Mike Strange: Vols need to solve second-half slump

It's halftime. Things are fine, or at least there is reason to be encouraged.

Then the second half starts ...

Tennessee has fallen into a self-destructive rut: Play well for a half, make a game of it; but the bottom falls out in the third quarter.

"I really don't know what the deal is,'' senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. "Nothing we can put our fingers on.''

The past two weeks, LSU and Alabama outscored the Vols a combined 52-0 in the second half.

"I'm like you,'' said another senior, Malik Jackson. "I don't know what the hell is going on.

"We've got to go out there and fix it, but I don't know what to fix.''

The third quarter has been especially disastrous. Georgia, LSU and Alabama outscored the Vols 42-0.

Tennessee was tied with both Georgia and No. 2 Alabama 6-6 at the half. The Vols trailed No. 1 LSU only 17-7 at the break.

"I don't really know what's going on at halftime,'' said tight end Mychal Rivera.

"We get in there and focus on what we have to do. We just don't go out there and do it.''

So what exactly goes on in that locker room while the marching band is playing? What makes Tennessee transform from Superman to mild-mannered Clark Kent?

"We go in there and have crumpets with just a little bit of tea and sit back and relax,'' said Jackson.

He was joking.

I've asked, and none of the following downer-inducing activities takes

place:

Derek Dooley does not read from "The Grapes of Wrath" or "Charlotte's Web." To date, there have been no viewings of "Leaving Las Vegas" or "Old Yeller." No one listens to "Tears in Heaven" on their iPod.

There's no buffet of bratwurst, sauerkraut and potato salad.

"They feed us Gatorade,'' Johnson said. "There's a ton of food, light stuff, snacks. I grab a honey or something to give me a little energy.''

Speaking of energy, the players with whom I spoke said the level to start the third quarter seems on par with the start of the game.

"The second half shows our immaturity,'' said sophomore Jacques Smith.

"We've got to figure out how to set the bar and keep focused and not worry about the scoreboard or any negative plays.''

Dooley calls it "being affected.'' It definitely happens.

"I feel like when they score we get down too much,'' Rivera said. "We've got to expect that. It's a game. They're supposed to score. As an offense, we need to pick ourselves back up quicker.

"It's nobody but ourselves to blame.''

Lack of depth obviously comes into play as a game wears on. So does another of Dooley's concerns for a youthful team, lack of physical stamina.

"You say, 'Just play the same way you did on play five,' '' Dooley said. "Well, on play five you haven't been hit 58 times.''

The Vols aren't oblivious. They talk about it. They'll talk about it Saturday night when South Carolina visits.

"It's going to happen again,'' Johnson said. "Next game. It's probably going to be close at halftime and everyone will be like, 'Let's not let this happen again.' And hopefully, it won't.''

"It sounds simple,'' Jackson said. "But you've got to go out there and do it.''

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 15

VolMan126 writes:

Mike Strange: Vols need to solve second-half slump...Captain obvious to our rescue! I see now how he got that job...he is a genius.

MidTennVol writes:

Food in a locker room at half-time? I've never been in a football locker room at half-time...is this normal? Do Bama and FL and LSU do it?

Hydration I understand, of course -- but food? Maybe a candy bar for the sugar rush ... but food?

Somebody smarter than me educate me please.

VOLinATL writes:

Could it be the other teams are making adjustments tht we are unable to counter? I dunno...just asking.

CrankE writes:

"I grab a honey or something to give me a little energy."

I always get a little energized when I grab me a little honey! The Mrs. may not approve, but Honey Badger don't care, Honey Badger just takes what it wants.

Volunatic writes:

in response to CrankE:

"I grab a honey or something to give me a little energy."

I always get a little energized when I grab me a little honey! The Mrs. may not approve, but Honey Badger don't care, Honey Badger just takes what it wants.

I had a similar thought when I read that comment. As I recall from my college days, those Vol FB players do get to grab some sweet honeys.

Cobb_Webb_Attack writes:

It would also help from a fatigue/inexperience standpoint if special teams and the defense could occasionally help out the (struggling) offense with a big return or turnover.

VOLliven2it writes:

It takes great players in all phases to play a whole game. We have some great players. Sadly right now our key ones on offense are healing. That makes a huge difference. Secondly is that we just had to play two top teams in the nation. We are nowhere near that status. So they make us look bad. Finally, with our youth, when we get down and one more bad thing hits, we cringe and even slink down lower. After two dogwhippings like we had the past two Sats. it's easy to see how that occurs. But that is past...now I say how do we respond for the next 60 minute game period? The response there is key for the remainder of this season and for the next at least two years to come. Let's do it guys! Step up, everyone, show us what you can do and do it the whole game. We are pulling for you every second.

SeminaryVol writes:

Bray, Rogers, Rivera, and Hunter are calling for a blackout on Saturday night. Make it happen!!!

Voluvr writes:

We'll be a little better next year and so on.....depth. Our guys are as good as any just not enough of them.....

.....oh yeah and Jansen Jackson shafted his teammates apparently to get high. Play 12 games and you're worth 30 mil. Now he'll be working at the gas station w/ the S. Car. players.

SummittsCourt writes:

In my opinion four main causes for our second half plunges.

1. Most important, lack of depth at almost all positions. Players do get tired especially when the defense is on the field so much because the offense can't move the ball and take time off of the clock.

2. Talent level - thanks to the upheveal over the previous 3 seasons the talent level is not where it needs to be to consistently compete against these better teams. When Fulmer was fired, players left, When weasel boy was hired, players leftor were told don't bother, when weasel boy left, players left, when Dooley was hired, players left. So what we have here is inexperienced freshman and sophmores playing catch up. Georgia, LSU, Alabama, SC & Arkansas have NFL talent throughout their lineups, we don't.

3. Senior leadership - the mark of all good teams when the talent level is low is senior leadership which the Vols have none. Good leadership can motivate players to keep giving their all, can enduce mental strength to overcome a mistake and sets the example of how to not give up when things get tough.

4. Team attitude - I could be wrong on this one, but with Georgia, LSU and Bama it seems since UT played them so well in the first half they came out in the second half embarrassed and ready to take over. UT came out happy to be tied or not blown out in the first half and were content to keep doing what they were doing. This falls on the coaches as much as the players.

Good news time: It will get better, be patient fans - It will get better. Lets look at things from a glass half full point of view. The Vols competed with the the #1 and #1A teams in the country for a half without our two best players on offense (Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter) and Tyrone Poole finally showed up to carry the load and ran decently against the 2 best, athletic, speedy defenses in the country. I'm disappointed the second half play wasn't the same but I am not going to be too down on a team that is fielding freshman and sophmores with little or no experience.

hateNCloveTN writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

In my opinion four main causes for our second half plunges.

1. Most important, lack of depth at almost all positions. Players do get tired especially when the defense is on the field so much because the offense can't move the ball and take time off of the clock.

2. Talent level - thanks to the upheveal over the previous 3 seasons the talent level is not where it needs to be to consistently compete against these better teams. When Fulmer was fired, players left, When weasel boy was hired, players leftor were told don't bother, when weasel boy left, players left, when Dooley was hired, players left. So what we have here is inexperienced freshman and sophmores playing catch up. Georgia, LSU, Alabama, SC & Arkansas have NFL talent throughout their lineups, we don't.

3. Senior leadership - the mark of all good teams when the talent level is low is senior leadership which the Vols have none. Good leadership can motivate players to keep giving their all, can enduce mental strength to overcome a mistake and sets the example of how to not give up when things get tough.

4. Team attitude - I could be wrong on this one, but with Georgia, LSU and Bama it seems since UT played them so well in the first half they came out in the second half embarrassed and ready to take over. UT came out happy to be tied or not blown out in the first half and were content to keep doing what they were doing. This falls on the coaches as much as the players.

Good news time: It will get better, be patient fans - It will get better. Lets look at things from a glass half full point of view. The Vols competed with the the #1 and #1A teams in the country for a half without our two best players on offense (Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter) and Tyrone Poole finally showed up to carry the load and ran decently against the 2 best, athletic, speedy defenses in the country. I'm disappointed the second half play wasn't the same but I am not going to be too down on a team that is fielding freshman and sophmores with little or no experience.

excellent post!

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Tennessee will not go Bowl-ing this year. Arkansas has the best pass offense in the SEC and put up over 400 yards in one half vs Ole Miss. Ut has the worst secondary in the SEC.
Since Vandy switched QB's to Rodgers they scored 28 vs Georgia in a 5 point loss and put up 44 vs Army(Bowl team last year) winning by 23 points. Vandy has a great LB in Marve and the defensive backfield led the Nation in INT's for most of the year. They also rushed for over 200 yards vs UGA, and had a running back rush for 198 yards vs Army. Rodgers can run and pass. UT will not beat Vandy. That leaves wins over MTSU and Kentucky. Vandy will win 2 of the next 5 to get a Bowl. Make all the lame excuses you like but this program is going downhill since Kiffin left. The talent is dropping. All I heard was how great the OL would be, now its the worst in the SEC and Stone has been demoted for another frshman. Enjoy the long Holiday's, its about over for UT. Maybe a loss to Vandy will wake up the last few of the Koolaide drinkers. Excuses dont win in the SEC. Vandy played as many freshmen last year as any team in the SEC. They are just well coached this year, UT is not.

RockyTop1_old writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Tennessee will not go Bowl-ing this year. Arkansas has the best pass offense in the SEC and put up over 400 yards in one half vs Ole Miss. Ut has the worst secondary in the SEC.
Since Vandy switched QB's to Rodgers they scored 28 vs Georgia in a 5 point loss and put up 44 vs Army(Bowl team last year) winning by 23 points. Vandy has a great LB in Marve and the defensive backfield led the Nation in INT's for most of the year. They also rushed for over 200 yards vs UGA, and had a running back rush for 198 yards vs Army. Rodgers can run and pass. UT will not beat Vandy. That leaves wins over MTSU and Kentucky. Vandy will win 2 of the next 5 to get a Bowl. Make all the lame excuses you like but this program is going downhill since Kiffin left. The talent is dropping. All I heard was how great the OL would be, now its the worst in the SEC and Stone has been demoted for another frshman. Enjoy the long Holiday's, its about over for UT. Maybe a loss to Vandy will wake up the last few of the Koolaide drinkers. Excuses dont win in the SEC. Vandy played as many freshmen last year as any team in the SEC. They are just well coached this year, UT is not.

Love the positive attitude and pointing out the obvious issues we have. I would never have figured out we were in trouble!

I KNEW that at the beginning of the 4th quarter against Georgia at home. We were not prepared to play that game. However, the team that played Alabama the first half should be released and we WOULD beat South Carolina!

I do accept this is a down year but we should NEVER accept that we simply can't win any game because of the other team's talent level! VFL!! Beat USC junior then on to the rest of the season! GBO!!

snuffysmiff writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Tennessee will not go Bowl-ing this year. Arkansas has the best pass offense in the SEC and put up over 400 yards in one half vs Ole Miss. Ut has the worst secondary in the SEC.
Since Vandy switched QB's to Rodgers they scored 28 vs Georgia in a 5 point loss and put up 44 vs Army(Bowl team last year) winning by 23 points. Vandy has a great LB in Marve and the defensive backfield led the Nation in INT's for most of the year. They also rushed for over 200 yards vs UGA, and had a running back rush for 198 yards vs Army. Rodgers can run and pass. UT will not beat Vandy. That leaves wins over MTSU and Kentucky. Vandy will win 2 of the next 5 to get a Bowl. Make all the lame excuses you like but this program is going downhill since Kiffin left. The talent is dropping. All I heard was how great the OL would be, now its the worst in the SEC and Stone has been demoted for another frshman. Enjoy the long Holiday's, its about over for UT. Maybe a loss to Vandy will wake up the last few of the Koolaide drinkers. Excuses dont win in the SEC. Vandy played as many freshmen last year as any team in the SEC. They are just well coached this year, UT is not.

Rodgers can run but his stats say he isn't a passer yet. He's no better than the original starter Smith in the passing game.

SummerfieldVol writes:

in response to VOLinATL:

Could it be the other teams are making adjustments tht we are unable to counter? I dunno...just asking.

My view point exactly. I don't buy into the thought that it is because they are Freshmen or Sophomores. They just played the first half equal to Alabama and fall apart in the second half. I don't believe it is because they are tired, they just came out of the locker room should be tired now. The other team has made adjustments to what we have done offensively and defensively the first half.We don't adjust as well as other teams have. They have found the weak spots on our team and exployed them. It seems out weak link to the offense is we don't run the ball with consistency, we sure haven't been able to throw the ball very well since Tyler got hurt. It looks like Ga, LSU and Al has shown the weakness in our defense, the Long ball we don't seem to be able to defend against the long ball very well. Until we fix the secondary we are going to be in trouble againt a quality team. A ball game sure does bring out who is a quality player against a fair football player. The opponent has a whole first half to find our weakness and then go in at the half and adjust.

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