Strange: UT 0-3 in SEC by mid-October?

LOS ANGELES - So, you are no doubt wondering, where does the Brotherhood of the Traveling Orange Pants go from here?

College football season-openers are often fraught with surprises. That's especially true when so many unknown elements are stirred into the mix, as was the case this year for Tennessee.

New quarterback. New offensive coordinator with a new offense.

An unfamiliar opponent with a new coach, new quarterback, new . . . etc.

And yet for all that newness, the Vols' 27-24 loss to UCLA up the freeway in Pasadena still qualifies as stunning.

UCLA is on the ground floor of a rebuilding project under new coach Rick Neuheisel. Tennessee was supposed to be a lot better.

Instead, the two sides were so closely matched it came down to a couple of similar field-goal attempts in overtime to separate them.

That obviously bodes poorly for a team living in the toughest division of the toughest conference in college football.

The team we saw Monday night will be 0-3 in SEC play by mid-October. If it can't beat a patchwork UCLA outfit, it can't expect to beat Florida, Georgia or Auburn.

However, there is this:

The teams we see in season-openers aren't necessarily the teams we will see in weeks to come. There will be less newness as the grind unfolds.

The interesting part will be observing how the Tennessee team we saw Monday night is going to mature - and how quickly.

UAB, the Vols' next opponent, is too awful to be a fair barometer. Florida comes to Neyland Stadium on Sept. 20. That's when Tennessee must emerge from a phone booth a changed team, ready to leap potential national champions in a single bound.

There are questions to be answered across the board. These come to mind:

Can the defense counter the adjustments an opponent makes during the game?

UT's defense dominated the first half and held its own in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, UCLA's third-string quarterback, Kevin Craft completed 12 of 14 passes in two touchdown drives.

While we're on the defense, one sack against an offensive line UCLA cobbled together with extras from the back lot at Universal Studios?

The kicking game gave up a touchdown in the form of a blocked punt. UCLA got to that one so easily I'm not sure having Britton Colquitt (who is suspended for five games) would have made any difference.

Daniel Lincoln made one clutch field goal, then missed an easier one in overtime. As a freshman in 2007 he started his career 8-for-8. He starts his sophomore year 1-for-4. Go figure.

Moving to offense, Dave Clawson's debut as offensive coordinator clearly wasn't as boffo as Norm Chow's was for UCLA.

It's folly to judge Clawson's system on one game. But being curious, we wonder if the running game should have gotten more calls, considering UT averaged a healthy 5.2 yards per rush while quarterback Jonathan Crompton was struggling.

Furthermore, in light of Arian Foster's fumbling issue resurfacing at the worst possible time, it'll be interesting to see if hard-running Montario Hardesty becomes a more trusted option.

Saving the most salient issue for last, there is Crompton. It would likewise be folly to judge the junior quarterback on one game.

If UCLA's Craft can morph from chump to champ during a mere halftime, Crompton can certainly shake off a poor opener and turn out to be a good trigger man for the Vols.

Maybe he will, maybe he won't. His erratic throwing Monday night, though, was at least a reality check for those who assumed he would be an improvement on UT's recent quarterbacking history.

In the bigger picture, Monday night was a reality check for anyone who assumed Tennessee was quietly on par with alleged superpowers Florida or Georgia.

But opening games don't always tell the whole story of a team. If you wear orange, pants or otherwise, you can only hope that's the case here.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 112

WVVOLFAN writes:

i don't think anything short of an SEC championship will satisfy the fan base. i don't see that happening this year.

WorkinLikeHeck writes:

HEY FOOLMORE!!!!!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

One sack is eye-opening. Let's all hope 0-3 SEC is not the start.

memphisvolman writes:

You have to give credit to Norm Chow by the end of the first half he had already figured out what to do next. He came back and went right at our linebackers- Short passes, inside runs. The offensive line was not the veteran line I was hoping to see and Crompton had a hard time in the blizt packages. He could never pick those up and some of his throws were so wild it was really crazy. I really thought Cutcliff was calling in the plays we looked the same for the most part. Run the ball all the way to the 45 and then start throwing. It makes no sense!

pammyvol1000 writes:

It's not the orange pants.. It's all about making adjustments when needed. I am not giving up yet.. to much invested in this orange blood
pdhuff- had to take a nap in my car at lunch time today.. :) I arrived at the glaring, snickering Bama, Dawg, LSU, Gator faces today.. It was rough!

99gator writes:

the BIG question is.....

do y'all trust this staff to fix the "fixable"

copan07#220906 writes:

I started to write something here and then I stopped because I am tired of it. Year after year. Please Phil do your alma mater a deserved justice.

bobbarbilly writes:

I saw some orange pants hanging in an old phone booth that I passed today. Watch out 'Gators.

arkyvol writes:

you really think the ucla defense is in the same solar system with the auburns, georgias, and floridas of the sec world? if crompton couldn't get a grip against this bunch of stiffs, how in hell is he supposed to conquer the likes of alabama? this was supposed to have been a cakewalk. for any of the above teams, it would have. that's what scares me.

RJ_Vol writes:

Uhhhh. Georgia played Georgia Southern. Florida played Hawaii. Both were home games. We were 3,000 miles from Knoxville playing a better UCLA team than given credit - Yes, I do know the QB was probably last on the depth chart. Does anyone really believe we would have lost to Georgia Southern or Hawaii in Neyland? We had the courage to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl. And yes, we played terribly and were outcoached. However, let's not get too carried away w/ comparing openers when at least two of the teams played powder-puffs. Bama is the team that truly showed its stuff by playing and thumping Clemson. We'll know what UF has after playing Miami and UGA after they play SC.

99gator writes:

rj vol

you won't know what florida has after playing miami.....you are gonna have to trust me on that one.

and if there is not vast improvement in knoxville.....you won't know what florida has after 9/20 either.

whistlinwingman writes:

I agree totally with copan07. Except I am going to write again. I don't expect us to win the sec every year or go to the national champ. every year, but year after year it is the same story. We get a lead and sit on it and let teams hang around. After watching several teams saturday I feel we have a decent team that can compete in the sec. But I fear play calling on both sides of the ball will limit our players capabilites.

RockyTop31174 writes:

I have no idea where to even start - Thats the new offense? - Thats our new offensive coordinator? Its offensive alright - How did things get this bad - That's a game we should win by 17 easy - Jonathen Crompton is not a quality starting SEC QB, look at their 3rd stringer - Where was our defense? - Where was our pass rush? - Where the HELL was our all - american Defensive backfield? - How the hell were our all world DB's gettin lit up all second half by a 3rd stringer? - ARIAN FOSTER IS SLOW AND FUMBLES IN CRITICAL SITUATIONS - Was it not apparent that Hardesty was alot quicker and he runs in-between the tackles - Arian tries to bounce everything outside ans he's too slow and the fumble is in-excusable! - what about the great O-line? - How about the great job on Special-Teams with the punt block? - Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you, WHERE DID OUR PASSION, OUR DRIVE, OUR TEAM GO? WE'VE BEEN LIED TO, HOODWINKED, BAMBOOZLED, WE DIDN'T LAND ON ROCKY TOP, ROCKY TOP LANDED ON US!!!!! FIRE EVERYONE!!!! ANY IDEAS FOR A COACH????

RJ_Vol writes:

99gator
I do think the Gators are much better than Miami(and probably UT), and I don't think the Gators will show their whole package unless they fall behind. As for Knoxville...UT just went to UCLA and had little respect (IMO) for its oppenent and got it handed to them. Will UF make the same mistake? UF might beat UT nine out of ten times if we played that much this current year. However, UT only has to be better than UF on one day. Neyland's history is full of skeletons of those who forget that indeed 107,000 people can have an impact. Just ask Bo Jackson.

threehundredbowler writes:

working,you promised there would be no more Foolmore.Stay true to your word please.

Go4Two writes:

99gator

don't get carried away it will be very tough to win in Neyland. I'm guessing the gators will get all the want. Teams improve a lot between the 1st and 2nd game.

debaser11 writes:

That's when Tennessee must emerge from a phone booth a changed team..."
With due respect to Strange, we've been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. What's the common denominator to all the failings? You got it - COACHING

invisiblekid writes:

DCFL, you said: I keep hearing "run more, run more, run more" but you won't win in the SEC with a one-dimensional, run-oriented offense.

I don't disagree with that but where I see the problem is the coaches not being dedicated enough to maintaining balance. Once Foster fumbled, the offense went 3 consecutive 3 and outs with the RB's touching the ball twice. 2 rushes in 9 plays, 41 passes, 34 rushes for the game. For this game where they were breaking in a new offense with a new QB in a hostile environment, running the ball and keeping things simple in the passing game should have been enough. Next week would have been the time to work on expanding the offense.

RJ_Vol writes:

DCflorida
Good to hear from you. Hope all is going well. Yes, Florida would have beaten UCLA(+3 TD's) but not in Hawaii fashion. UCLA's DTs would have given you a bit of a problem - much as Auburn's did but no to that extent. However, your defense would have trounced 'em. Georgia, I'm not so sure about. UGA, I think, is hiding some weaknesses. We'll see if I'm right about that. Miami is a quality opponent. If Miami stays close, Urban will have to show a few more cards than desired.

bobbarbilly writes:

DC, I think that Florida would have beaten UCLA like a borrowed mule last night. Georgia, LSU, Alabama and Auburn would also have beaten them but if there is a cap and jersey from each SEC team thrown into a freeby pile, I am pulling out ORANGE every time.

invisiblekid writes:

"The problem is, if you're only good at one thing, any decent defensive coach can scheme to stop the one thing you're good at. You have to at least be moderately balanced to win in the SEC."

You obviously didn't see our defensive coaches last night in the 4th quarter DCFL LOL. How many short passes did Craft complete...12-14 I believe.

BTW, not trying to stalk you, it's just that you are offering some of the more interesting comments on here.

invisiblekid writes:

No doubt at 9:18 on the passing game DCFL.

What I saw last night in that area was execution issues and I have to believe Crompton and Clawson will improve that in the next game. Whether they get it together enough to beat your gusy the following week is a BIG question mark. If Crompton comes in bouncing balls 5 yards short of receivers and looking terrible against UAB, I am afraid all hope for the season may be lost.

samjrr writes:

You cant polish a turd!

99gator writes:

i don't think some of y'all are grasping the level of improvement needed.

threehundredbowler writes:

RichRollin,I understand your frustration but does that language you are speaking create a cure?Calm down.No need for that kind of talk.

threehundredbowler writes:

I did maybe you should listen.The more you listen the more you know.The more you speak,the more people know that you should listen.

99gator writes:

the qb had less than 50% completions. his team had the lead the whole game until the fourth qtr. his team ran the ball well and tenn was usually in good down and distance situations. he had every advantage a qb could ask for. his coordinator was calling pass plays of 10 yards or less a majority of time. he had receivers open. did he see a pass rush....yes. is he going to see worse than that at some point in the year. you better believe it.

tenn had a physical advantage at almost every position. that will not always be the case. sometimes, they will be at a physical disadavantage.

they faced on offense that had no playmakers of any kind and a third string qb. the defense blew the lead, not once but twice, against an offense that could not stretch the field vertically, could not make yards after catch, and could not run the football.

they lost a game where the opposing team did nothing for 3 quarters except block a punt. everyone talks about foster....no one mentions ucla's christmas present before the end of the 1st half instead of taking a knee.

in short, it won't get much easier for tennessee all year long.

a college football schedule is like a golf course. sometimes you get a short par 5 with no obstacles and perfect weather. you think you're pretty good. then you are at a hole with water hazards, trees, and bunkers everywhere and the wind kicks up. after losing count of your strokes, you just pick up the ball and go to the next hole.

tenn lost count of their strokes on one of those easy par 5's with perfect weather. remember the article.....something like.....karma going vols way. this was set up perfectly for them.

tenn now has three weeks to prepare for amen corner and they will have no idea how good they really are when they get there.

RJ_Vol writes:

99Gator
I can assure you, by about 11:30 last night I was left alone in my living room to ponder the depth of UT's problem. And ponder did I. However, (sounds a bit cheesy but is true)I woke up to my girls' voices and realized I didn't really have a problem other than being tired.

BigVolinCarolina writes:

What happened, Mike Strange? Weren't you the one who predicted we would go 10-2 this year?

Interesting "audible" for a sportswriter after just 1 game.

brush#220070 writes:

here in mid-TN & an Ol Vol-graduated in 72-get some folks in there that know what it means to wear the ORANGE!! General Al Dorsey said it all today NO DA_N execution-coaches or players!!!!!!!

djohnson58#634404 writes:

Crompton is too inexperienced to be expected to perform in the spread formations that we used most of last night with multiple defenders blitzing. I don't blame our line as much as I blame our coaches for not adjusting. When we did line up in a power formation, we were usually successful, especially on some passing plays. Crompton just couldn't make the necessary quick reads with the pressure that UCLA was putting on him. The coaches took most of the night to realize that.

As a result of our offensive ineptitude, our defense just ran out of gas towards the end. The 10-15 yd. cushions that our d-backs were giving their receivers in the 4th qtr. didn't help either. Maybe our coaches sensed that our D was running out of gas.

ect1983 writes:

Just once I would like the head Coach to say MY FAULT....I WAS OUT_COACHED !!! It would only be stating the obvious.....Please don't blame players...Arian Foster tries as hard as he can; so does Crompton....but workin like heck isnt getting it done......we are never "coached up"....WE REFLECT THE LACK OF PERSONALITY OF THE HEAD COACH...Now, compare football coach to both basketball coaches....who fires you up ??? It is an emotional game....our players always have to do it themselves

99gator writes:

dc

let me put it this way.....

they looked like florida state.

givehim6 writes:

I just hope we show enough improvement by UAB to win. We iemprove on def. to contain UF's to less then 30 points, and we can score at least once.

brush#220070 writes:

reply to ect1983:
the old Vols agree-coach em up!! UCLA's coach said going into the 1/2 "I'm not gonna shake the kid's confidence"
guess we said "Golly gee whiz, darn, we'll be ok dadgumit"

burntorangeVOLffle writes:

DCFL, no offense, but UF hasn't left the state of FL for a non conference game since a 1991 loss to Syracuse. So why should we believe they would have beaten UCLA worse than they did Hawaii High at home?

I know FL is good and I'm scared as heck to play them but I wish they would man-up and leave the state once every 25 years or so.

govols22231 writes:

Lets just hope that they can fix their mistakes and we can get back to winning again.

TommyJack writes:

No logical reason to suspect we beat FL. But, CPF usually pulls one game a year completely out of his azz. You never know. (but I doubt I will take the points)

junder13 writes:

To a certain "true" vol fan, & many of you so-called "supporters" also,

I have respected a lot of what you've said over the past three months. A lot of which had led me to "drink the kool-aid" recently. I also still like & agree with your optimistic approach in life. I think successful ppl have this characteristic, in general, and I'm sure you're the same.

However, I have to defend myself since I now seem to match your unfair description of a “rat”. You, and many other self-imposed true, diehard fans, make it seem like sticking up for the Vols when they underachieve so significantly is nothing short of saintly. Blind faith is not to be mistaken for true love or fanship. Think of a kid who is playing in the street. Is it wrong to discipline the kid to prevent harm? UT football has stuck with a coach who allows for its players to play at the level of their competition, and is consistently beat by inferior coaches with better, more adaptable game plans. Why is it such a bad thing for fans to want change and to demand it within their ability (by not paying for tickets)?

I have been a UT fan since I can remember. I'm 24 and a graduate of UT. I will watch UT (all sports) until I die. But I could give a f*** about Fulmer or anyone else who coaches my team into ruin. I thought he was a good (notice, not great) coach as a youth who could out-talent many opponents. He no longer can and his inability to adapt to changes (whether it be 2nd half or changes to the sport in general) has revealed his colors, which are one of a mediocre (at best) coach.

If one day, years from now, my beloved Bruce Pearl is not able to beat inferior opponents and develop talent, I will expect a change from the bball team too. I’m already cautious on his tournament coaching but I still think he’s a great coach and I’m a huge fan / supporter.

You see, when it all comes down to it, football--as well as any sport--is really entertainment for the observer. It's more for the participant and players but for the observer it's entertainment. That's why we spend absurd money and time w/ football over badminton--football is a helluva lot more entertaining.

Well, not UT football. It hasn't been for awhile but a lot of ppl dealt with it when we were winning. You say we needed better defensive play……. I say we need better (and more consistent) offensive, defensive and special teams play. I’m tired of being bored to tears watching our sh*tty offense sputter and putter around. And I had already decided a lot of these things BEFORE UCLA took the lead last night. I am not basing this off one loss or even one season.

If we do end up 11-1 I will not change my opinion. The ONLY reason I changed my mind about UT football before this season was the so-called "change" we were supposedly to experience with this hire "outside the family". What a bunch of bulls***! I'm done. I regret having fallen for that Foolmer-spun lie.

junder13 writes:

AND I AM A TRUE VOL FAN and not some rat running off the freakin’ boat! I can't stand attitudes like that b/c it's people like me that demand a change that lead to Urban Meyer's at Florida and Pete Carroll at So Cal and one day, Rich Rodriguez at Michigan!

99 was right about you turning anything to a positive, even Custard's last stand. I'm glad you're not a military general, dude. Quit thinking your loyalty makes you some kinda knight-in-shining-armor as a UT fan. Your attitude towards our football program in corporate America, politics, or the military would lead to disaster!

I believe I speak for a lot of knowledgeable, caring UT fans when I say it's time for a change and this was the first preseason I have NOT said or thought that since the SEC Championship choke against LSU in 2001. Now I see that I was wrong to have hoped. Even a supposed change of offensive scheme produced the same Foolmer-led, grossly unprepared team.

You may say the season's not over and its not, but this game was far more important and telling than you let on. There's ppl at work here in NY that don't watch football that knew about this game. The SEC would be better off beating us soundly; otherwise, we'll make the PAC-10 look like more than just a league with 1 team (So Cal) like we almost did last year! UCLA will do well to finish in the Top 25, imo. UT, on the other hand, will do well to finish with a winning record.

Of it all, however, I dislike Hamilton the most for not just giving Foolmer a raise and an extension, but for making the extension SEVEN FREAKIN YEARS!!!! I felt a real sense of sadness when I first heard that dreadful news and only became optimistic as a result of the new hire and supposed change. That was a CLAWFUL decision, on my part.

Now, take that positive spin, blind faith, and imagine 7 more years of the past 8 years we've experienced! I can't stomach it. But then again, I'm a rat apparently. I suppose a true, diehard UT fan like yourself can.

junder13 writes:

If Fulmer & Hamilton were to work in corporate America like many of us, some Private Equity big shot would probably take their jobs, sell their lousy company piece by piece, and make millions. That's what a capitalistic environment would give to underachievers with no leadership (like Fulmer) or no business sense (like Hamilton). Every once in awhile, I find companies with blind leadership and zero business sense who can't change and they offer a pretty penny to intelligent enough ppl willing to take a risk and who can see the long term potential in taking over them or taking them private. People who can redevelop unused or inappropriately used capital (mainly human capital) in the Private Equity world make millions.

junder13 writes:

In many regards, business management is not that different from sports management except that it's too boring and complicated to watch on TV. I only wish the UT football team could be bought and I had the ability to do so. If it could, I would buy it, fire Hamilton, Fulmer, Chavis and start from scratch. I would bring in an exciting coach who was not scared to change and would give two s*** about the NFL-prep the system offered. Spurrier’s QB, although great in college, never panned out in the pros. That didn’t prevent him from beating the phooey out of Foolmer every year in the 90s. I’m sure Spurrier wished he could have played a Foolmer-led team every week. Meyers is just as talented.

Most importantly, Spurrier (while at Florida) and Meyers are fun to watch (I hate to admit) and they bring an excitement to the game that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced as a UT football fan. I probably have as a UT basketball fan with Bruce Pearl, but not football.

junder13 writes:

To h3ll with this fear of change and talk of how this great coach and that great coaches’ system is no good b/c it’s not “NFL-like”. Results don’t lie, blind supporters. Just like balance sheets in business do not lie – that much I do know and know well! I want a change! As a graduate of UT I consider myself a shareholder of the equity I call UT sports and I have a vote! I will not spend another dime on UT football until we have a new head coach and staff (hopefully a new AD too!), and I will not change this opinion NO MATTER WHAT THE RECORD IS FROM HERE ON OUT UNDER FOOLMER. I hate his play not-to-lose philosophy, even in victory and will not take it any longer. CHANGE AT THE TOP, ACROSS THE TOP!

TommyJack writes:

junder: All that cynicism at 24! You've got the potential to become a great geezer. lol

Feared_Mustang_Package writes:

@memphisvolman

my dear grandmother could coordinate an offense to a tocuhdown against Chavis' 4th quarter D.

mbible1utk#324980 writes:

I'm serious about this... Fulmer's only shot at redemption with me is an SEC championship...not getting there, winning it. This year needs to be a BCS or bust year. I know it's lofty to expect BCS after we just got beat against UCLA, but no more subpar... Fulmer has had time to get everything in place, we've given him a few down years to work with, now it's time to put up or pack up.

orangesox writes:

Amen RJ_Vol. (9:43)

MidTennVol writes:

It's not that we lost. It's that we looked so miserably inept and that we, yet again, embarassed ourselves in front of a national audience.

Many of us are simply sick and tired of starting a season obviously unprepared. We are fed up with getting embarassed.

As an ESPN writer said about the UCLA game, this loss was "indefensible" for a Tennessee team with such obvious advantages.

"Indefensible" is the perfect word -- for the 2005 start, and for the blowouts last year to Cal, Al and FL.

Most of us out here are reasonable fans. We can take a loss, as long as we look competitive and make it a game.

What we have a very hard time accepting is showing up unprepared and/or getting blown out by teams we should be able to compete with.

And some of us have a hard time understanding some of the play-calling, and this irrational commitment to getting beaten in the 4th quarter by our so-called "prevent" defense.

Ahhh...I'm repeating myself from the past several years. What's the point? We'll win a few, go to a "who cares?" bowl, and Coach Fulmer will get another contract extension and raise and maybe retire in 2020.

firefulmer (Inactive) writes:

Can someone explain why the loss was considered an upset? Ain't the Vols slowly becoming the team that one should beat? Another year or two, schools will love to play us for a season opener. Forget about Crompton being a q/back. He is a scared little boy! Put in Gerald Jones and build the offense around him. I'm just sick and tired of our players never being developed or ready to play. Come November and 5 losses, our pathetic excuse for a coach will still be clueless. He will always have his usual excuses, but this time, the blame will be directed to Clawson and the new system.

dford9#209809 writes:

Yeah, I think all of the problems are "fixable"; but you must remember that we are a small team,
when compared to some of the brutes of the SEC.
Look at our linebackers, Dan Williams is the
largest, with Nevin McKenzie being the smallest.
We are not gett'in the ball to the playmakers
in a timely fashion either. What? One throw to
TE Brandon Warren (FSU transfer) the entire
game; and none to Luke Stocker, who was suppose
to be one of the most improved offensive play
makers. Clawson is going to have too get his
head, and his rear end wired together; of else big
Phil will send him packing~!

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