>UT 13, Northern Illinois 9

>I went to the UT vs Northern Illinois game this past weekend, not quite sure what to expect. Not just from the team on the field, but also from the fans. Seems there were rumblings all last week of fans who are so upset over the current state of the program that to show their unrest, they weren’t going to attend. All week, I kept hearing dire predictions of tumbleweeds blowing through Neyland Stadium. And while there were empty seats, I don’t think it’s as drastic or dire as some were hoping it would be.

I will fully support your right to say there need to be changes in the program. But here’s my thing–tickets cost a good bit of cash to get, especially season tickets. And to have seats go empty just seems absurd to me. For one thing, as a friend pointed out, there are lots of young kids in East Tennessee and across the state who would LOVE a chance to go to a game. They aren’t at concerned that the Vols were 1-3 going into the game…they just love the Vols and want to see the team play. But maybe they can’t afford tickets or can’t get them. Here you have a prime chance to give your tickets to the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, donate them as a prize at a Fall Festival, give them to kids at church, etc. and allow these kids who would love to go a chance to go, experience the game and enjoy themselves. You win a new generation of fans. I mean, Vandy has stunk for years and yet there are young Vandy fans born all the time. Possibly because someone shared the love of the program with them. And it’s teaching these kids that when you’re a fan, you’re a fan for good and bad times. Otherwise you’re just a bandwagon jumper and while you may feel good every year because your team wins, I have to wonder how satisfying it is. How can you savor the good times if you don’t have to sometimes go through a rough spot or two?

As for the game itself, I have to admit that driving onto campus, turning onto Kingston Pike where I usually do and not encountering a back-up with only two hours to kick-off was a bit surreal. Kind of like I Am Legend meets a football game. Then, it was kind of telling that the three most exciting moments in the course of the game were: 1. Running through the T 2. The long bomb for a touchdown and 3. Bruce Pearl on the jumbo-tron in an ad for basketball season. The rest of the time, it felt like everyone was too nervous to enjoy the game and with good reason. This is one of those games you schedule to have someone to play well, get up a good lead by halftime and get your back-ups some playing time. Instead, the offense couldn’t find a rhythm and the defense was constantly put in a series of bad-case scenarios. Thankfully, the defense came to play and kept rising to the occasion, though it’s easy to see how they could get tired after a time.

A couple of thoughts struck me during and after the game.

I’m not sure where the lack of consistency on offense is coming from–the fact that we have a new coordinator and a new system, new quarterbacks or an offensive line that just isn’t getting the holes open they should. Add to it that we’ve got a running back in Adrian Foster who just seems a step behind a lot of the time, isn’t hitting the holes with authority and isn’t strong enough running between the tackles. And yet we’ve got two other guys behind him who have shown signs of doing that and yet…they don’t play. I am wondering with Foster so close to breaking records set by Travis Henry, if somehow we’re not more concerned with that and distancing UT for Henry than what’s best for the team. For those of you who don’t know, Henry hasn’t been a model citizen since leaving school and is a prime example of one of those guys who makes you weep because he has all the talent in the world and not one lick of sense.

Another issue is going to rear its head this week. We’re going to have a controversy at a key position. No, not quarterback. I’m talking our punting duties. Were this before halftime in the Auburn game, I’d say no question, bring back Colquitt. But now you’ve got Cunningham confident, kicking well and being the best weapon we’ve got besides Eric Berry. So, do you mess with that by having Colquitt come back? I’m not so sure that’s the best idea in the universe. But then again, no one at UT ever calls me for what I think.

And I still think our team lacks leadership. There are a lot of players on this team, but I don’t sense they’ve gelled as a team.

Yes, we won. And it’s good to win. But coming away, it’s hard to find a lot to feel good about besides the simple fact that we scored more points than they did. Except those two long throws in the third quarter. Those were spectacular…


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