September 22, 2012
With enough zip, Vols prepare to march on
When Akron won the pre-game coin toss Saturday night and promptly kicked the ball out of bounds, it wasn't a stretch to think Tennessee would get that "recovery" game that several Vols had so openly discussed.
It was a reasonable assumption, really. Like expecting the latest, greatest iPhone operating system to make the phone operate more smoothly. Like figuring Akron's mascot, a female kangaroo, might be neither a kangaroo nor a female for the Ohio-based school.
Never happened, though, for the Vols. I'll get back to you on the Apple upgrade. While Georgia further exposed the Vanderbilt fraud Saturday night between the hedges, Tennessee was on multiple instances booed lustily by a Neyland Stadium crowd announced north of 81,000, an undisclosed number of attendees perhaps counted twice, before it pulled away for the 47-26 win against an Akron squad that had not won a road game since 2008.
The game was tied at 23-all at the break, and a scant four points separated the Vols from the 'Roos in the early moments of the fourth quarter. There was never a sense that Tennessee might actually lose this game, but it similarly never appeared the Vols might stretch out to a three-touchdown, 633-yard win.
"The first half, no," quarterback Tyler Bray flatly stated when asked if the Vols moved past Florida and into a grueling SEC stretch effectively enough. "But we finished the game, which we didn't do last week. So that was good. "
The fact is, good and bad, much is now known one-third of the season about this Tennessee team. If it perpetuates the good --- Eric Gordon just makes plays; Byron Moore is coming into his own; when attuned and tuned up, Bray can sling it; the Vols are relatively healthy; there are flashes of encouragement in the running game; --- and continues to disassemble the bad --- the Vols' own running game still can be bewildering; Akron had a player outrun the entire Vols' defense 70 yards?!; too much can be found in the middle of the Vols' defense on passing plays, like a double-stuffed Oreo --- then Tennessee still can accomplish much this season.
"I hope we learned. We're going to be in there again and we'll see how we handle it," Dooley said. "We play a heck of a team next week. This team and a couple others are going to be contending for it all. They have the ability to. I hope we learned and grew, but we won't really know until we get back in there in our league."
Taking any step forward, nonetheless, had to happen first. As Dooley noted, the Vols face top-five Georgia next week on the road and then follow up in October with road trips to Mississippi State and top-10 South Carolina sandwiched around defending national champion Alabama.
"Dooley did a great job of communicating with us, keeping us up always and giving us words of encouragement," tailback Rajion Neal, who had a career-best 151 rushing yards and a caught a touchdown pass, said. "And this is something that we needed. We needed to come off a good win and go into a week of practice with a little I guess you could say bounce or pep in our step from the win.
"We're going to enjoy it and get back to work."
That work must remain intensive on defense; the 344 yards Sal Sunseri's unit permitted Akron marked the Vols' season-low against a Football Bowls Subdivision foe. Nonetheless, the Zips possessed the ball nearly 29 minutes, exposed more bad "fits" with Quentin Hines' 70-yard scoring run and saw quarterback Dalton Williams sacked just once on nearly 50 pass attempts.
"What I'm proud of is how we had so many things go wrong in the game and we came out and dominated in the second half," said Dooley, noting his team's 24-3 edge in the final two quarters. "Everybody has been beating this team up for the second half (against Florida last week). So far, we've played four games and we've had three outstanding second halves and one outstanding third quarter. We just had a really bad stretch.
"I keep telling the team 'It's not who you are, it's what you did.' We screwed it up but that doesn't mean it's who you are."
Who are the Vols? Right now, we simply don't know. But they'll have plenty of opportunities the next five weeks to prove they've moved beyond screwing up last week's opportunity against Florida.
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