Or so they tell me… According to Cato, patience is the greatest of all virtues.
However, being patient is one of those things that is easier to talk about doing than it is to actually do.
With all due respect, Cato wasn’t born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. Here, we suffer through the workweek with Saturday in mind. Work schedules and school-work agendas are planned around Saturday football games. Wedding dates are set with football schedules in hand. Volunteer football is the end-all, be-all.
These days, patience isn’t found in high quantities in Big Orange Country, and for good reason. Vol fans have been patient. We’ve had three-plus years of being patient. We’re sick and tired of being patient. Unfortunately, the days of being patient are not at an end.
Before the season even started, Tennessee was a team that needed everyone to stay healthy to remain competitive against a difficult schedule. After losing arguably its two best players on offense(QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter) and defense,(DB Janzen Jackson, LB Herman Lathers) Tennessee is in a position where it will have to fight to become bowl eligible.
Tennessee has dropped its last three contests, by a combined score of 95-25. Since Tyler Bray went down with a broken right thumb, the Vols have amassed 186 yards through the air and no passing touchdowns. Matt Simms’ ineffectiveness prompted Head Coach Derek Dooley to name freshman QB Justin Worley the starter for Saturday’s game against No. 14 ranked South Carolina.
Worley, a Rock Hill, SC native, makes his first career start against a team ranked seventh in the nation in total defense.
In all likelihood, South Carolina puts eight in the box, negating Tennessee’s run game and forces Worley to beat them. The Vols don’t need Worley to win them the game, they simply need him not to lose it for them. If Worley can manage the game and hit a check-down receiver, Tennessee has more than a fighting chance.
If not more important, than certainly just as important, will be the way Tennessee plays after halftime. In Derek Dooley’s tenure at Tennessee, the Vols have been outscored 186-85 in the second half against all Southeastern Conference opponents not named Kentucky or Vanderbilt.
Whether the difficulties stem from lack of halftime adjustments or lack of quality depth, something is certainly lacking in the Vols’ second-half performances. Fixing this trend will be key to any progress Tennessee hopes to make going forward. Tennessee cannot continue to play that poorly in the second half and hope to win any meaningful games.
On a more positive note, Brian Randolph’s emergence in the secondary has allowed the coaches to slide Prentiss Waggner to corner, moving struggling converted-receiver Marsalis Teague to the bench. Randolph followed up his eight-tackle effort against Alabama with nine stops against LSU.
Randolph, accompanied by fellow true-freshmen linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson, has provided the Vol defense with a physical presence its sorely lacked in previous years.
Youth abounds on both sides of the ball, making rash judgements of the coaching staff and/or players largely unwarranted, at least for this season. I’m not saying don’t criticize, just do so while keeping in mind that this team is young and collectively inexperienced.
Only time will tell if Derek Dooley is the right man to return Tennessee to national prominence. I know it’s hard, but in the meantime, Vol fans, try to have a little patience.