Tennessee vs The Maxims vs Georgia Tech

#1

OneManGang

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#1
Tennessee vs The Maxims vs Georgia Tech

If the last three games of this past weekend proved anything it is that the great philosopher Yogi Berra was absolutely right, “It ain't over 'til it's over.”

West Virginia had VaTech on the ropes but let the game get away. Texas A&M had posted a 44-10 lead in the THIRD quarter and fell apart, losing the game by one in regulation to UCLA. Finally, our beloved Vols kicked off the 2017 campaign in Atlanta taking on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Tech ran wild, piling up nearly 600 yards of rushing offense in regulation only to see Tennessee claw its way back into the game, blocking a Tech field goal attempt with no time left to send the match to overtime. In overtime, both teams scored on every possession until, finally, all Tech had to do was move the ball three yards for a two-point conversion and walk away victorious.

The Buglets were averaging well over five yards per rush attempt.

Instead of simply lining up and stuffing the ball up the Vols' collective fundaments, they dusted off a quarterback sweep to the right they had not run since the first canto. Head Buglet Paul Johnson got a bit too cute and then watched horrified as Tennessee's heretofore moribund run defense stuffed 'Jacket quarterback TaQuon Marshall on the four whereupon he tried a desperation toss that hit the floor of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and that was that.

It ain't over 'til its over.

* * * * * * * * *

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague was on the bridge of his flagship, the escort carrier USS Fanshaw Bay off the coast of the island of Samar in the Philippines on the morning of 25 October 1944. His fleet was not even big enough to call a “Task Group” but instead was one of three groups similarly constituted. His unit was given the call-sign “Taffy Three.” The centerpiece of Taffy Three was the Fanshaw Bay and another five of these escort or “Jeep” carriers. As part of Admiral Kinkaid's 7th Fleet, the Taffy's were assigned to provide close air support for the landings by MacArthur's Army troops on the island of Leyte.

Known to the Navy as CVE's the escort carriers were merchant hulls (in this case a mass-produced Liberty Ship) with a flight deck nailed to the top that had no armor, could only manage about 20 knots with everything open including the tool box, and carried about 25 aircraft or so, a mix of obsolescent Wildcat fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers. The biggest gun was a single 5” mounted at the stern. The CVE's were not intended to be used in ship vs ship combat, that was the domain of the Fast Carriers, the Essex-Class (30,000 tons, 30+ knots and 90+ aircraft). Where the Fast Carriers were escorted by battleships, cruisers and destroyers, Sprague's mini-fleet of six CVE's was escorted by a couple of destroyers and a few of the smaller, slower, and less well-armed destroyer escorts.

Sprague was a bit concerned this day as his boss had overheard some transmissions from the Fast Carriers that Admiral Halsey was setting off to take on a task force of Japanese carriers near the northern tip of the Island of Luzon over 400 miles away. But, he reassured himself, surely Halsey would leave a Task Group of Fast Carriers to cover the landing areas or maybe even Admiral Willis Lee's Battle Line of six modern battleships more than capable of taking on anything the Japanese could muster.

As his lookouts peered to the Southeast they saw a number of large ships approaching. For a moment, Sprague thought perhaps Lee was indeed coming to cover them and all would be well.

As the ships closed one of the lookouts shouted that he could make out “pagoda masts” the piled-up superstructures characteristic of Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers.

Uh oh.

On the flag bridge of the biggest battleship in the world, the HIJMS Yamato, Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita should have been joyous. An entire fleet of American carriers was at his mercy. He had achieved complete surprise and he could hand the Americans their sharpest setback since the early days of the Guadalcanal campaign over two years previous.

Instead Kurita was nervous and indecisive. His fleet had been mauled by planes from the Fast Carriers just the day before and the Yamato's sister ship, Musashi, had gone down - blasted by a number of heavy bombs and no less than nineteen aerial torpedoes.

Kurita's subordinates waited for his orders.

The logical thing for him to have done was to form a battleline massing the big guns of his four battleships and four heavy cruisers to batter his way through the Yankees and then feast on the unprotected transports and landing craft off Leyte.

What Kurita did was to go back to an even earlier playbook, a British playbook. Echoing Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, Kurita ordered a “General Attack” - no formations, no interlocking zones of anti-aircraft fire, no systematic engagement of targets, it was every ship for itself.

Kurita had called exactly the wrong play.

Not that individually his ships couldn't deal with the CVE's and their escorts, but instead of a massive battering ram, Kurita opted for a wave attack that gave the Americans an opportunity.

As the Japanese approached Taffy Three they opened fire. The massive shells from the battleships hit ship after ship. Fortunately (!) for the Americans, the Japanese were firing armor-piercing rounds that more often than not passed completely through the Jeep carriers without exploding. However the Gambier Bay succumbed to the avalanche of steel and the St. Lo went down a bit later, victim of one of the first kamikaze strikes of the war.

Sprague later described the impact of those massive shells as, “Like a puppy being smacked by a truck.”

Sprague, for his part, did everything right. He ordered Taffy Three to turn away and run the other way, although at 20 knots or so versus the 30 knots of the oncoming Japanese that was more for show that anything else. He ordered his escorts to attack the Japanese with torpedoes and guns, charging the oncoming behemoths and sacrificing themselves to cover the getaway. He launched every plane he could get into the air armed with anything that would explode to also hit the Japanese. He raised the commanders of the other two Taffys who immediately began launching their own strikes in support.

His situation, though, was still dire. He sent a radio message in the open to Admiral Kinkaid, CO of the 7th Fleet, that was picked up as far away as Pearl Harbor. “Where is Lee?” he pleaded, “Send Lee!”

Charging up the coast of Luzon, Halsey was aware of the action off Samar and was starting to turn some of his fleet around but not fast enough. Finally, his exasperated superiors at Pacific Fleet headquarters sent an urgent message in code to his flagship, the battleship New Jersey. The message was accompanied by “padding” or nonsense phrases to throw off any enemy code-breaking attempt. In this case the message with padding read “Turkey trots to water bb Where is RPT (repeat) where is Task Force 34? rr The world wonders.” The code officer took off the first padding but not the second. “The world wonders” struck Halsey as a public rebuke and caused a whole mess of ill-feelings and recriminations that lasted long after the war.

Sprague though, was dumbfounded as, about three hours after the Japanese opened fire, they suddenly ceased firing and began to turn away. Kurita was compounding his initial mistake by taking counsel of his fears and running from what he now believed were the Fast Carriers themselves.

One of Sprague's lookouts suddenly proclaimed, “Go****mmit! Sir! They're gettin' away!”

Unable to believe his good fortune, Sprague later recalled, “At best I expected to be swimming by this time.”

It ain't over 'til its over.

* * * * * * *

So how did the team do compared to the Maxims?

1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.

Tennessee's major mistake seemed to be a lack of planning for, and the discipline on defense needed, to cope with the “Wing-T” offense used by Tech. My alma mater
, Knoxville Catholic, parleyed the Wing T into a State Championship in 2008, driving nearly every team they played to distraction. That, and they had one helluva defense of their own that year. Tech needed to give their place-kicker some meaningful experience last year.

2. Play for and make the breaks. When one comes your way … SCORE!

The Vols did precisely this and it is the reason they were in a position to win in overtime.

3. If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don’t let up … PUT ON MORE STEAM!

This is another of those keys to the game. Our beloved Vols never quit or gave up. They kept fighting and clawing right up to the end, and guess what? Like Clifton Sprague's boys off Samar they came away battered and bruised, but with a massive infusion of plain luck and mistakes by Tech, they emerged victorious.

4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead and our ballgame.

Dormady was well-protected for most of the game and only endured a few hurries and knock-downs. Well done, O-line. Well done. The fact that he had a bad case of the "yips" early on does not mitigate that.

5. Ball! Oskie! Cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle … THIS IS THE WINNING EDGE.

PURSUE AND GANG-TACKLE!!! Not ONCE during the entire broadcast of Saturday's game did I hear the phrase, “and a host of Volunteers!” I DID hear Tim Priest complaining that the defense looked tired and that the offense needed to get its act together and get them off the field for a while. The Wing T does this to teams.

6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made

In the end, it was special teams play that kept Tennessee in the game and sent the match into overtime. Whatever Butch is paying his ST coach is not enough.

7. Carry the fight to Georgia Techand keep it there for sixty minutes.


It took a bit over two quarters for Tennessee to understand that this was an actual game and that they needed to step up or lose and lose badly. They answered the bell but if the run defense does not dramatically improve this could be a looonnnggg season.

Like Kurita's fleet off Samar, the SEC behemoths of Florida, Alabama, and LSU are on the horizon. We need to be the Fast Carriers against them and not have to depend on desperate measures and outright good luck to prevail.

So, now the 2017 season is officially underway. Saturday's victory over the Yellow Jackets was certainly no thing of beauty, but a win is a win and it damned sure is better than an “L!”

Brick by Brick, Baby!

MAXOMG

Suggested Reading:

Samuel Eliot Morrison, Leyte: Vol. XII, US Naval Operations In World War II

Evan Thomas, Sea of Thunder

H.P. Willmott, The Battle of Leyte Gulf

Also, for the story of that magnificent and tragic charge of the destroyers:

James D. Hornfischer, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

© 2017 Keeping Your Stories Alive

The USS Gambier Bay under fire from the Japanese battleship Yamato. US Navy photo


 
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#6

Vol_in_Japan

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#6
An excellent way to relive the excitement of a game and look at a historic parallel, always love your write-ups.

Being in Japan makes the WWII comparisons all the more interesting, too :D
 
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#9

The Dog

Because I Can
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#9
I saw a few people asking where's OMG with his Maxims post. I have never noticed it before, but now I will never forget it or miss it. Good stuff, thanks.
 
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#14

AllVolinGA

VOL by birth
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#14
Been waiting on this since the last play in overtime Monday night and as usual, you did not disappoint. Great job. Thanks for taking the time to help us learn a little.
 
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#22

jes

'98 alumni
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#22
I love these stories. Thank you.
I always end up a with "dust in my eye" and ready to find an enemy to smash.
Butch should read this to our team.
 
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