Archive for the 'Conference USA' Category

Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 10, the Memphis Tigers

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Pre-game

By the time the Memphis game rolled around, the 2005 Volunteer football team, which had just lost four games in a row, was drawing comparisons to the 1988 team that started the season 0-6. Even the Tigers from the other end of the state, who hated the Volunteers with a passion normally reserved for rival Ole Miss, were smelling blood.

Fortunately for the Vols, history was dressed in orange, even under these circumstances:

”As we approached the game site, fans of the Memphis State Tigers lined the street and chanted “Oh-and-six! Oh-and-six! Oh-and-six!” The Vols limped into that ’88 game with an 0-6 record, so MSU’s players and fans were drooling at the prospect of posting their first win in series history. UT had won the previous 11 meetings but this Tennessee team appeared terribly vulnerable. The defense was so bad that coordinator Ken Donahue had resigned one game earlier.”

Vol fans chanted “Oh-and-twelve!” after beating the Tigers 38-25.

Surely even the reeling Vols could beat a three touchdown underdog starting a 4th string quarterback and playing without their Heisman-contending running back in Neyland Stadium.

Couldn’t they?

The game

They almost couldn’t. Erik Ainge got the start and played his worst game since LSU. His first pass was almost intercepted. His third pass was intercepted and returned 37 yards to the UT 25. His fourth pass was intercepted but was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty against Memphis. Barely into the second quarter, Memphis was ahead 13-0.

In came Rick Clausen, who once again ralled the team. On Clausen’s second series, actually connected with wide receiver Josh Briscoe for a 39-yard touchdown pass. On his next series, he led the team on a ten-play, 94-yard drive and capped it off with another touchdown pass, this one to C.J. Fayton.

Clausen guided the team to victory, going 14 of 24 for 209 yards.

Even the special teams got into the action, contributing a 36-yard punt return by Jonathan Hefney.

Post-game

So the special teams and wide receivers had improved, and the four-game, six-week losing streak had ended, but the quarterback controversy had reared its ugly head again.

John Pennington on Tennessee Volunteer Quarterback Erik Ainge:

I have said for a couple of weeks that UT should turn the season over to Erik Ainge. “Ainge has more upside.” “Ainge will be back next year.” “If UT doesn’t want another QB controversy next year, they’d better see as much of Ainge as they can between now and the end of the season.”

Well, as Gilda Radner used to say, “Nevermind.”

All of the reasons for playing Ainge still hold true. Except for the last one. The coaches, after just 4 passes vs Memphis (and an almost carbon copy of his LSU start) should have already seen enough of Ainge to know what they’re dealing with:

A very fundamentally-flawed headcase.

Poor decisions come with 19-year-old QBs who’ve only started and completed 2 games. That’s part of growing up. Not every Vol QB is going to have Peyton Manning’s learning curve.

But terrible fundamentals on top of the mental errors can’t be accepted. A dumb pass might just be a dumb pass if it’s thrown well. A dumb pass thrown by someone who no longer even tries to set his feet… well, that’s death.

Of Ainge’s 4 passes vs Memphis, three times he failed to set his feet before throwing the ball (this includes the non-interception that was brought back due to a questionable “roughing the passer” call). On the other pass, the long, floating duck-like INT, Ainge had someone laying at his feet. So he couldn’t step into the pass. Rather than realizing this, he relied on that big arm of his and shotput a ball 25 yards down field.

Jimmy Hyams says UT must play Rick Clausen, not only in order to win, but to help Ainge recover:

So now what do you do if you’re Fulmer?

You hand the keys to Clausen. He has proven he can beat mediocre teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He did it last year. He did it against Memphis.
You shut down Ainge. If you’ve got the shanks, stay away from the golf course for a few weeks or a few months. Don’t destroy Ainge’s confidence any longer.

Let your new offensive coordinator try to dig Ainge out of his dilemma.

But don’t let Ainge continue to bury himself, his confidence and his team.

But Pennington believes that Clausen won’t be able to beat Vanderbilt or Kentucky unless they’re dumb enough to blitz him.

Indeed, what do you do if you’re Fulmer?

Prepare for Vandy.

Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 2, Alabama-Birmingham

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

The game

It was a beautiful day and an excellent way to begin a figurative cross-country drive to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. Sophomore Erik Ainge got the start over team captain Rick Clausen, who motioned in signals from the sideline. (Note: Beware of Sideline Captains.) Gerald Riggs seemed to be running well, and the team scored a field goal, forced a fumble, and scored a touchdown in the first three series of the game:

Take a quick look at the first half drive chart before we go any further:

For a bigger version, go to the Animated Drive Chart page.

Ainge was responsible for that first drive, and only a receiver’s dropped pass on third down stalled the drive and forced a field goal attempt. The defense roared out of the gate, forcing a fumble on UAB’s first offensive play, giving the ball back to Ainge on the UAB 33-yard line. A beautiful deep fade to Chris Hannon in the end zone resulted in a score of 10-0 with 9:00 minutes left in the first quarter. The rout was on.

Or not.

On UT’s next offensive series, the coaches pulled the QB who had just scored 10 points and sent in Rick Clausen. Why? Because that was The Plan. (NOTE: Beware of Rotation Schemes.)

Okay, no problem, because Clausen and that third offensive drive looked pretty good, too. The team moved downfield 50 yards before attempting a field goal, which was . . . missed. Okay. No problem.

The defense was still tearing it up. Jason Allen gave the videotape editors a break and made his own highlight reel on three consecutive plays: tight coverage almost resulting in an interception on first down followed immediately by an excellent shoestring tackle on an escaping tailback on second down followed immediately by a first-down-denying tackle of a hard-to-bring-down scrambling quarterback.

Apparently, the botched field goal was Clausen’s fault because Ainge returned on the next series after the team was backed up on its own nine-yard line by a good UAB punt. A handful of plays later, Ainge rolled out and really overthrew a wide open receiver for an interception. UAB capitalized with a field goal.

Ainge re-took the field but was now really out of sync. He would admit after the game that he was pressing, trying to make bigger plays so that he could stay in the game. But when he was not overthrowing receivers, the receivers were dropping catchable passes. The entire offense now looked sluggish.

With clock winding down before the half, Clausen came back in to run the two-minute offense. The receivers continued to drop balls, but Clausen drove the team 80 yards for a TD, and the embers of a QB controversy that had been smoking and glowing for nine months caught flame.

Clausen started the second half and led the team down the field only to give the ball over on downs at the 31. UAB then drove down to UT’s three yard line and would have scored if it weren’t for an interception by Justin Harrell.

On the next offensive series, Clausen again led the team down the field. The Sideline Captain exhibited some serious spunk in the process, mixing it up with the UAB defender who dared tackle him as he scrambled for a first down and later getting tangled up underneath the UAB bench after getting pushed out of bounds by an aggressive defender. The impressive drive continued to the nine yard line until Clausen threw a catchable pass to Cory Anderson, who batted it once, batted it twice, and successfully kept it in the air until a defender could get there and pick it off.

UAB summarily drove 86 yards for a touchdown, bringing the 24-point underdogs to within seven points of a tie.

Well, Anderson’s juggling act must have somehow been Clausen’s fault because Ainge got the next series. He promptly responded by barely throwing the ball away while in the hands of a defender on the first play, throwing the ball so high over a receiver’s head that the receiver didn’t even attempt to catch it on the second play, and telegraphing a deep pass on the third play, allowing the safety to intercept the ball.

Score 17-10, with the Blazers driving in Tennessee territory. Despite Jessee Mahelona beginning the drive by sacking the QB, UAB drove down to the 11 yard line. Down by seven, with 3:41 to go, UAB elected to go for it on fourth down, and a pass to receiver in the end zone almost hit its mark. It was unclear whether the pass was incomplete because the receiver simply couldn’t handle the velocity of the pass or because UT safety Demetrice Morley defelcted it. Either way, the defense again came through in the clutch.

Insert Clausen with the team at its own 11 yard line. Clausen’s drive, which included a 53-yard pass to C.J. Fayton on third down and six, delivered the team to the 22 yard line before time expired.

The Vols escaped with a 17-10 victory thanks to Rick Clausen and two key defensive stops.

Looking back at the UAB game

It wasn’t exactly the start Volunteer fans were expecting. GoVolsXtra’s John Adams observed after the game that in three short hours, the Vols went from trying to be best-in-the-nation to trying to beat the third best in Conference USA. Mike Griffith gave the entire team a grade of C- and noted that the running game, which coach Fulmer said “looked like a bunch of mush at times,” did not live up to expectations.

Still, no one was panicking. Blogger Haiku of the Id chalked the mediocre performance up to typical first-game-of-the-season goofs, and John Pennington ripped the team but concluded that Vol fans shouldn’t make too much of the game because in college football, one week often doesn’t have much to do with the next. I said that the “ugly win [was] the best medicine for an over-confident team heading into hostile territory.”

Impact on Polls

The game had only a minimal impact on the expectations for the Vols nationally. College Football News dropped them to No. 5, and they fell to No. 4 in the Coaches’ poll. More disconcerting was the fact that future opponents Florida and Georgia had both answered their Big Questions – Will new head coach Urban Meyer’s spread option offense work at Florida? Is new starting QB D.J. Shockley up to the task of replacing David Greene? – with a resounding “yes!” The Gators and Bulldogs crept into the top 10 at Nos. 10 and 9 respectively. And Notre Dame, under new head coach Charlie Weis, had clobbered Pittsburgh 42-21.

The Vols would find out soon enough if the UAB game was a fluke. The Gators were up next.


Read Part 3 of the series: Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 3, Florida Gators.

Tennessee Volunteer football team No. 9 in CFN’s pre-preseason poll

Friday, January 27th, 2006

College Football News has the Tennessee Volunteers ranked No. 9 in its Pre-preseason poll. Here’s how the Vols’ 2006 opponents stack up in the same poll:

  • California — No. 12
  • Air Force — No. 89
  • Florida — No. 2
  • Marshall — No. 88
  • Memphis — No. 73
  • Georgia — No. 21
  • Alabama — No. 20
  • South Carolina — No. 35
  • LSU — No. 4
  • Arkansas — No. 34
  • Vanderbilt — No. 72
  • Kentucky — No. 78

Tough Tennessee Volunteer basketball team makes Memphis earn its 88-79 victory

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

The Tennessee Volunteer basketball team, led by Memphis native Dane Bradshaw, gave the Memphis Tigers all they could handle but couldn’t quite escape with a win. Bradshaw led the uprising:

[He] was the catalyst, scoring a career-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting while pulling down a team-high 10 rebounds. He also had a team-high four assists and a game-high five steals.

“To have a double-double and fill up the stat sheet,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “What more can you say about Dane?”

Memphis fans chanted “Mem-phis Re-ject” at Bradshaw during the warm-ups. But the undersized junior forward quickly proved he was anything but that.

Bradshaw, a Memphis White Station high school star, scored six points and had five rebounds in the first 6A 1/2 minutes.

“I got comfortable early and realized where I could break the defense down,” said the 6-foot-4 Bradshaw, who scored most of his points in the lane. “I was hoping more than ever to play well in this type of game.”

If you didn’t see the game, you missed a tough, scrappy performance by Bradshaw, who at one point took a vicious elbow to the eye courtesy of one of the larger Tiger players.

Bradshaw staggered, but remained on his feet and celebrated the foul.

Come to think of it, the entire team took the Tigers’ best shot, remained on its feet, and served notice that the next 9 years of this heated rivalry is only beginning.

Tennessee Volunteers’ Fosters Named to All-SEC Freshman Team

Saturday, December 10th, 2005

Tennessee Volunteer running back Arian Foster and offensive lineman Ramon Foster have been selected by SEC coaches for the all-freshman team.

Arian got his first start on October 29, 2005 after Gerald Riggs’ injury and gained 879 yards over the Vols’ final five games. Despite not getting much playing time until then, he finished the season with the fifth-best total in Tennessee freshman history, averaging 148 yards per game.

Ramon Foster won Tennessee’s Harvey Robinson Award for most-improved offensive performer during spring drills. As a freshman, Ramon played in seven games, starting at left guard against UAB and starting at right tackle at Kentucky.

Jeffrey Stewart on the Volunteers’ Play-of-the-Game Against the Memphis Tigers

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005

Scout.com’s Jeffrey Stewart on the Clausen-to-Briscoe Play-of-the-Game against the Memphis Tigers:

A 39-yard pass completion, in and of itself, hardly seems an unlikely event, but when it’s a team’s longest scoring play of a season that is two weeks from being complete it becomes, at the very least, unusual. Add the fact the team in question was ranked No. 3 in NCAA preseason polls, and that the players who connected on the TD toss are a fifth-year senior and a true freshman, neither of whom started the game, and this touchdown falls into the realm of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

* * * *

The against-all-odds alliance of Rick Clausen and Josh Briscoe combined for the touchdown at the 6:25 mark, as Clausen heaved the ball from near midfield and Briscoe laid out for the reception just past the goal line to cap a dynamic three-play, 56-yard drive that put the Vols back in the game.

* * * *

. . . . What made it special — in a season that has been especially bad — is that it was a pass right at the very upper range of Clausen’s arm strength, it went right over the top of the defensive back and right into the outstretched hands of a diving Briscoe.

Some might call it a sling and a pray, but it could just as easily be called synergy of spirit, as two players that weren’t regarded as five star or even four-star prospects coming out of high school, on a roster with little else, demonstrate what can be accomplished with a lot of heart and a little less talent.

More Returns on the Is There Life After Death Valley for Erik Ainge Question

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005

One more game, and the jury is still out on the Is There Life After Death Valley for Erik Ainge question:

Just last week Ainge was telling a circle of reporters how he had come to realize the importance of dumping the ball off to a running back instead of trying to force a pass downfield. Here’s the exact quote:

“Just because they call a play with three verticals (deep routes) doesn’t mean I have to throw one of the verticals. We have a lot of layoffs and stuff. That’s one thing I’ve gotten away from. I’ve been trying to make stuff happen down the field.”

That comment suggested Ainge had seen the error of his ways and would not be throwing any more ill-advised passes like the ones against LSU (Game #3) and Notre Dame (Game #8) that were intercepted and returned for touchdowns.

“That’s not what I’ve been coached to do,” he said. “If it’s not open, throw it to the running back. A lot of times watching the film I’ve seen where we had guys open short and I was trying to stick something in downfield.

“I think that’s the biggest thing (he has learned) now: I’m going to give us a chance to make the big plays but I need to put us position where we’re not relying on those alone to win the game.”

Hearing these comments, you figured Ainge would go out and make sound decisions in Game 9 against Memphis. Instead, he threw an interception on his third pass attempt and another on his fourth.

Calling David Cutcliffe.

Calling David Cutcliffe.

John Pennington: Erik Ainge a “Very Fundamentally Flawed Headcase”

Monday, November 14th, 2005

John Pennington on Tennessee Volunteer Quarterback Erik Ainge:

I have said for a couple of weeks that UT should turn the season over to Erik Ainge. “Ainge has more upside.” “Ainge will be back next year.” “If UT doesn’t want another QB controversy next year, they’d better see as much of Ainge as they can between now and the end of the season.”

Well, as Gilda Radner used to say, “Nevermind.”

All of the reasons for playing Ainge still hold true. Except for the last one. The coaches, after just 4 passes vs Memphis (and an almost carbon copy of his LSU start) should have already seen enough of Ainge to know what they’re dealing with:

A very fundamentally-flawed headcase.

Poor decisions come with 19-year-old QBs who’ve only started and completed 2 games. That’s part of growing up. Not every Vol QB is going to have Peyton Manning’s learning curve.

But terrible fundamentals on top of the mental errors can’t be accepted. A dumb pass might just be a dumb pass if it’s thrown well. A dumb pass thrown by someone who no longer even tries to set his feet… well, that’s death.

Of Ainge’s 4 passes vs Memphis, three times he failed to set his feet before throwing the ball (this includes the non-interception that was brought back due to a questionable “roughing the passer” call). On the other pass, the long, floating duck-like INT, Ainge had someone laying at his feet. So he couldn’t step into the pass. Rather than realizing this, he relied on that big arm of his and shotput a ball 25 yards down field.

The question remains: Is There Life After Death Valley for Erik Ainge?

Jimmy Hyams says UT must play Rick Clausen, not only in order to win, but to help Ainge recover:

So now what do you do if you’re Fulmer?

You hand the keys to Clausen. He has proven he can beat mediocre teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He did it last year. He did it against Memphis.

You shut down Ainge. If you’ve got the shanks, stay away from the golf course for a few weeks or a few months. Don’t destroy Ainge’s confidence any longer.

Let your new offensive coordinator try to dig Ainge out of his dilemma.

But don’t let Ainge continue to bury himself, his confidence and his team.

But Pennington believes that Clausen won’t be able to beat Vanderbilt or Kentucky unless they’re dumb enough to blitz him.

Indeed, what do you do if you’re Fulmer?

A Little Hate Speech Before the Tennessee Volunteer-Memphis Tiger Game

Friday, November 11th, 2005

Attention Volunteer fans. Memphis Tiger fans hate us.

Memphis fan Ed Smith:

I hate Tennessee. Why? I don’t know. Tennessee fans are arrogant, and they can’t accept defeat. They always blame it on someone else. They blame it on the officials, they blame it on the coaches. Sometimes you lose because you just get beat.

Kingsbury High School football coach Duron Sutton:

The guys who played with me hate Tennessee because they think they’re a superior team and that they don’t need to come onto the field to beat you.

Tiger fan Phil Owen:

I hope Tennessee never wins another game.

Former Memphis kicker Don Glosson:

We always get looked down upon by people over on the Hill. It was always a bigger game for us than it was for Tennessee. For Tennessee, it was just another win or a homecoming game.

Former Highland Hundred treasurer Michael Hawkins on why some Memphis fans may hate Tennessee only a little less than they hate Ole Miss:

We just tend to play Ole Miss more. Ole Miss doesn’t cancel contracts with us like Tennessee when they think there’s a chance we might beat them.

Harsh words.

But true?

John Pennington: Tennessee Volunteers 28, Memphis Tigers 13

Friday, November 11th, 2005

John Pennington likes the Tennessee Volunteers over the Memphis Tigers this Saturday:

This game will PROBABLY be UT’s first semi-easy win of the year. Memphis is just too banged up to even hang with a mistake-prone bunch of Vols.

I expect UT to “pound the rock” successfully, connect on at least one deep pass, shut down Memphis’ already one-dimensional offense, and have many delusional Vol fans saying, “If we’d just played like that ‘gainst Bama!”

Barring 4 turnovers… UT 28, Memphis 13.