Wiedmer: Beating the Bobcats won't ease nerves in Big Orange nation

Wiedmer: Beating the Bobcats won't ease nerves in Big Orange nation

September 27th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Blogsutugautc

KNOXVILLE -- Let's pretend you're Ohio football coach Frank Solich. You've got fourth-and-goal at the Tennessee 1-yard line midway through Saturday night's third period. You trail the Volunteers 24-17 at that moment, a stunning score given that UT entered this contest a 23-point favorite.

So you go for it, right? You're already playing with house money. Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, you've secured your moral victory, your highlight tape for future recruits, your ongoing statement that the Mid-American Conference remains a pretty fair mid-major league.

But the former Nebraska coach was having none of that. He was coaching as if he thought the Bobcats could still creep closer, still hang around, still go for broke when the clock dictated it rather than the score.

Solich had the Bobcats kick a field goal to pull within 24-20.

His message was clear: We think we'll get other chances to win.

Of course, it also turns out he was wrong, given the Vols' 34-23 win.

But the lesson may not have been that Solich lost because he failed to gamble. The lesson may continue to be that Big Orange opponents have no fear that they're ever out of a game with Jonathan Crompton at quarterback for the Vols.

You can call this bashing if you like. After all, Tennessee earned its longest lead of the night when Crompton perfectly feathered a screen pass to freshman Bryce Brown, who carried it to the checkerboards from 26 yards out. It may have been the most perfectly executed play of the quarterback's largely imperfect career.

But the fact remains that Solich saw no need to take a risk because he believed Crompton would keep his Bobcats in the game.

And he was almost right. On the third play of the fourth quarter, Crompton fumbled after being chased from the pocket. Ohio's Noah Keller recovered the ball and appeared to score a touchdown that would have pulled the Bobcats back to within four points and severely shaken the UT QB's fragile confidence.

But replays showed Keller had stepped out of bounds in the process of recovering the fumble. UT retained the ball. The Bobcats never drew closer than eight points the rest of the game.

Yet it was what Keller said afterward that should frighten Volniacs the rest of the way.

"We wanted to stop their two-man running game and get some pressure on them to try to force Crompton into making some bad throws," he said. "We had some chances to get some more picks than we had, but we never capitalized on them."

When a fifth-year SEC quarterback doesn't strike fear in a MAC defense, what does that say about the seven remaining SEC defenses the Vols must face, beginning this week with Auburn?

Yes, the Vols ran it well against the Bobcats. They should have. Ohio was giving up more than 200 yards on the ground against a schedule that had included Connecticut, North Texas and Cal Poly -- hardly SEC level competition.

And before the Vols Nation brings up the 10-point loss at Florida, if Gators quarterback Tim Tebow hadn't fumbled near the goal line in the fourth quarter, UF would have led 30-6 and UT coach Lane Kiffin wouldn't have been tossing taunts toward Urban Meyer about his flu-ravaged team this week.

Maybe this week will be different. Maybe Mr. InCrompetent will become Mr. Unstoppable against Auburn. Maybe the rest of the season will be as pretty as Crompton to Brown.

But the guess here is that Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and the rest of the SEC will keep trying to force Crompton into making bad throws. And unlike Ohio, they'll capitalize on their chances.