Tennessee finally had a chance to prove they were on their way back. The Florida Gators were coming to Knoxville, Neyland Stadium was sold out for the first time in forever and ESPN chose the game as it’s host for their popular College GameDay show. Tennessee was favored by 3 points. This was one of the worst Gator teams in a generation. Early on Saturday morning, a text message was sent out by UT announcing that the school was retiring Johnny Major’s #45 jersey in a pre-game ceremony. There was no way UT could lose this game. Not with all of that momentum, right? Wrong. Not only did Tennessee lose, it lost the way it has lost to every other ranked team under Derek Dooley: a 4th quarter collapse.
The Vols led the Gators 20-13 in the 3rd Quarter and seemed to have the game in check. A failed attempt by Florida on a fake punt on 4th down gave the Vols a chance to put a nail in the Gator’s coffin. What did the Vols do? The same thing they’ve done in every other big game under Derek Dooley. Tyler Bray preceeded to get a grounding penalty on 1st down hindering the Vols chances of moving the football into scoring territory. The Gators would score on a 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of their next offensive possession. The next drive saw the Vols do nothing, again. The next Gators drive saw them score another TD, in help to another blown assignment and missed opportunities.
This game was a capsule of the Vols under Derek Dooley. If a football game was only one half, then the Vols would be in the National Title hunt. But, it’s not. And the Vols inability to find a way to play 60 minutes is going to cost Derek Dooley his job. Tennessee was outscored 27-6 in the 2nd half. They had the momentum going into the halftime break after holding Florida to a Field Goal. But, yet again the Vols and Derek Dooley were unable to make adjustments and it cost them dearly in the 2nd half.
I’ve always been told that teams take on the personality of their coach. In this case, I don’t believe that to be the case. This team has taken on something from Derek Dooley, but it’s not his personality. I don’t think Dooley is a loser. He’s a great guy who wants to win and bring Tennessee back, I truly believe that. But, facts are facts. Dooley is 0-11 against ranked teams. The man doesn’t know what it’s like to win. Subsequently, his team, the Tennessee Volunteers, don’t know how to win. When I left Neyland Stadium last night, I left a stadium having watched a team and a program who has forgotten how to win. Even the fans have forgotten how to win. Message boards all week talked about “rushing the field” and “tearing down the goal posts.” WHY??? We were playing the 18th ranked team in the country who went 6-6 in 2011. I would have never thought about rushing Shield-Watkins Field while I was a student at UTK if we had beaten a team like that. It’s simply a picture of where this program is right now. It’s a program who hasn’t won in so long, it simply doesn’t know how to get the job done.
As I left Neyland Stadium last night I saw on the faces of Dool Aid drinkers who seemed to have finally taken their last swig of Dool Aid. It was like reality had just back-handed them right across the face. It’s like they now realize what some of us have been saying for the last 10 months: that Dooley is not the guy for the Vols. I sincerely hope the Vols find a way to put this 8th straight loss to the Gators behind them. But what I and 102,455 other fans saw last night, it’s just the same old Vols in a different season.