Strange: Time to play some geeked football

Mike Strange
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When UT Martin ran into Jordan-Hare Stadium to play Auburn in 2008, coach Jason Simpson had a script that he hoped would somehow get the Skyhawks into the second half.

"I'm not trying to make light,'' Simpson said Wednesday, three days before his Skyhawks run into Neyland Stadium, "but first you've got to make sure you don't get blown out early.

"You can't get run out of the stadium.''

So what happens?

Auburn returns the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Strike up the band. War Eagle!

"That,'' Simpson admitted, looking back, "was certainly worrisome.''

But a funny thing happened. Auburn did not run the Skyhawks out of the stadium.

Midway through the third quarter former Maryville quarterback Cade Thompson fired a UT Martin touchdown pass that tied the game 20-20.

Auburn would win, 37-20. Quarterback Kodi Burns got loose on two long touchdown runs for the Tigers. UT Martin threatened three more times but twice gave the ball up on interceptions deep in Auburn territory.

So David got in some good licks but he did not slay Goliath after all. Tiger fans did not have to face the unthinkable.

Ironically, another David-Goliath contest was played that very November afternoon. In Neyland Stadium.

Wyoming 13, Tennessee 10.

Saturday, there will be 40 or so UT Martin players who remember they stared Auburn in the eye for three quarters. And there will be 40 or so UT Knoxville players who remember that victory can never be assumed against any opponent.

Because stuff happens in sports. Derek Dooley knows it and it worries the heck out of him.

He understands how motivated UT Martin will be. He understands how many first-time players he will be sending out in orange.

Turnovers and special-teams mistakes, now they really scare him. They're the devils that level the playing field and yank momentum from one sideline to the other.

"You turn on football and that's the first thing you see,'' Dooley said. "Guys coughing up balls. Big returns on special teams.''

Or, worse, a combination of the two. Cutting back to the Auburn game ...

After giving up the kickoff return, UT Martin regained its equilibrium by recovering a fumbled Auburn punt return in the end zone for a touchdown.

"Our guys see it's 7-7 and only three minutes left in the first quarter,'' Simpson said, "and now it's, 'let's play some football.' ''

That's probably what Wyoming was thinking after an interception on Tennessee's first possession that the Cowboys returned 55 yards to the 4 to set up a touchdown: It's 7-0, let's play some football.

Wyoming's only other score was an interception returned for a touchdown. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. The Vols were emotionally flat at the end of a week that began with Phillip Fulmer's forced resignation.

On Saturday, being flat won't be an issue with either team.

The Skyhawks are playing in Neyland Stadium. Enough said. Four of their starters are local kids: Kenny Jones and DJ Roberts from Austin-East, Steve Shiver of Maryville and Ben Everett of Loudon.

"I won't have to say a whole lot,'' Simpson said. "Just open the locker room door and get out of the way.''

The Vols will be jacked to start the Derek Dooley Era on the right foot - and to prove they're better than the humdrum preseason forecast.

No, if anything, problems are more likely to arise from being too geeked.

Simpson will have a script to try and shorten the game, to make Tennessee work and execute for its points:

"And then it's kind of like 'Hoosiers,' where you get it to where you have to make a 3-point basket or a couple of free throws to win the game.''

Toward that goal he also has some thoughts about the opening kickoff.

"Hey,'' he said, "we may just kick it out of bounds, send our defense out there and get our feet on the ground.''

Dooley probably wouldn't mind if he did. He's not sure his team's feet will be on the ground either.

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

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Comments » 21

mattingly writes:

The Wyoming score in 2008 was 13-7, not 13-10.

PepperGrinder (Inactive) writes:

I doubt we will be anywhere close to what that 08 Auburn and UT teams were.

56-3

thevoice writes:

in response to PepperGrinder:

I doubt we will be anywhere close to what that 08 Auburn and UT teams were.

56-3

UTK or UTM?

PepperGrinder (Inactive) writes:

in response to thevoice:

UTK or UTM?

Which one do you think? lol

newtonrail writes:

I get sick of that Wyoming win being thrown up there. That's on Hamilton. Fulmer needed to go, but to announce when he did guaranteed Wyoming( who fired their coach after the season) had a chance.

tnsportsman writes:

The Wyoming game is out of context, period! You really think the players played that game with Coach Fulmer being forced to resign days before, PLEASE!

The players, especially Nick Stevens, look like they took a dive in that game!

I quote CDD, 'it's 4th and 1 for the National Championship every minute, every day, 365 a year'!

UT 48 - Martin 6 GO BIG ORANGE!

GO VOLS, WE ARE UT!

nocleats writes:

No turnovers, no penalties, no injuries= Vols Victory

Volborn writes:

in response to rabidvolfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

and that 9-3 record is out of context. They lost to a bad Arkansas team and a SC team with a freshman QB....All this after beating Florida and Georgia and being in the drivers seat for the first SEC East title.

Volborn writes:

in response to rabidvolfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Also, after Fulmer beat FL and GA that year, Clemson was coming for him, and Dickey knew it. Dickey had to make a move, and he made the right one. There's no way Majors gets Manning to come to Tennessee without Fulmer recruiting for him. Colleges need good x's and o's coaches, but if you can't recruit, you don't win, period. So to say Majors' firing was the "most ignorant" is a little off base imo.

HoustonVol writes:

Would people get off the bash Fulmer/Majors bandwagons! They were the only coaches I knew in my life and over saw one of the most exciting times in UT history. Neither of them were choir boys, but both gave everything for UT and bleed orange. Was it time for a change in both cases, I believe yes. Should we bash on these guys NO. Both devoted their lives to making UT football the best that they could. Any school in the country would love to have the record that UT had during the Major/Fulmer years. Now we have a new coach that will give everything to UT and wants to build his legacy, and needs our support. So let us all work together to rebuild Tennessee back to the top.

Volborn writes:

in response to ShaversChoice:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Majors was intoxicated for his 15 years in Knoxville, and Dickey put up with it. Everyone knew it, but that was before the internet. Although the rumor mill was full of Majors' drinking stories, there were no pics like the one of Terry Bowden floating around on the web. There's NO way a coach could survive with that behavior these days. Fulmer was one of the few guys that worked for Majors for more than 3-4 years. Majors was an SOB to work for...and most coaches left when they had the chance. Also, Dickey knew Fulmer was the main one bringing in the players. If Fulmer bolts for Clemson,(and Dickey lets him) UT possibly begins it's downward spiral in the mid 90's. Fulmer was the only stability on Majors' staff, and Dickey had to choose between a sober Fulmer, or an aging coach with heart and drinking issues. IMO, he made the right call. Yes, I am a Fulmerite...but I thought he had to go after the Clawful season. It was heart wrenching for me to watch b/c I think CPF is a good man. Also, he brought a NC to Tennessee, and I never thought I would see that in my life. Who knows, maybe Dickey had a vision of a drunken Majors with his face planted in some coed's chest....he he he...and he knew what Al Gore was up to with his inventions. I've heard UT worked hard to cover up some of Kiffy's mishaps too....They are lucky no cell phone cameras were around during some of his...adventures.

volsfannsc writes:

My, how we can get off topic so fast. Majors, Fulmer, Kiffin, Fulmer, Majors... it's history with good and bad, so move on.

This is a new team that will be 'geeked' up, and they will make mistakes. In my opinion those mistakes will not be game-changers but rather ones that will teach lessons; much needed lessons. Dooley has to learn how this team works on Saturdays and vice-versa. I'm predicting a big win Saturday but don't be surprised to see some really bone-head mistakes. It's all part of the learning curve.

jakethevolguy writes:

in response to HoustonVol:

Would people get off the bash Fulmer/Majors bandwagons! They were the only coaches I knew in my life and over saw one of the most exciting times in UT history. Neither of them were choir boys, but both gave everything for UT and bleed orange. Was it time for a change in both cases, I believe yes. Should we bash on these guys NO. Both devoted their lives to making UT football the best that they could. Any school in the country would love to have the record that UT had during the Major/Fulmer years. Now we have a new coach that will give everything to UT and wants to build his legacy, and needs our support. So let us all work together to rebuild Tennessee back to the top.

Good post, Houston. Well said!! GBO!!!

brod writes:

in response to HoustonVol:

Would people get off the bash Fulmer/Majors bandwagons! They were the only coaches I knew in my life and over saw one of the most exciting times in UT history. Neither of them were choir boys, but both gave everything for UT and bleed orange. Was it time for a change in both cases, I believe yes. Should we bash on these guys NO. Both devoted their lives to making UT football the best that they could. Any school in the country would love to have the record that UT had during the Major/Fulmer years. Now we have a new coach that will give everything to UT and wants to build his legacy, and needs our support. So let us all work together to rebuild Tennessee back to the top.

actually, fulmer was a choir boy.

GR82BAVOL writes:

in response to HoustonVol:

Would people get off the bash Fulmer/Majors bandwagons! They were the only coaches I knew in my life and over saw one of the most exciting times in UT history. Neither of them were choir boys, but both gave everything for UT and bleed orange. Was it time for a change in both cases, I believe yes. Should we bash on these guys NO. Both devoted their lives to making UT football the best that they could. Any school in the country would love to have the record that UT had during the Major/Fulmer years. Now we have a new coach that will give everything to UT and wants to build his legacy, and needs our support. So let us all work together to rebuild Tennessee back to the top.

One of the better posts I've read on here in quite some time...well stated!

EMBuckles writes:

To Volborn above, um, Kiffy had "adventures?? Just out of curiosity, wonder what sort of "adventures" he had?! Wonder what in the world he did that UT had to work to "cover up"?! Please share! I gotta know!

Bigger_Al writes:

in response to rabidvolfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I liked Johnny while he was our coach, but in fact, Johnny led that team to a 5-3 record with two stunning losses that cost us the SEC East title the 1st year of its existence. Phil led that team to a 4-0 record, and the Vols were underdogs in three of those games. The Memphis win showed that the players were stoked that Johnny was gone.

Ralph_Crampton writes:

Before we wrap this up let us look at the facts. There have been in modern times three Volunteers who were household names...but we will stay in the last part of 20th century....Lets Jimmy, downstairs talking on the phone and yells up to brother, "What is the name of that QB for Colts? he would yell back, Peyton Manning....in another living room what's the name of that pass rusher for the packers ans where did he play?, A father would say Reggie White of Tennessee...and one more, that great running back-passer from down south?, the answer would be Johnny Majors of Tennessee...In our generation only three Volunteers could have been called household names around the nation. That city could be Seattle.

DannyVol writes:

These clowns throw that Wyoming score out there every four columns. Whatever their angle or beef is, they need to hire some fresh blood at this rag.

DannyVol writes:

in response to HoustonVol:

Would people get off the bash Fulmer/Majors bandwagons! They were the only coaches I knew in my life and over saw one of the most exciting times in UT history. Neither of them were choir boys, but both gave everything for UT and bleed orange. Was it time for a change in both cases, I believe yes. Should we bash on these guys NO. Both devoted their lives to making UT football the best that they could. Any school in the country would love to have the record that UT had during the Major/Fulmer years. Now we have a new coach that will give everything to UT and wants to build his legacy, and needs our support. So let us all work together to rebuild Tennessee back to the top.

Totally agree. Sometimes I think that 1998 created more cynicism than joy. It definitely created a bunch of spoiled brats with no perspective of how hard it is to consistently win in the SEC and how hard Majors and Fulmer worked to acheive that. For those UT fans with no knowledge of the modern era, here's the Cliff Notes: We were very good in the late-60's and very early 70's, pretty much stunk after that until 1985, and were overall very, very good from 1989-2007.

I didn't like everything Majors and Fulmer did and both needed to leave when they did; that's the way it always works in coaching. But if you continually bash them to the extent many of you do, unless you are over 60 years old, you are pretty much bashing Tennessee football.

During those three decades if you didn't like anything you saw, you should've found another team or hobby. However, I'm just guessing you thought most of those 268 wins were pretty fun.

Once again, 1998 changed the way many UT fans thought. All of a sudden all of those 5-win seasons prior to Majors and Fulmer never existed and all of a sudden these coaches were judged by the very level of success they created. Very few coaches leave on top, but that should not create the level of ridicule I see for two of our most storied coaches.

Lizardgrad89 writes:

in response to PepperGrinder:

I doubt we will be anywhere close to what that 08 Auburn and UT teams were.

56-3

There's going to be a LOT of really disappointed Vols this year.

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