KNOXVILLE — Former Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors was fond of saying, “They always remember what you do in November.”
Current UT coach Derek Dooley surely hopes Majors is right, because the Volunteers ended October with their fourth straight Southeastern Conference setback — a 14-3 loss to South Carolina.
Using words all but guaranteed to lower the Big Orange Nation’s expectations the rest of the way, Dooley said, “We’re really not good enough right now to beat anybody unless we get some things corrected.”
The place to start those corrections would again appear to be quarterback, which has remained uncertain and unsettled since Tyler Bray broke his thumb late in the Georgia game.
Determined to shake things up after consecutive underwhelming starts by senior Matt Simms, Dooley threw true freshman Justin Worley into the fire against the Gamecocks.
Worley wasn’t awful throughout, but his interceptions in the red zone in the third and fourth quarters denied the Vols a chance to capitalize on turnovers forced by the defense.
“Justin had a tough day out there,” Dooley said. “But we didn’t help him, either. We didn’t run the ball.”
Failing to run the ball (35 net rushing yards) was far from the only thing the Vols failed to do, according to their coach.
“We tried a surprise onside kick [at the start of the third quarter]. That didn’t go well,” Dooley said.
“We just didn’t do a very good job of tackling,” he added.
Finally, he said, “We don’t have enough stoutness out there to force second-and-10 [on defense].”
But other than the offense, defense and kicking game, everything seems to be just fine.
In fact, the highlight of the night actually involved Majors, who was forced out at the end of October in 1992 following a tough loss to the Gamecocks.
During the game’s first television timeout, a card trick in the student section revealed a sign that read, “Fear the pants,” with a drawing of Dooley’s orange pants, which are a nod to Majors, who often wore them in the early 1980s.
Well, at the close of the skit, the camera panned to the card section and who was standing there but Majors himself, dressed in a dark sport coat, a “Fear the Pants” T-shirt and — what else — orange pants.
It brought the largest cheer of the night from the 96,655 fans in the stands.
But it couldn’t keep the Vols from losing. Nor could it keep Dooley from benching the rookie quarterback Worley in favor of Simms early in the fourth quarter.
As if to prove it didn’t matter which quarterback he plays until Bray’s thumb heals, Simms’ first pass hit the turf before it could find a receiver. He finished 5-of-12 for 46 yards — Worley was 10-of-26 for 105 — but Simms didn’t throw one to the other team.
Still, this ineptness from both QBs sparked an idea: Why not put Simms and Worley/Bray into the game at the same time? Simms can take the snap and call the audibles when needed, since he’s apparently the only guy on the team who can competently check into a running play once the Vols hit the line of scrimmage.
But because Simms apparently can’t hit the broad side of an elephant from 5 yards away with a basketball, as soon as he receives the snap — if it’s a pass play — he pitches it back to Worley/Bray for whichever of them to complete the actual physical task of throwing ball.
You may reasonably argue that this is an impractical solution. But you could also argue that Dooley has tried virtually everything else except burning his orange slacks.
And everyone should give Dooley high marks for trying. But trying isn’t the same as winning, and when Dooley called a timeout to discuss punting on fourth-and-15 from the South Carolina 49, you could sense a little frustration throughout the stadium.
What was he trying to do? Ice the punt returner? Give fans an extra bathroom break on a chilly night? Get iPhone updates on the Lane Kiffin-Andrew Luck — oops, Southern Cal-Stanford — showdown? (USC led 13-10 at that moment.)
Point is, this Vols season has gotten harder to comprehend by the week. Maybe Simms to Worley to Bray on the same play isn’t such a bad idea if the Big Orange Nation is to have any positive reason to remember November past Dooley’s orange pants.
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 ...