Monday, July 21, 2008

Big Orange Roundtable - Week 3

The Roundtable rolls into Week 3, where good ol' Rocky Top Talk hosts the questions this week. You can check their responses at the link above, and find the answers from the other members of the Roundtable at the bottom of this post throughout the day/week (and check out their blogs anytime in the links to the right). And now, on with the questions...

1. For some inexplicable reason, Phillip Fulmer invites Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Tommy Tuberville over to his palatial estate for a dinner party. At 2:00 a.m. the next morning, The Papa discovers that Smokey IX has been murdered. Who did it, with what, and where? Think Clue. You know, Mr. Mustard in the parlor with the candlestick?

Mark Richt in the backyard with his newer, younger, slimmed down Uga VII. You know, since Smokey IX is 3-1 against Georgia.

As for further motive, it stems from Georgia's continual assertion that they and their head coach belong at such a dinner party, if you will, where every other guest at the table has what Mark Richt does not: a National Championship or an undefeated season. Jealousy continues to swell when the other coaches turn their heads and laugh at any assertion that Georgia deserved to play for the National Championship in 2007, even though they couldn't even win the SEC East. It's all too much for Saint Richt, and there's none better to take out one's frustrations on than a team that's ruined your season three of the last four years and done it in style the last two.

2. Who between Eric Berry for the defense and Gerald Jones for the Clawfense will have the biggest impact for the Vols in 2008?

I'll invoke the single phrase I used the most during the 2007 season: "Eric Berry, son!"

Not that Jones doesn't have sizzle - and to his credit, the G-Gun package succeeded in clutch situations where other Vols with pseudo-sizzle ran into brick walls; we've been trying to run that package every year this decade, all the way back to Eric Locke and running through James Banks and even Lucas Taylor, but Jones made it work.

However...Eric Berry, son.

For this kid to do what he did as a true freshman on a defense that needed him to make every single one of those plays...he screams Dale Carter, he even runs like him off interceptions. Jones had some big play moments, but Eric Berry did this:

- Started every game as a true freshman
- Finished second all-time in SEC history for INT return yardage in a season
- INT return 96 yards for a TD at Florida
- 12 tackles, fumble recovery and an INT vs South Carolina
- 2 INTs returned a combined 98 yards vs Arkansas
- 14 tackles at Kentucky
- Fumble recovery that set up a go-ahead TD vs LSU...
- ...followed by an INT on the very next possession
- Forced fumble on the opening drive against Wisconsin
- Attempted murder on Tyler Donovan

Our good friends at Rocky Top Talk have even gone so far as to document Berry's 07 glory in video form:

Despite his talent, I don't think Jones will separate himself enough from all the other talent around him on offense to even begin to approach the impact that Berry creates from day one on defense. Jones is still lots of sizzle with a little steak. Eric Berry is filet mignon. Son.

3. You devise a way to harness the Lost island's temporal displacement properties. The island will allow you to change one thing, but one thing only, in the history of the Tennessee Volunteer football program. What do you change? By the way, Ben warns that if you try to say "2005" or any other entire season, the mysterious clicking black smoke will sound its wailing siren, shoot from the earth, grab you by the ankles, and pound you to a pulp against a palm tree. So change only one thing. Unless, of course, you like that sort of thing.

After you get back from The Dark Knight, go out and buy the DVDs of Seasons 1-4 of Lost. I'll still wait.

RTT's answer of The Hobnailed Boot is a good one, if for no other reason than it robbed Travis Stephens of one of the greatest plays in Tennessee history. But once the Vols took care of business in The Swamp that December, we were in the interesting place of having lost a game, but it no longer hurt us.

So the only thing more painful, to me, in the history of Tennessee Football, was getting hurt all over again in Atlanta the following week.

If I could change one thing, one play, I'd go back to the 4th quarter of that game, and tell Donte' Stallworth to put both hands on the football and watch for the strip.

There were other mistakes in that game, no doubt: Travis Stephens fumbling in the 3rd quarter with the Vols up 17-16, which LSU would recover and then score the go-ahead touchdown. Tennessee having 1st and goal at the 4 and coming away with a field goal instead of a tying touchdown with only ten minutes left in the game.

But after that field goal, the Vol D stiffened behind a desperate crowd, 80% of us in orange and who were talking about how much fun it would be to take an RV cross-country to the Rose Bowl at halftime. When the defense made that stop and the Vols got the ball back, sitting there in the Dome, I knew we would win. I just knew it.

And when Donte' Stallworth caught a pass at the LSU 35 yard line and looked upfield, we were just moments away from taking the lead.

And then you see that ball hit the turf. And our hearts fell with it.

And that's as close as Tennessee has been to a National Championship since.

I believe 01 Miami was the best team of this decade, better than anything USC had and better than Vince Young's 05 Texas. And maybe the Vols go out to Pasadena to play for it all and lose (though I'd put the 01 Vols up against any other Tennessee team, ever, at even money). But at least we'd have out shot, and at least we'd have another SEC Championship in hand. Instead, Stallworth fumbled and we lost our last, best chance. It still hurts today.

4. What about the future? What is your worst fear for this upcoming season, the turn of events that would send you into a blind rage?

I read an article the other day that was trying to envision the worst-case scenario in 2008 for each of the SEC schools. And for Georgia, they'd listed 10-2 as the worst that could possibly happen. And my point is this: in the SEC, if anybody thinks the worst that could possibly happen is only losing twice, you're out of your mind.

There are six teams in the SEC every year whose fanbases are thinking about championships in July. And the cold reality is, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee can't all win. Somebody has to go down and take 7-5 or 8-4. At least one somebody. Or we can have more insanity like last year, and we all take our turn.

So while any of us should be open to the possibility of 5-7 in the darkest corners of our minds, my most realistic worst fear is that the Vols lose back-to-back against Florida and Auburn.

Winning one of those two will at least give some hope. If the Vols lose twice in two weeks, however - and if they don't look particularly good, especially on offense, in doing so - the demand will be for heads to roll.

You saw it last season. But even going back to 2003, when the Vols won at Florida, but followed it up with consecutive losses at Auburn and then home to Georgia, and then the longest off week in recorded history...we don't deal well with consecutive losses. And that back-to-back task of facing the Gators and then going to Jordan-Hare may prove too much for our young football team to handle. If it does, fan uproar will return to an all-time high, and Dave Clawson will never get a fair shake. He doesn't deserve this early schedule in his first year. But you play the hand you're dealt.

Check back here throughout the week for the other Roundtable responses, posted as we get them:

- Rocky Top Talk (host blog this week)
- Third Saturday
- Moondog
- Fulmer's Belly
- The Power T
- Gate 21

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