In a spring game whose outcome was in doubt until the final play, the Tennessee fans at Neyland Stadium might have been wondering about all the close games to come. What they saw in Saturday's annual spring game wasn't encouraging.
UT's 2012 schedule includes few sure things. You can assume the Vols won't beat defending national champion Alabama. You also can assume that North Carolina State in the season opener will be the only serious non-conference threat.
But the rest of the schedule is comprised of games that likely will be decided by the kind of mistakes that were so apparent in the Orange and White
The two teams combined for an interception and two fumbles in the first half. The White team's final drive with the game on the line was thwarted first by a holding penalty and further sabotaged when quarterback Tyler Bray lost his footing while dropping back to pass.
As costly as those mistakes would have been in a game that mattered, they weren't nearly as glaring as the kicking game. It was dreadful.
The Vols missed field-goal attempts of 32 and 27 yards. None of their punts traveled farther than 37 yards.
If not for last season, perhaps you could have written off UT's legwork as an aberration. But how many times do you remember the Vols kicking an opponent into submission during a 1-7 SEC season in 2011?
Based on Saturday's performance, UT should mass email its student body in search of punters and place-kickers. Anyone who can so much as kick a can across a street is a candidate.
Before going any further, it's only fair to mention that backup place-kicker Derrick Brodus actually made a 37-yard field-goal, which proved to be a game-winner. If he hadn't also missed a 27-yarder, he should have been given Michael Palardy's starting job on the spot.
Palardy botched a 32-yard field goal and proved his versatility with a couple of 35-yard punts. If the Vols had given a Big Foot Award for the game, it would have gone to Matt Darr for his booming 37-yard punt in the first half.
The other three downs were more promising in a game that matched the first-team offense (White) against the first-team defense (Orange), and the second-team offense against the second-team defense.
UT's running game bore no resemblance to the one that couldn't get out of its own way last season. Second-team running back Marlin Lane had 19- and 39-yard touchdown runs and all 106 of his rushing yards by the end of the third quarter.
Raijon Neal and Devrin Young both rushed for more than 40 yards and showed their speed on corner-turning runs.
Bray, who was 14 for 26 passing, demonstrated a deft deep touch in connecting with All-SEC wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers on a 51-yard completion.
Walk-on wide receiver Jacob Carter capped a surprisingly productive spring with a game-high six receptions, for 42 yards.
Backup quarterback Justin Worley was more accurate than Bray with 17 completions in 26 attempts but also had the most inexplicable throw of the day — a short, scary pass over the middle that linebacker John Propst intercepted.
Both the first- and second-team offenses were at their best on their opening possessions, moving quickly down the field for touchdowns against defenses that spent the spring making the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment under new coordinator Sal Sunseri.
UT's offense should have had an edge over its defense. It has more returning starters and an advantage in overall experience.
And it didn't have to learn a new playbook.
That offense will get another boost this fall when wide receiver Justin Hunter is fully recovered from knee surgery.
In the meantime, the Vols have four months to find a fourth-down alternative to kicking themselves out of a close game.