Derek Dooley talks about the state of the team
Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner and I began our Sunday conversation about the Montana Grizzlies, UT's opening opponent. But we quickly moved on to something, as Louisiana natives, we know more about: alligators.
"Zigzag," we say almost simultaneously, referencing the running pattern recommended for eluding an animal with such deceptive speed.
Fortunately, neither of us has ever had to execute the alligator-escape game plan. In fact, I've seen more than 100 alligators in one day on an Everglades bicycle trail and never noticed one of them move more than inch. But if one had even slightly opened its jaws, I immediately would have steered in a zigzag pattern.
The zigzag method is so ingrained, it's no wonder that when I mentioned the supposedly alarming speed of grizzlies, Waggner asked, "Straight-line speed?"
I hope so.
The state of Montana is another mystery. I talked to 15 different Vols, and the closest any came to a Montana connection was starting offensive guard Zach Fulton, who visited Idaho when his father was working in Boise.
Then, I tried word association. Among the responses to "Montana": "some dust and sand," "hot;" "cold;" "small, kind of low-key;" "flat, where Indians used to roam."
Cornerback Marsalis Teague remembered from a social-studies course that Helena is the capital of Montana. He also once knew a girl named Montana.
Most Vols know more about the team than the state. Sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter has seen enough video to address Montana's secondary in detail.
"Their DBs like to bail out fast and play pretty deep," he said. "We have to take advantage of that."
The Vols are getting accustomed to taking advantage of opening opponents. They beat Western Kentucky 63-7 in 2009 and defeated UT Martin 50-0 last season.
If you can't resist stereotyping, you probably have surmised that Montana is another overmatched opening opponent. There's no hiding from its FCS status, as categorized by the NCAA. But there's nothing inferior about its record.
The Grizzlies were 7-4 last season and have averaged 11 victories per season for the past 18 years. They haven't won fewer than seven games since 1992 and haven't had a losing season since 1985.
"I've heard they're like Appalachian State," UT's Anthony Anderson said. "I've watched (Appalachian State) play a lot."
Name-dropping Appalachian State could be a motivational ploy by the senior cornerback. In the four years since Appalachian State upset Michigan in Ann Arbor, imagine how many FBS coaches have mentioned the Mountaineers before taking on an FCS opponent.
The pregame warning probably just slipped Houston Nutt's mind last year before his Ole Miss Rebels were upset by Jacksonville State.
If you want to raise the upset alert, spread the word that — based on Sunday's scrimmage — Montana has a dual threat at quarterback, which could conjure up images of Armanti Edwards running and passing Michigan silly in 2007. Gerald Kemp, subbing for injured starer Jordy Johnson, rushed for 112 yards and passed for two touchdowns in the Grizzlies' scrimmage.
One more cautionary note: Montana is right above Wyoming, which inflicted Appalachian State-like damage on UT in Neyland Stadium four years ago.
Other than that, there's not much else I can tell you about UT's opening opponent, except to remind you it comes from a dusty, sandy, hot, cold and distant land where Indians once roamed.