Tennessee’s running deficiencies have been greater than its statistics suggest.
They extend beyond the offense, past the team and all the way to its beloved mascot, Smokey.
He had a tougher time against Cincinnati than running back Tauren Poole did against Florida. Sharon Dobbins will vouch for that.
She’s a Tennessee fan and a dog lover. And her season tickets in the north end of Neyland Stadium enable her to watch both the Vols and their blue-tick coonhound mascot.
She was more concerned about the dog than the team as the UT-Cincinnati game progressed.
“He came out ahead of the handlers and flew across the end zone like he always does,” she said.
But after UT’s second touchdown, she noticed Smokey trailed his handlers. Then, following a second-half touchdown, he stopped in mid-run.
Suddenly, UT’s running dilemma had become mascot inclusive. The spread of the affliction couldn’t be blamed on the offensive line.
Dobbins blamed the heat.
But she didn’t call a talk show. She called her vet, who recommended that she talk to the dean of the UT Veterinary College.
Dobbins was discussing Smokey’s health with Dr. Jim Thompson in the dean’s office when they received an unexpected medical update. While they were meeting, Smokey was being examined by his vet.
Turns out, Dobbins wasn’t the only one who had noticed that Smokey was laboring during the Cincinnati game. His vet picked up on it, too. So did the fan who called Smokey’s owner after the game.
“She said Smokey had ‘a little limp,’ ” said Earl Hudson, who had watched the game on television.
The heat had nothing to do with Smokey’s performance. He had a non-contact knee injury to his right back leg.
Don’t worry. It wasn’t as bad as the injury to star wide receiver Justin Hunter in the first quarter of the Florida game.
Smokey’s injury was diagnosed as a partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament. His vet, Dr. Darryl Millis, began treating him immediately after the Cincinnati game.
The 8-year-old Smokey didn’t miss a down. After a week of treatment, he made the trip to Florida.
“He did fine,” Hudson said.
As the owner of Knoxville’s most famous dog, Hudson knows better than anyone how important it is to fans that the mascot is in tiptop shape. This isn’t his first Smokey.
His brother-in-law and sister, Bill and Mildred Brooks (both deceased), first provided UT with a mascot in 1953. Hudson has been doing it since 1994.
“He’s getting good care,” Hudson said assuredly. “We’re on top of it and have been for the first day.”
The care isn’t just good. It’s state of the art.
Since his ailment was diagnosed, Smokey has been injected with platelet-rich plasma, received electrical stimulation to his knee, and worked out on the veterinary clinic’s underwater treadmill.
“It’s not a solution,” Millis said. “It’s a treatment. I anticipate at some point he will need surgery.
“We’re treating him just as you would any other athlete and hoping for the best,”
The treatment is working. As of Monday evening, Millis expected Smokey would be ready for Saturday afternoon’s game against Buffalo.
That’s encouraging for UT fans, who have had enough unfavorable injury news this season.
Hunter is out for the season with a knee injury. UT legendary quarterback Peyton Manning might miss the Indianapolis Colts’ season with a neck injury. And the Vols’ running game looks crippled after three games.
Now, more than ever, they need a healthy Smokey flying across the end zone at full speed.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns