Wiedmer: Third-quarter problems not just 2011 Vols issue

Wiedmer: Third-quarter problems not just 2011 Vols issue

October 25th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

Tennessee's Malik Jackson holds on to LSU's Spencer Ware.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson wanted to put to rest any rumors that the Volunteers snack on warm milk and cookies, crank down a little Brahms on the boom box and listen to coach Derek Dooley read a bedtime story or two during halftime.

Still, when you get outscored 56-6 in the third quarter of your first four Southeastern Conference games, you know the sports world wants to know what's going on inside your locker room during intermission.

"Oh, we have crumpets, a little bit of tea, go in there and relax," Jackson, who transferred from Southern Cal before the 2010 season, said Monday with a grin.

"No, it's pretty much the same as it was at USC. The offensive and defensive coordinators both meet with their players. Then you get with your position coach for a few minutes. Then Coach Dooley says a few things and we go back out there."

Yet Jackson also knows something needs to change and change quickly during UT halftimes as the Vols head into the second half of their eight-game SEC schedule this Saturday night against South Carolina at Neyland Stadium.

"We've just got to get our mindset different," he said of a team that started the season 3-1 but now stands 3-4 (0-4 in the SEC). "But that's harder to do than to say."

Obviously. To refresh everyone's memory, Florida scored the first 14 points of the second half in an eventual 33-23 victory over the Big Orange. Georgia followed that three weeks later by outscoring the Vols 14-0 in the third quarter. LSU won the third period 7-0 a week later before adding 14 more unanswered points in the fourth.

Then came last Saturday in Tuscaloosa, when Alabama went on a 31-0 second-half roll that included two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the third period and could have included two more touchdowns in the final minutes of the fourth had Bama not shown a little mercy in its 37-6 win.

But it's something else that Jackson said that will surely make the entire Big Orange Nation wince. He said the second-half collapses "happened last year, too."

Indeed, Florida outscored UT 17-7 in the third period of 2010. After a scoreless third at LSU, Georgia won the third 14-7. Alabama scored 21 unanswered points in that third period. South Carolina scored the first 14 points of the third.

Then, of course, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky arrived to render the second halves of games meaningless.

Dooley certainly agrees that doing something about it is much harder than saying something about it. He knows that Alabama played twice as many upperclassmen as the Vols, which also means UT was playing twice as many underclassmen as the second-ranked Tide.

"You say to just play the same way you did on play No. 5, but on play 5 you haven't been hit 58 times," Dooley said. "It's like boxing with a big guy and a little guy. The little guy comes out swinging. Well, about the fourth round those hits start taking their toll and the little guy's right arm drops. All of a sudden, boom! We are also losing our focus because of the result. ... You play your way out of it and you learn how to handle it, but it's not one thing that we're doing [wrong]."

Jackson agrees that youth is hurting the Vols, especially when the other team turns up the heat.

"Our young guys got a little scared against LSU and Alabama," he said. "You can kind of look at them, see it in their eyes."

Looking ahead to South Carolina, senior linebacker Austin Johnson said, "It's probably going to be close at halftime. We need to make a pact not to let this happen again, and hopefully it won't. We've just got to quit getting down on ourselves when a big play happens for the other team."

How big is South Carolina to UT's season? In the three years that the Vols have lost to the Gamecocks since 2005, they've finished with a losing record each time. Every season that UT has beaten South Carolina has ended with a winning record.

"If you win, you're turning your season around," Johnson said. "With all we've been through the last three weeks, there would definitely be a big difference in being 4-4 than 3-5."

On that single point, everyone both inside and outside the program will agree. But they'll probably also all agree with Jackson on his final point regarding the Vols' halftimes.

Said the preseason All-SEC pick: "We've definitely got to change some stuff."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.