Wiedmer: Vols clearly look better, but is it better enough?

Wiedmer: Vols clearly look better, but is it better enough?

October 2nd, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

KNOXVILLE -- University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley stopped his answer in mid-sentence, a bemused smile washing over his face.

Spying his 7-year-old daughter Julianna in the media room beneath Neyland Stadium, he said, "Those glasses look good on you, sweetie."

And they did, though you didn't need eyeglasses to see how good Dooley's Volunteers looked in Saturday's 41-10 victory over Buffalo. You needed only numbers, which showed the Big Orange nearly doubling the little Bulls in yardage (511-267) and time of possession (38:10 to 21:50) and more than doubling them in first downs (26-10).

Take away Buffalo quarterback Chazz Johnson's 68-yard touchdown run on a busted defensive assignment late in the first period and two misplayed kickoffs and it was nearly a perfect game for the Vols.

Even the cautious, caustic Dooley had a hard time being too negative about the performance.

"It was a good win," he said. "[Buffalo] has played every team they've played close, but they didn't today."

Indeed, though the Bulls' only win in five games was against Stony Brook, their largest halftime deficit before Saturday had been 21-7 to Ball State, and they ultimately lost that contest 28-25.

Conversely, UT not only led 31-7 at the break Saturday but pretty much wasted its final possession of the half by acting as if it didn't want to run up the score on an overmatched foe.

"That was a very good football team that we faced," Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn said. "Tyler Bray is a great quarterback, and he has a great supporting cast. There's some big, good-looking guys out there that compete hard. That's the key."

That's the key to winning the games you should win, such as Buffalo, Cincinnati and Montana.

But the next four weeks will have no resemblance to those foes except that the field will be the same 100 yards long, the clock will consist of four 15-minute quarters and each team can have only 11 men on the field at one time.

Otherwise, the Vols are about to move from the low minors to the major leagues of college football. Or did you realize that after hosting Georgia this Saturday night, the Vols' next three foes -- LSU, Alabama and South Carolina -- all began the weekend in the Associated Press Top 10?

"We went down to [Florida] and gutted it out for four quarters, but we didn't play our best," Dooley said. "We'll see how we do next week. We have so many young guys that it's hard to make judgments. I've got to watch them every week, because they look different every week."

And he's right about that. But you could also argue that with the exception of the Florida game -- which was torn asunder by the loss of wide receiver Justin Hunter on the Vols' first drive -- the Vols have looked better every week.

More composed. More confident. More dangerous.

"We're right where we want to be," said senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who had a tackle and a half for lost yardage. "We played tough; we played stout. Yet we're still light years from where we want to be."

That's where eyeglasses are still sometimes needed with this team. The devil remains the details, the fine print. Good as this victory was following an off week, the Vols still fumbled two kickoffs, had a punt blocked and surrendered that 68-yard touchdown run on a complete defensive brain cramp.

Such miscues can be overcome against a Buffalo or a Montana. But against the Frightening Foursome of Georgia, LSU, Bama and South Carolina?

"We did what we needed to do," Dooley said. "[But] I still don't know what we are."

Six nights from tonight, just exactly what kind of football team Dooley is coaching should come much more clearly into focus, with or without his daughter's eyeglasses.