Mike Strange: Game 2 is time to improve

I've heard it. You've heard it. Every football coach says it.

I'm confident Pop Warner put his arm around Jim Thorpe's shoulder in 1907 and said it.

Your biggest improvement comes from the first game to the second.

At face value, it makes sense. You've got a test drive out of the way, so the machine runs more smoothly the next week.

"It's good to get a base starting point to find out where we need to improve,'' Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel Hood said Monday.

The Vols' starting point is a 42-16 over FCS opponent Montana. Game 2 is Cincinnati, a program only 13 games removed from a BCS bowl.

This is quite often a difficult axiom to prove due to the vagaries of early-season scheduling. Last year, for example, the Vols opened by blanking hapless UT Martin 50-0. Then they got overpowered 48-13 by Oregon team that went on to play for a national championship.

Did the Vols improve?

"I felt like we did,'' coach Derek Dooley said on reflection Monday.

"Of course, it was a totally different circumstance because it wasn't just the caliber of team we were playing, but what they did on offense. It was almost like a first game.''

This week, however, will provide a better read. If UT Martin was apple cider, Oregon was orange jet fuel. Cincinnati and Montana have more in common. Cincinnati's just better.

"This,'' said Dooley, "will be a true second game.''

So it's fair to expect significant improvement from game one to game two, right?

"There's a lot of merit to that,'' Dooley said. "We need a big jump and I told our team that.

"Our ability to compete with these guys this week is going to really depend on how much we improve in a lot of these areas.''

Like establishing the running game. But that's another column.

Looking back through the years I can't vouch that the Vols always have improved from their first game to their second. It's no slam dunk.

Maybe the 2008 team did. It lost 27-24 at UCLA on opening night then beat UAB 35-3 a week later, a rare highlight in a grim season.

The '06 team, though, did not. The Vols smoked California 35-18 for openers, then squeaked out a 31-30 win over Air Force by thwarting a two-point conversion.

In '94, UT was stunned by Jerry Colquitt's early injury at UCLA and lost 25-23. The Vols regrouped, went to Georgia and wore their hobnail boots in a 41-23 beating of the Bulldogs.

The Sugar Vols made a statement jump in 1985. On opening day they blew a late lead and settled for a tie with UCLA. A week later they hit on all cylinders, blasting No. 1 Auburn 38-20.

One more example: In 1981, UT went to Georgia on opening day and was humiliated 44-0. Game 2 was a 43-7 loss at Southern Cal. Hey, that's modest progress.

So what happens between last Saturday and this one? A team as young as the Vols clearly has the potential to grow in spurts.

"We played good,'' said linebacker Austin Johnson, "but we can always play better.''

They'd better. It's Game 2.

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 » 26

asleep#212036 writes:

Factor in as well that for many of our players the jump may be even more dramatic as several of them will be playing in only their second college game. No question the run game needs to improve before out trip to Gainesville but I am not of the opinion we need to run for 250 yards to beat Cincy. What we WILL have to do is defend a spread option offense run by a senior and that will be the key to victory. IF we control them even half as well as we did Montana, Bray and company will get it done. If we get in a shootout, our young team may struggle under the pressure. Should be a good one. Go Vols!!!

mdvol writes:

The comparison I prefer is YEAR one to YEAR two. Saban went 7-6 in his first year at Alabama and 12-2 in year two after starting 12-0. I'm sure no one believed it was possible for the TIDE so I don't expect anyone to believe my post either. However, I will say this...

VOLS start the season 4-0! (Georgia 0-2)

asleep#212036 writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

IF I had the time, desire, and ability I could get those numbers for us but hopefully somebody with more of all of those things will hook us up. We do need the run game to beat SEC opponents as one-dimensional has never gotten in done in this conference, even for the most talented teams (see 2010 Florida). Go Vols!!!

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Here are three interesting trends coming into Saturday. These trends are intended for pure fun of the game only. Once again I'm just posting stats I dig up, dont shoot the messanger.

1. Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is 0-13
straight-up in games against opponents with a
win percentage of .750 or more on the season.

2. The University of Tennessee is 0-8 vs the Vegas number at home after scoring 35 or more points.

3.Cinn comes into to Knoxville at 8-1 vs the Vegas number when they face an undefeated team on the year.

4.Since joining the Big East in 05 Cinn is only 1-7 straight up away vs a Bowl Team from the previous year.

5.Cinn's average loss on the road when facing a Bowl team away from home since 05 is 20 points per game losing margin.

These numbers are not intended to bash any team. They are just numbers that fit this game. Trends make up about 25% of a Handicappers forecast, but much like stock brokers, trends do play an important role. From a technical standpoint I like the fact UT got a month of extra practice during the Bowl Season last year. Good Luck and have a great football weekend.

Volunatic writes:

in response to Orange_A_Holic:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree. I also think the Vols would have had more success on the ground if they had run the ball to the outside more.
However, with the game already won, I think the Vol coaches were looking to develop the O-line for short-yardage runs. It could pay off a lot over the course of the season.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

Wow how fantastic it is to see all the positive comments from the fair weather fans (TheBlue, although the name doesnt necessarily suggest tennessee fandom, so i assume it to be so)who think we couldnt run the ball even though we had a 1,000 yard rusher behind arguably the youngest line in college football. the line is the very definition of hogmollies, everyone is over 300 with 3 guys at 320 plus. I believe that experience and skill trump size, but i'm also a realist. 300 plus pounds is hard to move. plus, they are alot better than last year, and i believe we held back on play calling. i mean it was montana, come on people. not to knock them but fbs and fcs are 2 different levels of competition. Just because cincinatti took austin peay behind the woodshed, some fans on both sides are saying the vols will get upset. I wouldn't count on it. Tennessee has been through alot the past few years. Rocky Top lost some of its luster, but things are looking up. I guarantee T-Brizzle(Tyler Bray for those of you not familiar with ebonics), Justin Hunter and Da'rick Rogers believe they will perform like they should and rain T.D.'s all over the bearcat secondary, and i have no reason to doubt them. Don't fret big orange fans, we will get past cincinatti and know alot more about our football team heading into florida week. A final thought: one thing is for sure, the offense will be special, and the defense will surprise this year. GO VOLS!!!!!!!!

Bigger_Al writes:

So ProfessionalHandicapper, I'm taking you at face-value and not assuming you are a recurring troll in disguise. You must be a Cincinnati fan to have just shown up this week and be posting so much here. One thing you aren't referencing is talent level. How is Cincinnati's talent doing since BK left? Was there much attrition?

hueypilot writes:

in response to mdvol:

The comparison I prefer is YEAR one to YEAR two. Saban went 7-6 in his first year at Alabama and 12-2 in year two after starting 12-0. I'm sure no one believed it was possible for the TIDE so I don't expect anyone to believe my post either. However, I will say this...

VOLS start the season 4-0! (Georgia 0-2)

I don't know the breakdown, but I'd bet Nick did that with a lot of Shula's recruits. Sure he probably had a few kids he had tapped, but they would have been freshmen or sophs, tops. Dooley's cupboard isn't stocked quite so well. Might take year 3 to see a significant improvement.

hueypilot writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Here are three interesting trends coming into Saturday. These trends are intended for pure fun of the game only. Once again I'm just posting stats I dig up, dont shoot the messanger.

1. Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is 0-13
straight-up in games against opponents with a
win percentage of .750 or more on the season.

2. The University of Tennessee is 0-8 vs the Vegas number at home after scoring 35 or more points.

3.Cinn comes into to Knoxville at 8-1 vs the Vegas number when they face an undefeated team on the year.

4.Since joining the Big East in 05 Cinn is only 1-7 straight up away vs a Bowl Team from the previous year.

5.Cinn's average loss on the road when facing a Bowl team away from home since 05 is 20 points per game losing margin.

These numbers are not intended to bash any team. They are just numbers that fit this game. Trends make up about 25% of a Handicappers forecast, but much like stock brokers, trends do play an important role. From a technical standpoint I like the fact UT got a month of extra practice during the Bowl Season last year. Good Luck and have a great football weekend.

Your analysis of three reasons to bet on Cincy and two to bet on the Vols is the best argument for why I don't try to pick winners (vs. the spread) in football anymore.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

i just read navalorange's comment, and i am one of those fans who gets it. the coaching staff is good, very good actually. there is that group of fans who understand how coaching works, and there are those that get upset and declare us dead in the water if we don't hang 75 on montana. i know we fumbled six times, which is not good, but the average fan seems to overlook the fact tha we recovered all six, thus negating a bad outcome. we do need to tighten that bolt, but if we don;t lose the fumble, then it wasnn't all that bad. i love how no one says anything about bama or florida or lsu when they do something wrong. thats because they are the sexy teams in the sec right now. its a what have you done for me ately league, with what have you done for me lately fans. tennessee fans need to get back to what we are known for, being notoriously passionate for the big orange. I know it was a season opener against a div 2(i still like the old names better) in montana, but i remember a time when there was 100,000 plus in the stand for EVERY game regardless of who we were playing or what the weather was like. have tennessee fans ever stopped to think that the reason this team doesn't seem as sexy to all these high powered recruits is at least a little bit our fault? we need to support our team like true fans should, by filling neyland to the brim every single home game. GO VOLS!!!!!!

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in case bigger al is responding to me, i'm not a cincinatti fan (bleednurnge81 wasn't a giveaway?), but i see what you are saying. Yes we had alot of attrition, and that is a detrement to our team. the reason i am posting so much is because i usually only read others' posts and decided to speak my mind today. i hope im not sounding like a troll, i only want to support my team. notice i didnt say cincinatti wouldn't score a ton of points as well, given that our defense is better, but still not solid enough. by speaking of raining td's, i was trying to convey that it will probably be a shootout, with the vols coming out on top simply due to the talent level, cincy has more experience, without a doubt and will be a very tough test offensively, but their defense cant hang with our athleticism imho.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

apology to bigger al, lol i didnt see there was someone named professional handicapper lol my apologies.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

So ProfessionalHandicapper, I'm taking you at face-value and not assuming you are a recurring troll in disguise. You must be a Cincinnati fan to have just shown up this week and be posting so much here. One thing you aren't referencing is talent level. How is Cincinnati's talent doing since BK left? Was there much attrition?

Sir I played football at APSU so I am in no way a Cinn fan. I started posting last week as I gave out UT as a winner in my first post(no brainer there). And my post above has just as many bad trends for Cinn as UT..Thanks and good luck

Volunatic writes:

Good post, BleedUrnge81. One correction, though-- the "Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)" was Division 1AA, not Division 2. Carson-Newman is a Division 2 school, and Division 1A (FBS) schools are not allowed to play against those in FB.
(I agree with you that the old names were better. However, "FBS" and "FCS" are not nearly as stupid as the new conference division names in the Big 10.)

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Once again you didnt mention the fact I posted Cinn average loss to Bowl teams on the road is 20ppg. You are hilatious in calling me names, but its all fun. You have a great day sir.
Oh yeh one more thing. So far this year the SEC has played three games where the spread was 7 points or less and they lost two of the three games straight up. BYU beat Ole Miss, Boise beat Ga, and LSU beat Oregon. I love the SEC but so far they are down 2-1 in relative games. Its a long season, its still early.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

One more thing in the real world as you put it the 0-13 vs teams with a .750 winning percentage for Dooley is not just at UT, thats over his entire career not just his 14 games at UT. I think you misunderstood. And the 0-8 vs the spread after scoring 35 points or more is a product of Vegas bumping the number after big wins. Trends just reflect how Vegas adjust lines off what they believe the public perception will be over the real power ranking. All spreads are based on 7 methods, a very easy formula. Have a good day.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sir if you would like to give me a private email I will be glad to talk to you on the phone anytime. You seem to have a consiparcy issue and alot of hate and anger..All I did was post a few trends about the game good and bad for both teams, and somehow you now have me a Derrick Dooley basher. You have the right to say what you like, but why dont you lay off my back. If for some reason you dont like fair stats then just dont read my post. You can always just ignore me if you are dead set on being a hater. Have a good week.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to volunatic, lol i'm having a stupid day i suppose. i meant to say division 1AA :). thank youfor the positive review, i was trying to light a fire in at least a few tennessee fans and hope that the flame spreads. i know there is at least one season ticket holder who posts on the site and maybe, just maybe, they will call all the season ticket holders they know and tell all their volniac friends to come to the games, and we will show the nation that tennessee is not dead n the water, we are on our way back up. Look out next year sec, the big orange will in atlanta next year, mark my words. Heck, tweet it if ya want :). GO VOLS!!!!!

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I 100% disagree Jack, (if Im Brett your Jack). The SEC was 10-2 but I hardly think wins over Kent State,Montana, or Fl Atl shows SEC Power. Im pretty sure the ACC and Big 10 could also win those games. Thats why my point was games of close point spreads. Im sure the SEC will bounce back, but in all fairness the SEC is 2-1 in close spread games. If winning games with 28-35 point spreads makes you proud, then you must have loved Tom Osborn and Nebraska as they romped tons of teams with little chance of winning.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sir read your own post..You said "this season" on your post. So your saying coaches that coach in conf USA vs their own Conf or any other small conf like the WAC has no bearing on their careers. You sir are just plain ignorant to football. Im leaving now as I dont have time to be harrased by one idiot on a board. I try to be level headed but you are just a hateful person. Take your geritol and calm down.

Volunatic writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I thought it was CSS, also, since the "vandy" "grad" claims to have a successful CFB betting technique.

Volunatic writes:

in response to BleednUrnge81:

in response to volunatic, lol i'm having a stupid day i suppose. i meant to say division 1AA :). thank youfor the positive review, i was trying to light a fire in at least a few tennessee fans and hope that the flame spreads. i know there is at least one season ticket holder who posts on the site and maybe, just maybe, they will call all the season ticket holders they know and tell all their volniac friends to come to the games, and we will show the nation that tennessee is not dead n the water, we are on our way back up. Look out next year sec, the big orange will in atlanta next year, mark my words. Heck, tweet it if ya want :). GO VOLS!!!!!

I'll be there yelling my head off, BleednUrnge81.
I think the FB Vols will be respected a great deal by the end of this season.
(I don't tweet, though. All those "#" and "@" characters just look like e-cussing to me.)

GO VOLS!!!

BleednUrnge81 writes:

i dont tweet either im a facebooker, but i agree with you about twitter, its for rich people and attention whores imo. i wish i could be there on saturday, but i'll be watching and wearing my orange with pride.GO VOLS!!!!!!!!

snakeplissken writes:

Too much PMS on here today. Lighten up folks, we're fans of the same team even if we disagree. Support the TEAM and go watch our bloved Vols kick some bearcat butt!

RealisticVol writes:

I always get concerned when Vol players start patting themselves on the back ("We played good,'' said linebacker Austin Johnson, "but we can always play better.'') after whipping a poor team. A tsunami is coming and our players have just figured out how to surf the wave pool and they better wake up.

snakeplissken writes:

in response to RealisticVol:

I always get concerned when Vol players start patting themselves on the back ("We played good,'' said linebacker Austin Johnson, "but we can always play better.'') after whipping a poor team. A tsunami is coming and our players have just figured out how to surf the wave pool and they better wake up.

I hope the tsunami you're referring to is in reference to the good SEC teams we'll be playing. Cincinnati should be respected - as with any opponent - but I just don't see them as being near as good as 6 SEC teams we'll be playing this year. Might be close for awhile but the Vols will prevail by 17.

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