Dooley, Hunter on Tyler Bray's performance against Florida
Tennessee has changed its talent level in football. It hasn't changed its mind-set.
You saw that last Saturday when Florida zoomed past the Vols in the fourth quarter for a 37-20 victory.
Once Tennessee fell behind, it kept falling. Never mind that there were almost 10 minutes left in the game when Florida took a 14-point lead. The Vols couldn't have looked any more helpless if they had been down by 41.
That wasn't an aberration. It's the continuation of a theme.
You probably have heard the phrase, "Same old Vandy," You might have said it yourself while watching the Commodores turn a potentially promising victory into a predictable defeat.
The Vols have become just as predictable.
Think of all the fourth-quarter comebacks they have managed in the last five years. Ok, think harder.
Still nothing? I'll help: "Same old Vandy."
Last season, the Vols rallied to tie the Commodores with 6:27 to play, then prevailed in overtime. That's their marquee comeback since the program went south in 2008.
Forget fourth-quarter comebacks. There's only one other second-half comeback during that period. The Vols won in overtime after overcoming a seven-point Kentucky advantage in 2009.
Coming back against Kentucky and Vanderbilt isn't comparable to coming back against Florida, which has won eight consecutive games against UT. Once the Gators started rolling, the Vols rolled over.
Given their history, why wouldn't they?
This team is more talented and confident than coach Derek Dooley's first two teams. But it wasn't confident enough to come back against Florida.
Players can gain confidence by becoming faster and stronger. They also can become more confident through preparation. But their confidence soars when they overcome adversity in the heat of battle.
Remember all the comebacks in UT's national championship 1998 season. The Vols beat Syracuse and Arkansas on their last drive. They came from behind in the last nine minutes to defeat Mississippi State in the SEC championship game.
You don't have to go back that far. Look what Auburn did two years ago in winning the national title. It came from 17 points down to beat Clemson and from 24 points down to beat Alabama.
Comebacks don't typically come from mysterious sources. They're often just a matter of the best players making their best plays.
Tee Martin and Al Wilson did that for the Vols in 1998. Cam Newton and Nick Fairley did it for Auburn two years ago.
But UT's most talented players didn't deliver once the Vols fell behind against Florida. Wide receiver Justin Hunter dropped what should have been an easy completion for a first down. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson failed to make a difficult catch on a deep throw from Tyler Bray. And the usually accurate Bray too often was off-target.
So, instead of a comeback, all you got were the same old Vols.