” he said somewhat sheepishly, “I get more texts when we lose.”
We could debate for hours the mental health of a culture that would rather communicate with college football players after a loss than a win. Criticizing coaches with multimillion-dollar salaries is one thing. Sticking it to the players — particularly a young man such as Simms, who was playing junior college ball this time last year — is another.
Not that he’s complaining.
“This is what makes Tennessee so special,” he said. “The fans care so much. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
OK, that’s not quite right. Simms said he’s actually looking forward to playing in LSU’s Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “I love away games. Just something about not being liked. Maybe it’s because I’m from New Jersey. I’m not used to warm receptions.”
Rumor has it that the last time the Vols traveled to Baton Rouge in 2005, the team bus was rocked by crazed fans and a window was broken out. And that was before UT won in overtime.
Throw in the fact that longtime UT defensive coordinator John Chavis now holds that position with the Bayou Bengals and it’s easy to see why Saturday could become ugly in more ways than one against No. 12 LSU.
“I know [Chavis] is going to be licking his chops right now seeing our young offense and our problems we’ve had in the last four games,” UT coach Derek Dooley said during the media lunch. “He may be going home early at night.”
Given the 14 sacks that Simms has endured to date — “We might lead the nation in sacks (allowed),” said Dooley — the Vols coach might be right about Chavis getting a little extra pillow time this week.
But Dooley also might be right that as this season progresses, regardless of how it’s looked statistically, the Big Orange’s intangibles are moving in the right direction.
“The lessons in this victory, there were a number of them,” he said. “We kept fighting. We didn’t divide internally. And that’s important. You’ve got to stay together and keep believing. That was good. So I hope that’s a lesson in victory we remember the next time ... because there will be more.”
And there are more than Simms who are more concerned with team than self. Asked how many times he’d watched his interception return for a touchdown against the Blazers at the close of the first half, Prentiss Waggner echoed his quarterback, “Once. I saw it in Sunday’s film session when Coach spent a whole lot more time talking about all the tackles I missed, and he was right.”
It takes more than heart to win in the SEC, of course. Especially inside Tiger Stadium. But four games into their UT careers as quarterback and coach, Simms and Dooley seem to be advancing quite nicely.
“Hopefully, I’m proving I’m the kind of quarterback that can lead this team to a bowl game,” Simms said.
By then, he may even get more texts when the Vols win than when they lose.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.
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 ...