After stomaching some Gatorade with the help of three cupcakes, it’s time for Tennessee to swallow the hard stuff.
With LSU (2-0, 5-0) and Alabama (2-0, 5-0) holding the top two spots, respectively, in the Top 25, Tennessee’s Oktoberfest will feature some stout one-two punch.
Although Georgia (2-1, 3-2) and South Carolina (2-1, 4-1) have revealed weaknesses that weren’t so apparent in August, Tennessee’s upcoming four-game stretch will require an upset for the Volunteers to win. But things are set up for a potential October surprise.
It’s almost impossible to foresee the Tennessee making things remotely interesting in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 22, especially after watching the Trent Richardson-fueled machine grind up Florida in Gainesville on Saturday.
And LSU has looked even more dynamic thanks to John Chavis’ fast, physical defense. You get the feeling gifted defensive backs such as Eric Berry, Patrick Peterson and perhaps even Ed Reed smile while watching LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu perform.
But Tennessee (0-1, 3-1) gets LSU, Georgia and South Carolina at favorable times on the opponents’ schedules. The Vols host LSU in between the Tigers’ dates with Florida and Auburn. It’s a good time to catch the Bayou Bengals napping.
Yes, it’s a mismatch on paper, but so was last year’s game when Matt Simms quarterbacked what many would say was a Vols’ victory in Baton Rouge.
South Carolina, which fell from 10th to No. 17 on Sunday after losing at home to Auburn, will visit Knoxville the week before playing Florida. And Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia seems to make most any matchup dicey for Steve Spurrier these days.
In fact, you wouldn’t have to look far to find someone who’d say Tennessee has the best quarterback when compared to those at USC, Alabama and LSU. UT sophomore Tyler Bray leads the SEC and is fifth nationally in touchdown passes (15), and he’s first in the league and seventh in the country in passing yards per game (332.0).
Yes, Bray has basically been hunting at the zoo while taking aim at Bulls and Grizzlies and Bearcats, but he looks like he belongs even when playing quality competition alongside his similarly inexperienced teammates.
Bray throws so many passes to receivers in stride – be it an out pattern, swing pass into the flat or a throw across his body while rolling out. He has an exceptional release, which is complemented by an effective internal clock in the pocket. And being 6-foot-6 creates passing lanes.
Bray will likely have to outplay Georgia’s talented Aaron Murray if the Vols are to beat the Bulldogs in Knoxville on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
It could also be an ideal time to play Georgia. Just when it looks like his Bulldogs are about to turn the corner – they beat Missississippi State 24-10 for their third straight win on Saturday – embattled coach Mark Richt encounters more controversy.
The latest crisis involves starting linebacker Cornelius Washington, who was reportedly arrested for DUI early Sunday morning after making two sacks against Mississippi State. Washington was driving 92 mph in a 55-mph zone, and since he doesn’t have the clout of, say, a former district attorney general, he might not be able to buy enough time to avoid suspension on Saturday.
While Georgia will be dealing with distractions this week, second-year coach Derek Dooley should have his Vols focused for the Bulldogs. Dooley’s father Vince coached Herschel Walker and Georgia to a national championship during a Hall of Fame career. Last year, Vince preferred to watch from his home in Athens rather than go and see Tennessee get whipped 41-14 between Sanford Stadium’s hedges.
The lopsided loss should be good motivation for UT. Then again, there are so many new faces contributing this year that it might not even be a focal point. Even Bray didn’t start last year against Georgia, although he made several impressive throws to turn many heads for the first time while mopping up.
Dooley is too concerned with mental errors and iffy tackling on defense, and a suspect running game to try and size up the Vols’ four-game forecast.
“I still don’t know what we are,” Dooley said. “Here’s what I do know: We’ve had three teams come in here and we played pretty good and took care of them the way we need to. And we went down to the Swamp and, you know, we gutted it out for four quarters, but didn’t play our best. So we’ll see how well we do this week.
“We’ve got so many young guys; it’s so hard to make judgments. … I’ve got to watch them every week because, they look different every week.”
Remaining games at home against Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt and a regular season finale at lowly Kentucky give UT an excellent opportunity for a bowl berth, though the Commodores might be good enough to make things interesting if the Vols experience an October demise.