In 2000, Nick Saban was just four games into his five-year run at LSU, and Dooley in his fifth year as an assistant coach when UAB embarrassed the Tigers in front of 85,000 witnesses. The anger and frustration were palpable on local talk shows, which raised the question: “What did Saban ever win at Michigan State, anyway?”
A few days later, the Tigers beat the Vols in overtime. Four years later, they won a national championship.
Since then, no one has asked: “What did Saban ever win at Michigan State, anyway?”
While the Saban doubters have long since been dismissed, the loss to UAB is paramount with Dooley this week.
“I think about it every minute,” he said.
The turnover-driven loss to UAB at LSU is a vivid reminder of all that can go awry in a game. Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Florida is another reminder.
Dooley’s Monday press luncheons have become a shooting gallery of sorts. The entire offense got blasted this time. In fact, Dooley was so expansive in his scathing assessment, you wonder how the Vols even gained a yard, much less scored a touchdown, against the Gators. Just lining up correctly was a challenge at times, the coach pointed out.
When you combine that critique and Dooley’s troublesome past with the Blazers, you can appreciate why he not only deems UAB capable of upsetting the Vols, he believes they don’t have to be at their best to do so.
If you have been paying attention, you don’t roll your eyes at such appraisals. That’s not pregame motivation, so much as an accounting of what’s going on with the Vols.
A thin team is getting thinner. Two starting offensive linemen, JerQuari Schofield and Cody Pope, are out with injuries. So is starting wide receiver Gerald Jones.
A post-spring depth chart is illuminating. Six starters from then won’t play against UAB. As the injuries mount, Dooley and his staff are scrambling to fill out their offensive and defensive lines. The scramble won’t get any easier when the schedule takes a hard turn with back-to-back road games at LSU and Georgia.
For now, UAB seems hard enough. While the Vols were losing to Florida, the Blazers were rallying from a 23-0 deficit to knock off Troy State.
Tennessee fans once overlooked games like this. In fact, they might have become so consumed with tailgating that they forgot to go inside.
Such oversights aren’t as likely in these less prosperous days of UT football. Fans realize a BCS pedigree is no longer a requirement for bringing suspense to Neyland Stadium.
UT Martin, a 50-0 loser in the season opener, was an exception. So was Western Kentucky, a 63-7 loser in the 2009 season opener.
But a number of other non-BCS ventures have convinced UT fans not to dismiss opponents based on name recognition.
In four of the last five years, at least one non-BCS opponent has played UT a competitive game, the most noteworthy of which was Wyoming’s upset victory in 2008.
Last year, Ohio University was within four points of the Vols until the last few minutes of the third quarter. In 2006, UT needed to turn back Air Force on a two-point conversion try for a 31-30 victory. The year before, the Vols couldn’t shake UAB in a 17-10 victory.
But, as Dooley will tell you, a close call is a lot easier to forget