Tennessee vs The Maxims vs Middle Tennessee State
OK, I know, it was Middle Tennessee State. I also understand that *insert SEC team* would/could have beaten the Blue Raiders by more than Tennessee did Saturday night.
I don't care.
The Vols desperately needed a win – any win – against anybody at this point in time. The Boys in Orange have been pummeled by successive games against ranked opponents from the Southeastern Conference that would have been an epic mountain for far deeper and more talented Vol teams from either the Majors or Fulmer eras. Alas, the 2011 version of the Volunteers is neither and it shows.
As South Carolina is learning to its discomfiture, an SEC schedule is a campaign of attrition. No matter how talented and flashy a team's starting twenty-two, there will be casualties and grievous ones at that. The key to consistently winning in the SEC is to have a SECOND twenty-two capable of starting anywhere else in the league. In fact, this writer would go so far as to suggest that the storied Tennessee teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s were THREE deep at many positions and STILL struggled to play consistently on a championship level.
One thing both the German Luftwaffe
and the the Japanese Army and Naval Air Forces shared in the early years of the Second World War was a stock of incredibly talented and experienced pilots A number of German pilots rang up well over 100 air-to-air kills and one, Erich Hartmann, scored an incredible 352. No, that is not a misprint. In the Far East, the average experience of a Japanese pilot flying the strike on Pearl Harbor was nearly ten years including many combat missions over China.
Both Germany and Japan shared a failing in this arena. Neither planned nor equipped itself for a long war in the air. As time went on, American fighters and, more importantly, American fighter pilots got better. Aces were brought home to instruct the next generation of “smoldering boulders” in the deadly art of maneuvering a fighter to shoot down an opponent or how to fly bombing formations to create a curtain of defensive fire to keep the Other Guy's fighters at bay. Both the Germans and the Japanese left their aces on the line until, inevitably, they were shot down and killed, severely injured, or captured.
By mid-1944, both the Germans and the Japanese had lost so many pilots and with them their invaluable experience that the increasingly well-trained Americans achieved not just air superiority but air supremacy. Indeed, since 1944, no American ground force has conducted operations in an environment where the enemy's air force has been much more than a nuisance.
The point is, it took a LOT of blood, tears, and sacrifice to get the American air units to that level. At that, new pilots and rookie units were usually sent against less well-defended targets to get their first taste of combat before flying against the German or Japanese varsity. In WWII terms I would put the Vols at about mid-1942 or maybe early 1943 in the rebuilding process.
Just as important, from a command standpoint, the air bosses had to learn their jobs as well. The Navy went through no less than five separate command teams for its Fast Carrier task forces before finally getting it “right” and sweeping the Imperial Japanese Navy from the Pacific. In Europe the “Mighty Eighth” Air Force went through three commanders before Jimmy Doolittle finally showed the world what a real strategic air force could do. Head Vol Derek Dooley is in his fifth year as a head coach anywhere and three of those were spent in the backwaters at Louisiana Tech. He is still very much in the process of learning how to be a Head Coach in the Southeastern Conference. It is, and always will be, a process.
The Vols have a long way to go. There are going to be many painful losses and disappointments along the way. Rest assured, though, trend is positive. So, how did the team do against the Maxims?
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
Maybe, just maybe, the mistake was not playing Justin Worley earlier against Georgia, Alabama or LSU.
2. Play for and make the breaks. When one comes your way … SCORE!
Tennessee did an excellent job during the first half. However, UT's second-half woes continue. That being said, Head Vol Dooley may have also decided to not take too many chances with a 24-point lead (given the above mentioned woes) and let the defense throttle the Blue Raiders and win the game. Wilcox's boys responded and responded well.
3. If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don’t let up … PUT ON MORE STEAM!
I'm not sure that “more steam” was necessary against the Blue Raiders, BUT the defense repeatedly snuffed MTSU scoring drives and kept the “goose egg” intact.
4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead and our ballgame.
Justin Worley needed confidence and, with any luck at all, found a good deal of it Saturday night.
5. Ball! Oskie! Cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle … THIS IS THE WINNING EDGE.
I was highly disappointed in the near complete lack of pressure from Tennessee's front four against the MTSU passing game. Also, the Vol's run blocking was simply atrocious. I think at this point the entire “zone blocking” concept needs to be hurled from the playbook and let these kids run or pass block as the called play demands. Zone blocking is something they can work on in the spring and during two-a-days next summer.
6. Press the kicking game, here is where the breaks are made.
The Vols' two reserve kickers did an adequate job. Devrin Young needs to eat some “Wheaties” and quit reading the SID's press releases.
7. Carry the fight to MTSU and keep it there for sixty minutes.
Against MTSU, thirty was more than adequate. Saturday was the last time that will be so for the rest of this season.
So, what do the Vol Faithful take from Saturday's game? Well, t'was a victory. As stated earlier, it was a NEEDED victory. Does it mean Tennessee football is back? No. Does it augur well for the balance of 2011? Yes. Will the level of effort Saturday succeed against the Arkansas Razorbacks who next appear on the horizon? Not at all. However, the taste of victory can do wonders to give even a “middling” team confidence and raise everybody's level of play.