Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee fans who made an early departure from Neyland Stadium on Saturday night probably didn't believe what they heard on their car radios. Midway through the fourth quarter, UT actually scored a touchdown on second-ranked Alabama.
The touchdown was witnessed by a decidedly pro-Alabama crowd and two UT fans who were pictured on television wearing paper bags over their heads.
Relevant question: Who were the bag-heads?
Possible answers: Influential boosters who have seen enough of the Phillip Fulmer Era at UT; members of the UT defense who had seen enough of the UT offense; or a couple of guys who couldn't wait for Halloween.
You couldn't blame UT fans for going incognito. Alabama's 29-9 victory marked its second consecutive convincing victory over its longtime rival. And in UT's 3-5 season, the one-sided defeat was hardly an aberration.
UT just went 0-3 against its three biggest rivals - Florida, Georgia and Alabama - by an 85-29 count. In the last two years, the Vols are 1-5 against those teams; the average margin of defeat has been 23.8 points.
How much more evidence do athletic director Mike Hamilton and the UT power brokers need to make a coaching change?
It's not just UT's loss to Alabama, the 3-5 record overall or the failure against its rivals this season. Look to the future. Is there any reason to believe UT will gain ground on Florida, Georgia or Alabama - all of whom are blessed with more young talent - next season?
The Vols might be "working like heck" but their rivals are building better programs. What coach Nick Saban has done in two seasons at Alabama must be as alarming to UT fans as what Urban Meyer has done at Florida.
On the same night that UT honored its 1998 national championship team, Alabama improved its record to 8-0 and stayed in the running for a national title of its own. And that's after only two years under Saban, one of the best recruiters in college football.
Saban already has enough talent to post 20-point victories over UT in methodical, workman-like fashion. Never mind that the Tide was neither as dominant nor as dazzling as it was in the first halves of several previous victories. Even when UT was holding its own against Alabama for a quarter and a half, did you ever get a whiff of an upset?
At its best, UT's offense is mediocre. At its worse - as it has been for much of the games against Florida, Georgia and Alabama - it has been worthy of a paper bag without the eye holes.
UT managed 36 yards rushing against the Tide. That's 35 more yards than it got against Georgia and 60 fewer than it produced against Florida. The three-game average is a stunning 44.3 yards.
Peyton Manning couldn't have overcome that. So what was first-year starter Nick Stephens supposed to do? Throw and hope?
It could have been worse. At least UT's fragile offense didn't have to deal with Alabama's 365-pound nose guard Terrence Cody, who sat out the game with a knee injury.
"Mt. Cody" wasn't missed against the Vols. Against them, everybody is a run stopper.
That's merely the most glaring of UT's shortcomings. The Vols just aren't competitive against the best teams in the SEC.
And there's nothing they can do in the last four games to change that.
Maybe they can beat South Carolina, Wyoming, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and have a winning season. Maybe a bowl - in Shreveport or Tennessee - might even extend them an invitation.
But you can bet your paper bag, it will take more than that to convince UT fans their program is headed in the right direction.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.