Simple adjustments lead to huge win
It wasn’t the shootout decided by a single touchdown expected by many area college football prognosticators, but the outcome against Cincinnati was plenty satisfactory to Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and Volunteer fans.
Having shown a mastery of the mammoth mammals from Big Sky country in last week’s weather-dampened 42-16 win, the Vols took longer to figure out the question of the moment on Saturday at Neyland Stadium — what exactly is a bearcat?
A trip to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden will confirm that it’s not a mythical creature or some crazed combination of fierceness concocted by UC students but a rather small mammal with a penchant for sleeping in the day and rambling about at night.
That in itself might account for the Cincinnati football team’s lack of aggressive stamina in a daylight game against Tennessee, but all that backstory aside, the Volunteers — once their defense awakened — made relatively easy work of constructing a 45-23 victory over the visitors by playing some school-record setting pass and catch.
It helped that the Cincinnati defense had little ability to cope with Tyler Bray’s 405 yards passing, mostly to Justin Hunter (156 yards) and Da’Rick Rogers (100), and when the Bearcats were looking for the pass, UT tailback Tauren Poole rushed for 101 yards.
“(Bray) can throw it and those two big guys can go down the field and catch it and that’s what we’re going to do until they stop us,” UT coach Derek Dooley said in downplaying his concern about the Vols’ less-than-booming ground game.
Defensively, Tennessee seemed confused early-on against the Cincinnati spread and no-huddle offense, but after the Bearcats put up 14 points in the first quarter, the Vols quickly adjusted and produced momentum gathering, fourth-down stops in the second period.
“We made a lot of mistakes defensively, but the difference was those big stops,” Dooley said. “People don’t realize how big those are. It’s a turnover because of field position. It generates juice.”
Tennessee didn’t have to make any changes defensively to slow the Bearcat offense, Dooley said. All it had to do was line up correctly and tackle better. Even though Cincinnati produced 396 yards of offense, the result was just 23 points, and that kind of bending but not breaking was good enough for this week, especially when Bray & Co. were unstoppable.
In two successive games, the Vols have scored more than 40 points (87 in all) against Big Sky and Big East opponents, holding them to a combined 39 points. That’s plenty of potential for having a successful run through the remainder of the season, but the test of those numbers comes next weekend when the matchup is from a conference that is plenty big without that word preceding it — the SEC.
“We’ve got to get ready to play big ball next week,” Dooley said. “Those suckers (Florida Gators) are good and they do a lot of stuff.
“The test is going to get harder.”
Leonard Butts is sports editor. He wrote from Knoxville. Write to him at The Daily Times, P.O. Box 9740, Maryville, TN 37802, or e-mail him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)