So, who's ready for the new year? My guess is that every Vols fan - from the casual follower to the folks that named their five kids, Robert, Summitt, Payton, Fulmer and Lane (before changing it to Derek, of course) - will be happy to close the books on 2010. Here we go.
MUSIC CITY MIRAGE
Wow. Where do we start on the University of Tennessee's heart-breaking 30-27 double-overtime loss. This game had so much going on - especially late - that we're going to have to break it down into two parts.
Seriously, the Vols lead the free world in premature celebrations with two - Thursday night's redo when UNC took a 5-yard penalty and got an extra play for snapping the ball with half of Charlotte on the field and the redoux at LSU when UT had 13 guys on the field to give the Tigers one untimed down. UNC kicked a field goal to force overtime and LSU scored the game-winning touchdown on the extra chances that have delivered Excedrin headaches for UT fans.
Know this, though, no team anywhere has ever lost bigger kick-to-the-guts games because of two variations of having 13-plus guys on the field. Know this, too, I'll bet a dollar to a donut that the NCAA rules committee will examine this issue closely. The NFL's 10-second runoff rule - which states that if the offense commits a penalty that would stop the clock in the final minute of the first half or the game that 10 seconds are run off the clock or the offense is charged a timeout - will be closely reviewed by the NCAA.
I know that's little consolation right now Vols Fan, but on to the good and the bad from last night:
- Gotta feel good about this quote from Luke Stocker, who made a tremeeeeeeeeendous touchdown catch Thursday night: "Tennessee is now definitely in the right hands. Coach Dooley was a great hire and he's going to bring us back." It would be one thing if Stocker was a sophomore, and this had the feel of a "Wait till next year," kind of thing, Stocker played his last game in a Vols uniform last night, and that makes his quote even stronger.
- The young linebackers played as well as they have all season against a quality opponent. Nick Reveiz will be missed for a lot of reasons, but Herman Lathers and Co. were flying to the ball last night. Plus, we had a Montori Hughes sighting - and he looked pretty good for the first time in a long time.
- Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox had his guys ready for the most part, especially considering that UNC's touchdowns were a long run (that Janzen Jackson whiffed on an open-field tackle), a lengthy TD pass on a busted coverage late in the first half, and a 12-yard drive in the first overtime after a personal foul penalty against the Vols at the end of regulation. Wilcox is a stud, and UT needs to do everything it can to keep him on staff.
- Tyler Bray threw the ball very well with the exception of that late interception when the freshman was fooled by UNC stud linebacker Quan Sturdivant, who faked a blitz and dropped into coverage right where the pass was headed to UT's Channing Fugate, who fell down on the play. Bray has the tools to be a star in the SEC, and imagine the showdowns between Bray, UGA freshman Aaron Murray and whichever young Florida quarterback takes over in the next few years.
- Bray never looked more like a freshman than he did last night. The 5-at-10 is a fan of the "Loco Dance" the Vols have embraced, and we're all for players having fun and enjoying the game.
That said, Bray's emotions - from the Loco (fingers spinning on each side of his helmet), to the bobblehead antics to the slashing-finger-across-the-throat move to the meltdown after Sturdivant's overtime pick - and got the best of him last night, and that's not something a quarterback can allow to happen. Play with emotion, sure, but don't be overcome by it. Yes, he's young and rest assured Dooley will use this as a teaching tool, but think of it this way: Bray was in tears after Sturdivant's pick, what would have happened if UT's defense had forced a fumble or if UNC missed the field-goal attempt and the game went to a third overtime? Would Bray have been emotionally ready to play on? It sure didn't look like it.
I'm on record as saying Bray will be a big-timer in this league, but that was stunning.
- The overwhelming strength of this team - its receiving corps - is about to be decimated by graduation. Yes, there are some young studs, but Stocker, Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore are seniors and the trio combined for 18 catches and 216 yards and two touchdowns. Bray's final numbers: 27 completions for 312 yards and four TDs.
- The meltdown in the final two minutes was awful. Three straight running plays up the middle. Allowing a 30-yard completion down the sideline. Jackson's personal foul penalty on top of that. And as bad as that was, it would not have meant a thing if the Vols had simply converted an extra point. Daniel Lincoln's blocked PAT was the difference between victory and defeat last night - yes, there are a ton of "what ifs" and "yeah, buts" and "that was a bad call" but if Lincoln makes the PAT (which was a low, line drive kick to begin with), UNC is going to have to score a TD at the end of the game rather than kick the field goal for overtime.
- The offensive game plan was curious at best and I know more than a few UT fans who were less than thrilled. UT ran for all of 27 yards on 29 attempts.
LETTER OF THE RULE
As angry as UT fans are this morning, they don't have as big a beef as Kansas State fans after the Wildcats' 36-34 Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse.
Check on the Youtubes and you will find the clip of Kansas State receiver Adrian Hillburn saluting the crowd after his touchdown catch in the final 90 seconds. Hillburn was called for excessive celebration - the ruling that he "intentionally called attention to himself;" I mean the guy's a wide receiver, they call attention to themselves by nature - and K-State had to attempt a two-point conversion to tie the game from the 18-yard line. Brutal.
BY THE NUMBERS
It was a crazy, crazy Thursday in sports on top of the two bowl-game thrillers. Let's scan the sports wire and break it down by the numbers:
90 - the record-setting winning streak for UConn's women's basketball team that was snapped last night by Stanford, which was the last team to beat the Huskies in 2008. Quite side not: The 5-at-10 would like to take all wagers on UConn winning its next game, because as impressive as winning 90 in a row is, do you know the last time the Huskies lost back-to-back games. Hold on to your hat Virginia - it was in 1993.
5 - The number of suspended Ohio State Buckeyes who promised coach Jim Tressell they would return for next year so they could play in the Sugar Bowl. Pinkie swears? Seriously? Let's just move on.
0 - Number of days left in 2010. May 2011 be your best year yet.